The Stevensville Town Council balked once again at annexing a 26-acre parcel of land next to the Town of Stevensville’s well field and instead approved the connection of the future residence on the property to the town’s water and sewer system without annexation while they “research the issue” of annexation.
Discussion of the annexation request began with a couple of questions from Councilor Jaime Devlin who asked what precautions were being taken to ensure the town’s water quality was being protected and what steps were being taken to protect the pond and wetlands located on the property.
John Kellogg from PCI consulting firm, who is helping property owner Jesse Reeves navigate through the town’s annexation process, told the council that each of the town’s wells was protected by an established zone and all lie within the town’s ownership on town property. He said the wells were also over 400 feet deep and that the wells were also protected by state rules and regulations from negative impacts. He said the best protection for the town’s wells at this point was to annex the property and zone it under C-2. He said as far as the pond goes, the water right permit for the pond is for fish and wildlife and those are the values protected by the permitting system.
Mayor Brandon Dewey clarified for the council that its options in response to the request included annexing and zoning into C-2; C-2 with conditions, or Residential, or with whatever interim conditions they may propose.
Councilor Dempsey Vick moved to approve annexation under Interim R-1 zoning that would allow Reeves to run his home-based construction business.
George Thomas, Director of Public Works, raised some issues concerning the motion saying, “In the past the town has not annexed any property until all the infrastructure was in place.” He said they were first told the annexation was for one house, but the current application is for two.
“More than one house and you need streets, curbs, gutters and sidewalks,” said Thomas. “If you zone it commercial how many other businesses are going to want to put in houses?”
Jeff Standeart of PCI, who also worked for Reeves, said that in Missoula someone outside the city can contract for water and sewer services. “Why not here?’ he asked. He said it would address the concerns over water right and septic problems.
Dempsey then withdrew his original motion and moved to allow Reeves to hook up to the town’s water and sewer system while they do some research on the annexation issues.
Without much discussion that motion passed unanimously.
The next motion on the agenda, the approval of the Fire Department Volunteer Roster, also got unanimous approval as well as an accompanying motion to approve back pay to the Assistant Fire Chief starting from April 1.
The council was divided down the middle on the rest of the agenda, with the vote being split between Michalson and Holcomb on one side and Vick and Devlin on the other with the Mayor breaking the tie and in each case voting with Vick and Devlin.
The first disagreement began at the first part of the meeting when Vick proposed a 3-minute limit on the public comment portion of the agenda where the public may comment on anything under the town’s jurisdiction that is not on the meeting’s agenda. At the previous meeting one member of the public spoke for about half an hour about various issues concerning the Mayor and Council President. In response to some comments about infringing on the public’s right to speak, Vick stated that his intention was not to limit anybody’s right to speak, but to help ensure that everyone who wanted to speak had some chance.
Michalson and Holcomb voted against the motion and Vick and Devlin voted in favor. The Mayor broke the tie in favor of adopting the 3-minute limit.
The vote was also split over approving the claims as submitted along the same lines and the Mayor once again broke the tie in favor of paying the claims.
A similar schism in the council arose over the question of creating a permanent full-time position of Parks and Recreation Director. The Mayor indicated that by making the position full-time instead of seasonal it would allow the addition of winter duties that would include to coordinate and have ready a summer program schedule and to work on a Master Plan for all the parks as well as creating and supervising winter programs for both youth and adults.
Michalson said he was in favor of a seasonal position but not a full-time one. He and Holcomb voted against the motion. Vick and Devlin voted in favor and the Mayor broke the tie in favor of creating the position and authorizing the compensation.
The next motion to create and fund two seasonal positions in the Parks and Recreation Department ran the same course. The Mayor stated that the positions would be funded through the CARES Act.
Michalson said that no jobs should be created on the hope that a grant will come through. Town finance officer Robert Underwood explained that it was not a grant. It was a fund set up to reimburse local governments for such expenses. He said it was not a process like a grant application that may or may not be awarded. It was an application for reimbursement of expenses.
Following a vote split as before, the Mayor broke this tie also in favor of approving the positions and authorizing the compensation.
During council comments, members revisited an issue raised at a previous meeting about Michalson and Holcomb having ex parte communications with a downtown property owner, David Laursen, who was seeking approval of a variance from the Board of Adjustments on which all the council members serve.
At the Board of Adjustments meeting, after a discussion in which both Michalson and Holcomb denied having any secret communications with Laursen and then voted for approval of the variance, Devlin revealed that she had copies of Michalson’s personal emails between him, Laursen and Holcomb that prove they did have illegal communications and were lying when they said they hadn’t.
Michalson, who claimed that his rights were violated when his council emails on the town’s server were made public previously [emails between council members about public business are legally available to the public upon request], said, “I’ve sat back and watched as another email issue has come before us. These are the facts. On May 17, I sent an email between me and Dave Laursen on my personal account to Robin [Holcomb] and Dempsey [Vick]. I stated these words: I will be asking to grant a variance of fee because I think the Laursens have been treated very unfairly. That was my ex parte.”
Michalson said that a few days after sending the email he was contacted by Town Attorney Scott Owens and told that the attorney had evidence of ex parte communications between him and Laursen.
“This is your town attorney, mind you,” said Michalson. He said the attorney told him that the email did not come from the town’s server.
Then Michalson wondered why, if he and Holcomb were implicated, Dempsey Vick wasn’t. “He even went with me to the site,” said Michalson. “Devlin claims she didn’t hack my emails, but if someone robs a bank and someone is standing on the street corner with the money, it doesn’t make them innocent.”
Holcomb said, “Looks like I have to defend myself again.” She said she listened to the tape again and “when I said yes that I did get an email from Mr. Michalson I did not mean that I replied. I just meant I did get an email and that was it. I never said I didn’t get any emails from Mr. Laursen, just Mr. Michalson. And I did say that the reason I voted the way I did was because of what I heard that night at the meeting.
“Then I went on and I changed my vote and I never said to Laursen that if you applied for a permit then you should just build. That was in emails between Michalson and Laursen. I never made any back door offers to Mr. Laursen. What I did do, yes, I did get emails from Dave Laursen, but it was because he wasn’t getting an answer from the mayor. So I became this middle person and every time I received an email from Laursen I emailed [Mayor] Dewey to see if he had responded to him and I would ask him again at meetings. But I was cut off when I was trying to say that.
“So do I think that Laursen was mistreated?” continued Holcomb. “Yes. Then when I changed my vote, which I wish I didn’t but you know someone would have just found a bad reason for why I voted yes for it, I did say that I changed my vote because I didn’t think that my emails would be an issue and I didn’t want to make an issue or a problem within the town.
“I have all the emails here and I just want to say again I never accused you [to Devlin], I never accused anybody. All I ever asked was how my emails were given to Ms. Devlin. There is a protocol. I’m sorry. I did not lie. I did receive an email from Michalson, but I did not reply to it.”
Devlin said, “To clarify, I did not access your emails. I received a copy of Michalson’s personal emails. It all came from Michalson’s emails. I didn’t ask for anybody’s emails.” She said when she went to work she found the emails in her box in a blank manila envelope and has no idea who placed them there. “But I didn’t ask for anybody’s emails and I didn’t do anything wrong.
“I didn’t ask for them. I didn’t ask anyone to get them. It’s that simple. There’s nothing hard in what I’m saying. Don’t do anything illegal and you won’t get caught,” said Devlin. “It’s that simple.”
As to Mr. Vick not being included in the allegations of ex parte communications, Devlin said, “Mr. Vick disclosed at a meeting that he had been to the site. He did not give Laursen permission to build. Michalson did not disclose his emails.”