A petition is being circulated in Stevensville to recall Mayor Brandon Dewey for violating his oath of office when he signed a $79,800 contract for services with First Call Computer Solutions that had not been authorized by the Stevensville Town Council. Leanna Rodabaugh of Stevensville submitted the petition on March 30, claiming in her sworn affidavit that Mayor Dewey had “assumed the power to make contracts, a power that is assigned to the Stevensville Town Council.”
Deputy County Attorney Royce McCarty found the petition to meet the grounds and form for a recall petition and Clerk and Recorder Regina Plettenberg approved the petition for circulation on April 7. The petitioner has 90 days from that date to collect the required number of signatures to have the petition placed on the ballot. Based on the number of registered voters in the Stevensville Town limits, 1,255 in the last election, the petitioner will have to collect 251 signatures to meet the 20% required for placing it on the ballot.
According to Plettenberg, this is not the first recall petition against the mayor of Stevensville that the county has reviewed. Three petitions were submitted one in November 2018, followed by one in December 2018 and another in January 2019. They all made claims of violations of law and official misconduct. None of them were found to meet the grounds or form requirements when reviewed by the county attorney’s office and none were corrected and re-submitted.
In the current petition, that did gain approval for circulation, Rodabaugh claims the mayor’s action in signing the contract without council approval resulted in bypassing the competitive bid and contract award process. She claims the Town Council was not allowed to participate in the contract award process and the Town’s attorney was not afforded the opportunity to review the contract prior to the signing by the mayor. Finally, she claims that the mayor’s actions resulted in denying all citizens the right to participate and the process as well.
The mayor’s actions were considered after the fact by the town council at a meeting at which town attorney Scott Owens rendered an opinion on the issue. In his opinion, the mayor did nothing illegal in signing the contract. He said an agreement had been signed by the mayor for a large amount of money that usually would require council approval, but the money had been included in the budget that the council approved and was only being paid out incrementally.
The council had already approved one payment of a couple thousand dollars but balked at the second payment. Council President Bob Michalson has argued that the council was not aware of the full extent of the contract when they approved the first payment.
Owens argued that under the circumstances, and given some discrepancies between state law and town policies, in his opinion the mayor did not violate any laws.
“He came close,” said Owens. “He came right up to the limit. But in my opinion, he did not cross the line.” He said he ran the issue by attorneys at Montana Municipal Interlocal Authority, which handles insurance and other legal issues for Montana’s cities and towns, and another private attorney.
“There was a lot of discomfort, but they did not think his actions were illegal,” said Owens. “I know Rodabaugh has got an opinion about the law. I have one.”
Asked for comment on the petition, Rodabaugh said, “I think the petition speaks for itself.” She said when Dewey was first elected that people were excited about getting some youth into the office of mayor for Stevensville. “But now I’ve talked to people that tell me now it is an issue for them. I think it’s very important for people to be able to re-evaluate their initial decision with a new election.”
Mayor Dewey said the petition relies on state law and municipal ordinance to make its case, “but it doesn’t include any of the town attorney’s basis of fact that the council delegated its authority for these types of purchases through the purchasing policy that we have in place.
“If you strictly took state law and municipal ordinance, I think, yes, a case could be made that there was some impropriety. But that’s only true if you completely ignore the purchasing policy which the council adopted a number of years ago and has reviewed on a regular basis since delegating this authority to department heads and the mayor.”
“It seems that a lot of time and energy is being wasted on trying to change someone’s ideas by going after them and destroying them with false and incomplete facts,” said Dewey. “This petition is incomplete. It doesn’t present the citizens with all the facts. It presents them with some convenient facts but not the complete story. In times like we are experiencing right now there is a lot of uncertainty to our future, not just on a local level but on a global level. I think we need to be diligent about embracing reason and truth and not necessarily speculation and rumors.”