Two members of the Stevensville Town Council resigned at the end of last Thursday’s meeting. Sydney Allen, a Ward 2 appointee who had just won a new term in the November election, and Jaime Devlin both resigned, citing abuse and stress as factors in their decision. Paul Ludington, who was defeated by former councilmember Stacie Barker in the November election, and Karen Wandler, who did not run for election, will be leaving at the end of the month. Barker and Cindy Brown, the other newly elected council member, will start their terms in January, most likely with the pressing task of appointing two people to replace Allen and Devlin.
Devlin read a prepared statement at the end of the meeting.
“Tonight will be my last night representing Ward 1 as Councilmember,” said Devlin. “The health of my family as well as my well-being must be my top priority. ”When I ran for election, I had visions of working with leaders of our community and being a voice for those who had been silenced. In the past two years of my time serving on council, I have seen and experienced situations and behaviors that have damaged me. I did not realize that by being elected I would become a victim of regular verbal and mental abuse. I am told that this abuse is the culture of Stevensville, that this is just how it is. I am not sure why there is an unwritten expectation to abuse public servants and neighbors. What I do know is that we teach people how to treat us. I will no longer allow myself to be abused by people I represent, or my neighbors. Until the mentality of people living in Stevensville changes, it will not matter who serves on the Council nor who is Mayor. Until people stand up and say this abuse is no longer allowed here, it will continue. My passion is to help others as well as the community(s) around me. I will continue to strive to leave this beautiful community better than I found it. I will continue my mission of helping as many people as I can, and I will succeed with teaching others of their self-worth. These will just not be done sitting at a table representing Ward 1 of the Town of Stevensville.”
“I’m going to follow suit and do the same thing,” said Allen. “I’m a school teacher and I cannot afford to be sued. I did not vote with my conscience tonight. I was threatened tonight that if I did something out of conscience I would be sued… The undue stress that this position has caused is heartbreaking. The town of Stevensville will get exactly what it deserves. We will end up with the government we deserve.
“When I stepped into this role, I was acutely aware of the deep-rooted turmoil in our town, and I had the utmost desire to help conscientiously grow and evolve the Town of Stevensville. I was unaware that forward movement would be muddled by negative rhetoric, false accusations, and misinterpretations of the law. It has been increasingly difficult and stress-inducing. Therefore, I am choosing to reallocate my energy into my career and family.
I look forward to being an active participant and supporting the incoming administration as a community member. I encourage other community members to do the same.
“My resignation is effective as of December 24th.”
The council had spent a good portion of the meeting listening to the public weigh in on a motion to grant indemnification to Mayor Brandon Dewey on a lawsuit he had filed against Leanna Rodabaugh over her attempt to recall him. Dewey lost the lawsuit but survived the recall attempt. He submitted a bill for legal fees of approximately $12,000 which the Town paid at the end of 2020. However, the council had not approved the claim (along with some other claims) and Scott Owens, the town’s attorney at the time, advised Dewey “to repay the money, resubmit the claim, and present the issue of indemnification to the Council for determination.” Dewey repaid the money to the Town but did not pursue indemnification at that time. The council also initiated an investigation into the matter of the claim, which resulted in Dewey being cleared of any wrongdoing.
Before consideration of the matter, the mayor turned the chair over to council president Paul Ludington. Allen made a motion to approve indemnification, saying that it was in an effort to get the conversation moving and to hear public comments.
All but one public comment on the motion was against indemnifying the mayor, with most saying that this was a personal lawsuit and that Dewey should be responsible for his own costs.
Raymond Smith, a former council member, said “…Nobody in the town told him to fight that recall… If you vote for this you don’t know your laws.” Smith suggested later that if the Town was going to indemnify Dewey, they should also pay the legal fees of Rodabaugh.
Angela Lyons said, “Why hasn’t the town attorney weighed in on this? It would be crazy to move forward without his opinion…”
In the end the motion failed, with Devlin voting in favor, Allen abstaining, citing the threat of a lawsuit, and Ludington and Wandler voting against.
