At the August 26 meeting of the Stevensville Town Council, the council unanimously approved payment of a claim for $12,020 in legal fees related to a complaint filed by Mayor Brandon Dewey against Leanna Rodabaugh who had launched a recall attempt against him. An investigation into the matter was completed by Isaac Kantor of Kantor Law, PLLC who found that Dewey had done nothing wrong in submitting the claim for payment.
The claim for legal fees was submitted by the mayor in December 2020 and was paid by the Town at that time without council approval, along with a number of other claims that were paid out of cycle due to the holidays. The mayor subsequently paid the money back to the Town on the advice of the Town’s attorney who said that the mayor would have to seek indemnification in order for that claim to be covered by the Town. In July of this year the council decided to separate that claim out from the rest of the unapproved claims (which were later approved) and have an independent investigation done on the legal fees claim.
According to the Summary of Findings, “A preponderance of the evidence supports a finding that Dewey did not behave in an improper manner when he submitted a claim for attorney’s fees incurred in relation to a recall effort to the Town of Stevensville for reimbursement… A preponderance of the evidence supports a finding that Dewey did not subsequently take steps to conceal the claim or prevent it from coming before the town council for approval…”
Kantor interviewed former finance officer Robert Underwood, Deputy Clerk Laura Miller, Town Clerk Jenelle Berthoud and former council president Dempsey Vick, as well as reviewing a number of documents related to the incident.
“This is a hot topic,” said Devlin. “Previously we discussed that we believed that there was no criminal activity.” She said the report documents that. She said she wasn’t sure what an approval would mean at this point since the money had been repaid so the amount was basically zero. The vote by the council to approve the claim was 3 to 1 with council president Paul Ludington voting no.
Dewey noted that the cost of the investigation was $3,260, which was approved with the August 26 claims.
The council held a public hearing on the preliminary budget. The only way the public could see the budget was online on their phones. Ludington apologized, saying they only found out the night before that the projector in the library community room, where the council meetings are held, wasn’t working. Former council member Stacie Barker said there was no information about the salaries and wages of the town’s employees, something the public has a right to know. Mayor Dewey said later that those amounts are listed in the document. The details can now be found on the Town’s website at www.townofstevensville.com.
The council unanimously approved Resolution 490, Adopting a Budget, Establishing Mill Levies, and Adopting Wages and Salaries for the Fiscal Year 2021-2022. The General Fund budget, which includes general administration, police, fire, streets, transportation and recreation services, lists $684,117 in estimated revenue and $1,045,882 in estimated expenses, with the bulk of the difference required to balance the budget being funded by American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding rather than drawing from cash reserves. The beginning balance in all funds – including General Fund, Special Revenue, Capital Projects, Enterprise, and Fiduciary – for the Fiscal Year July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022 is $3,917,246. Estimated revenues are $3,001,589. Estimated expenses (appropriations) are $3,228,334, and the ending balance is projected at $3,690,501, a decrease of $226,745 from the beginning balance. The ending balance for the General Fund is projected at $225,429, a decrease of $37,216 from the beginning balance of $262,645. In his executive report, Mayor Dewey told the council, “We’ve been very responsible with our funds. I applaud you for taking a sustainable approach to this budget. You were thoughtful in your process, deliberate in the actions you took in the budget… you did a fine job.”
Ludington said that he was proud that the council included pay raises in the budget in order to help retain the good employees the Town has now and to attract good employees in the future.
In other business, the council:
• heard a letter from Victoria Howell, Creamery Picnic chair, on behalf of the Stevensville Civic Club, thanking the mayor and council for their tremendous cooperation and support in putting on the 108th Creamery Picnic;
• approved the mayor’s appointment of Sue Devlin to the Park Board, with Jaime Devlin abstaining;
• unanimously approved a Booster Club request to paint Stevensville Schools’ new logo on 3rd Street and clarified that painting of the logo on the downtown sidewalks had been previously approved.
The next regular meeting of the council will be Thursday, September 9 at 7 p.m. at the North Valley Public Library community room. Agenda items include: discussion/decision on Resolution No. 491, Adopting a Master Fee Schedule for FY2022; discussion/decision on Preliminary Plat Approval Extension for Phase II of the Twin Creeks Subdivision; discussion/decision on participation in the Montana DPHHS Low Income Home Water Assistance Program; and discussion/decision on Special Event Permit for Scarecrow Festival, October 1-3, 2021.