The Thursday, June 10th meeting of the Stevensville Town Council got off to a rocky start when council president Dempsey Vick asked for a suspension of council rules. He told the council that he had released a statement earlier that day regarding a claim payment and subsequent return of the money for legal fees that were incurred for the Dewey v. Rodabaugh case. Vick also said that he had found out that Robert Underwood, the Town’s financial officer who is retiring, had been told by the mayor that very day that “his services were no longer needed.” Vick said he found out that the issue he was concerned with had actually happened in December, not in April, so he was very concerned. Vick made a motion to put Mayor Brandon Dewey on trial for misuse of public funds but the motion died for lack of a second. Vick said he had asked the town attorney to investigate the matter. Council member Patrick Shourd said he agreed that there needed to be an investigation, but he thought a “trial” was “jumping the gun.”
Mayor Dewey suggested that, “rather than going down the road of an investigation, the council might want to see an account of what happened.” He reminded the council that the town attorney had said that nothing illegal had happened. Then he read a letter from Town Attorney Scott Owens which essentially stated that the claim for payment of legal fees was submitted and processed out of cycle, and he had been informed of that. Owens stated that he advised the mayor to pay the money back, which the mayor did. Owens also said that it was unclear whether the lawsuit would qualify for indemnification, but that in any event that would have to go before the council for approval.
Council member Jaime Devlin said that the council was informed about this in April and she wondered why Vick was bringing it up now. Vick said it was because he received a call from Underwood that he was asked to leave early and also that Underwood had told him that some other employee had entered the information on the payment for legal fees into the accounting software system at the instruction of the mayor. The mayor said it was true that another employee had processed the claim, which is part of her job, and that it was coded under legal services, none of that being unusual. The mayor said that Underwood reviews all claims and signs all checks along with the mayor. The mayor said that in February, he and Underwood realized they had failed to get the out-of-cycle claims ratified by the council. The mayor said they contacted the attorney and on his advice, the mayor repaid the money for the legal fees to the town. “We had two options. That was to seek indemnification or not. But the money had to be put back in the account. As soon as I was made aware, I wrote a personal check to the Town… No money transferred from the Town’s account into my account. There was no cover up…”
After hearing the mayor’s account of what happened, Vick said he felt he didn’t need a trial but he still felt an investigation would be necessary. Although this item was not on the agenda, Vick made a motion to have an independent investigation done using someone other than town attorney Scott Owens.
Shourd recommended that the council request all the documentation related to the issue and review that and decide how to proceed.
Vick said he didn’t want attorney Owens to do the investigation but would rather have a third party. He felt Owens was “too close to the facts.” Devlin said she thought that would be an extra cost to the Town for no good reason.
“As long as we can show that the check that was written with a P.O. (purchase order) and signed by the mayor and finance office and that there was a personal check written by the mayor that rectified the payment that was made to the attorney, then we’re square,” said council member Paul Ludington. “If we want to say that it was an attempt by the mayor to do something that shouldn’t have been done, that’s a matter of opinion, that will always be a matter of opinion…”
“Once I became aware of this situation,” said Devlin, “I asked for the documentation and reviewed it… I don’t know why anybody else here didn’t do that… We don’t’ always have to run right for somebody’s throat. Sometimes it’s simple. Sometimes it doesn’t require thousands of dollars. All we have to do is go in and say, ‘Let me see.’”
Vick said he has asked the mayor for pertinent documentation before and hasn’t gotten it.
The mayor said he could produce the documentation as soon as the next day.
Vick ending up rescinding his motion calling for an investigation and then made a motion to have the mayor provide the requested documentation for review by the council.
In public comment, Jim Tadvick said, “I have a problem with all of this. Is there a whistleblower involved? What was the dollar amount? Was someone terminated? I think an investigation needs to be done as a taxpayer.”
“My question is, where did the money come from?” said Leanna Rodabaugh. “What fund did you take it out of? The fact that you are willing to just pass this by… You are now all involved. This is criminal. And so are all of you.”
Then in the middle of public comment, Vick amended his motion to include details of Robert Underwood’s early departure. A few minutes later he rescinded the amendment.
“I would like to know where that money came from?” said Leslie Tadvick. “I don’t think we can let this drop… In the real world… you would have been (and she made a slicing motion with her hand) bye… I think you should resign tonight.”
The motion for requested documentation was approved unanimously. Vick said he would like the council to make a determination at their next meeting on whether they still need to do an investigation.
Craig Caprara of HDR Engineering gave a presentation on the Preliminary Engineering Report that has just been completed for the town’s water system. They evaluated the water supply, the distribution and the storage. They looked at a 20-year plan which includes a projected population growth rate of 2.1% and the possibility of annexation around the town. The Town’s water supply is healthy through 2040, according to the report. Unaccounted for water in the system is between 28-74% of water produced per month. Improvements to the distribution system could result in regaining water in the system. Currently the system does not meet the 3500-gallon-per-minute requirement for fire suppression along Main Street. The Town is also short on storage, about 235,000 gallons short in 2020, a projected 280,000 gallons short in 2040. The report considers various alternatives for storage, including rehabbing the existing storage tank on Middle Burnt Fork and adding another tank, or building all new tanks, in various locations. Other locations mentioned in the report were the Wye area and the airport. In addition, the PER recommends water main replacements and water system SCADA (hardware and software) improvements.
The recommended improvements are estimated to cost $1,500,400 for a 1-million-gallon storage tank; $623,900 to upgrade to 12-inch water mains on Main Street; and $265,000 for SCADA improvements, for a total project cost of $2,389,300.
Caprara said that the project could be funded with money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Stevensville is set to get $529,270 over the next two years. Stevensville is also eligible for $327,806 in grant funds which require a 25% match. Money is also available through a competitive grant program of up to $25 million through the State of Montana.
Caprara presented a possible scenario for Stevensville which would result in $3,581,835 in total funding. If the Town was successful in getting that amount, Caprara said they could also do other improvements to the water system, like fixing or replacing some of the smaller water mains on the side streets.
The application for the competitive grant is due by July 15 with determination by the end of August. Caprara recommended that the Town apply. Ludington made a motion to move forward with the grant application for ARPA funds for water system improvements. If the Town gets the grant, there will be no cost to taxpayers. The motion was approved unanimously.
In other business:
• Finance officer Robert Underwood submitted his letter of resignation. Although he had said he would work until a replacement was found, Thursday was his last day on the job.
• The pool was expected to open on Monday, June 14.
• The council approved a special event alcohol use permit for Bikers Against Bullies.
• The council approved removal of two maple trees on E. 5th.
In his executive report, the Mayor noted that the town had not received any statements of qualification for the position of town attorney. He said they will re-advertise for that position.
In council comments, Vick said he went to the extreme of asking for a trial of the mayor so that they could come to a happy medium to get the documentation and go from there. “The only reason I came out with this today, I believe there’s a very good chance that nothing wrong happened but the public needs to know what happened. The public needs to know that something happened with their money that was a little cattywampus.” He also said that several people came to him with concern over the town’s logo being switched to rainbow colors in honor of Pride Month.
All the council members praised Patrick Shourd for his service to the community and wished him well. Shourd has resigned for personal reasons.
The day after the council meeting, Dempsey Vick submitted a letter of resignation, effective immediately. He said he wanted to focus on himself, his career and his future and that his resignation had nothing to do with his issues with the mayor.
With the previous resignation of Shourd, the council will now have only two members, Paul Ludington and Jaime Devlin, who will have to appoint two members to fill the two unexpired terms of Shourd and Vick.