Mayor Dewey said later, “I realize that I put you as the council and my colleagues in an uncomfortable situation by seeking indemnification, especially after I originally said that I wouldn’t be seeking that. It wasn’t an easy process, but you navigated that process with professionalism and impartiality. I’m sorry to have done that to you and that you had to go through that process… A citizen’s comments at a previous meeting regarding abuse caused me to reevaluate the nonsense that I’ve been put through in this position… I understand public service comes with its issues and I’m not debating that. Certainly, when you hold the top elected positon in the community you’re in a position where you’ll be scrutinized… but I think the heat was certainly dialed up from day one of my administration. One of the first actions the council took was to remove me from the fire department roster and demand that I resign my 12-year career in the volunteer fire department… And I complied in the name of trying to create harmony and moving the community forward peacefully… The comments that were made regarding the abuse that a specific person allegedly endured from this body, which for the record did not occur, caused me to think of pain and not only what I’ve had to live through in this position but that pain that, albeit it’s not physical, some members of this community have also inflicted on my family too. And that’s unfortunate.”
Dewey said there have been five resignations since November 1st – director of finance and human resources, parks and recreation director, deputy clerk, administrative assistant and a police officer, a 34% decrease in staffing overall. He asked the public to be patient with the new administration as they try to replenish what he considers to be the Town’s most valuable resource, “our people. It’s going to be somewhat of a challenge…”
He went on to say, “I’ve been serving this community and organization since 2006 – 16 years. Seven mayors have held office. Only three have been elected. It’s a tremendous honor that I’m grateful for. As I close the door on that tenure of service, I’m grateful for the relationships I’ve had and the lifelong friendships I’ve built… I’m impressed with the speed with which we’ve moved this community forward… over my tenure as mayor no task has been too big or too small to handle… The reason we’ve been able to get so much done is because of the four of you – this council has been the most distinguished council – bringing stability, harmony, integrity, dignity to the offices that you hold. I’m humbled to have served with you…
“Thank you for the grace and professionalism that you have demonstrated. Thank you for your service to our community. You’ve put up with a lot and have not been thanked enough for your efforts.”
In other business, the council:
• unanimously approved the Transportation Master Plan Agreement with Robert Peccia & Associates at a cost of $82,107.
• unanimously consented to the appointment of Brendalinn Daniels as a Firefighter Cadet.
• unanimously approved repairing the well field back-up generator for the town’s water system at a cost of approximately $21,000, at the recommendation of Steve Kruse, Public Works Director.
• unanimously approved establishing a special fund for street lighting on Main Street with $10,000 that was donated by local businesses from the proceeds of the Scarecrow Brewfest.
In council comments, Ludington said it had been a difficult year for him. He said he got on the council because there were a lot of things to be done, “a lot of things that needed attention.”
“We’re going to be back in that spot again in January, slowed down by people who are not interested in changing anything. I’m not a big fan of change but in order to not be left behind, we have to try and keep up.
“I do appreciate all the commitment that Brandon has given to this town over the last several years…I don’t think that he deserved the pound of flesh that was taken from him… it’s too bad that we live in a country now where the truth does not matter. We get to decide what’s true. And if you don’t agree, then you’re my enemy… agreeing to disagree doesn’t occur in some of the citizenry’s vocabulary…
“Sitting here tonight, I am embarrassed by you people. I’m super embarrassed. I hope that you have success… We’re all entitled to our opinions. I don’t have to agree with you and you don’t have to agree with me.
“Lastly, I would like to thank those people who are on town staff. We’re lucky to have the people that we do… I wish everybody the best…”
Wandler said, “I’ve never been a part of the city council, I worked full time. It’s been a real rewarding experience working with the council and with the general public. I’m surprised by some of the people I grew up with, their comments. They don’t listen… I only applied for this job because one person that everybody knows, one of the smartest people I know, told me if you don’t like what’s going on become a part of it. And I did that, Jaime… It’s been a real good experience and I’m glad I had it and I’m glad I’m not coming back…”
The current town council and mayor have only one more meeting scheduled before the end of the year, and the end of their terms. A regular meeting is scheduled for Thursday, December 23.