Stevensville Mayor Brandon Dewey says he’s at the end of his rope regarding former mayor Jim Crews’ complaints about council procedure. That’s what prompted him to craft a response to the most recent complaint and send it out to Crews as well as members of the media.
The latest complaint from Crews was about a five-minute-per-person time limit for public comment that was set for the hearing on the Burnt Fork Estates subdivision that was held on March 4, and also the presence of a police officer at the meeting. According to Crews’ emailed letter to the Town, if the council wanted to set a time limit for public comment, that item needed to be on the agenda for the meeting, and it was not. (You can read Crews’ letter on the Opinion page.)
Dewey’s response begins, “As a general rule, I have refrained from directly responding to the rhetoric that you frequently chunder. The Town’s staff, myself, and many others in the community have tolerated your bullying and mistreatment longer than anyone should have to. Nonetheless, it is important that the procedure followed at Thursday’s public hearing be highlighted as you have conveniently misinterpreted factual basis (again). And, while you have demonstrated your ability to cite the many relevant codes and laws, simply citing so does not make you right.”
The Star contacted attorney Mike Meloy, an expert on Montana laws regarding the public’s right to know and participate. He agrees with Crews that the time-limit item should have been on the agenda. However, Council Rules as well as the published guidelines for citizen participation that appear on every agenda give the council and/or the presiding officer the right to set time limits for public comment.
“It was not our intent to silence the citizens,” said Dewey. “At the end of the day, everyone had a chance to speak in a timely manner.”
Crews told the Star that he did not attend the meeting, but had heard from a number of people that the mayor was yelling at people.
“People who attended the hearing were saying that Dewey was yelling at the people,” said Crews. “He needs to respect the citizens of the town. What they did was wrong. They made a decision. They called in a policeman. They’re trying to stop the people from making their wishes known.”
The mayor said he knew he had the right to implement a time limit, but he preferred that the decision be put forth by the town council since it was their hearing. The council could have requested that the mayor make a time limit but they decided to do it themselves. “I’m comfortable with that call,” said Dewey.
“In the over 20 years that I’ve lived here I’ve never experienced a situation where there was a need to have the police there like that,” said Crews. “The citizens at Creekside are getting this development shoved down their throat. Why didn’t the developer have to comply with the five-minute rule? Why are we putting up with this? We don’t elect people to lead us, we don’t elect people to rule us. We elect people to represent us.”
Dewey’s email said, in part, “In response to your remarks regarding the need for law enforcement – I too am disappointed that a handful of members in our community cannot follow simple rules of civility and hold their tongue when their fellow citizens are speaking. It reveals a distinct lack of respect and I believe it is the result of the perpetual toxicity that is championed by a few. What is even more disheartening, Mr. Crews, is that many of the sentiments in your email and correspondence to the Town reveal the same mindset and vitriol towards people who have stepped up for no other reason but to help improve Stevensville for everyone.”
“The way that Mr. Crews approaches the issues he has with the Town of Stevensville, we are all at the end of our rope with him,” said Dewey. “He just does not approach it in a kind way.”
The mayor said that this is an ongoing problem and has been since Crews lost to Dewey in the last mayoral election in 2017. Emails and phone calls from Crews come in on a regular basis. But it’s not the frequency that’s the problem, said Dewey, it’s the tone. “He’s abrupt, unkind, rude and demeaning. Everyone in this building has been subjected to his mistreatment. In my tenure here, I’ve seen the negative impacts this has had on the people here. It’s very damaging.”
Crews says he doesn’t go to the council meetings anymore. “Everytime I go, someone is accusing me of something. I try not be a bully, I try to be a nice guy, but if I see something wrong, I need to say something about it.”
Crews said he also rarely goes to town hall anymore, but he did go in January to ask for a copy of the bylaws of the Planning & Zoning Board, which he said should be readily available. He was asked to fill out a Freedom of Information request for that and says he has yet to receive a copy from town hall. Crews says the bylaws are something that every citizen is entitled to and should be readily available upon request.
The mayor said the “constant badgering” from Crews has gone on since he took office. “He’s done this even when he was in the organization. When you look at employee harassment claims in the last few years, he’s the common denominator, he’s always on that list. We’ve fielded a number of issues from staff members regarding their interactions with him. He keeps saying he’s never going to interact with us again. He keeps promising us he’s going to stop doing this and it never happens.”
Crews counters that when he was mayor, Dewey filed an employee grievance against him. “We had a special investigation done and the results were that I wasn’t causing any of this.”
Dewey says he responded to Jim Crews’ email because, “Ultimately what I’m after, if Jim Crews wants to engage with his local government, let’s do it with civility and decorum. It’s not that we don’t want to hear from him,” said Dewey, “but doing it in a constructive way is what’s missing.”
Evidently, Dewey’s letter did not have the intended effect. The first sentence of Crew’s next email to Dewey was, “You are the bully.”
Victoria Howell can be contacted at: [email protected] or (406) 207-8793.