We Are Dillon

Down the Middle


Initially, I considered the Dillon City Council’s actions last week another example of the group’s sometimes shortsighted gamesmanship in which the consequences of their actions are never really considered.  As the days passed, I’ve come to the conclusion that it was a devious, well thought out ploy to spin city government out of control for many years to come.

In short, the council overstepped their bounds by rejecting Mayor Michael Klakken’s appointments to the positions of city attorney and city treasurer, in an apparent attempt to keep the previous administration’s people in those positions.  The council seemed intent on sending the message that they were now not only the legislative branch, but also the administrative arm of city government.

The one argument presented by a council member to justify the action focused on an apples to oranges comparison of a labor dispute within the Butte-Silver Bow government.   Employees were fired and sued Butte-Silver Bow.  The realm of political appointees falls under a completely different set of rules.

Or am I missing something here?  Will President Barack Obama send a representative to Dillon near the end of his term to learn how he can guarantee Secretary of State John Kerry remains in the position even if a Republican should win the election?

I am not a Constitutional scholar nor a lawyer nor an expert on this subject in any way, but the council’s actions do not pass the smell test.  According to Wikipedia, the system of political appointments evolved from what was known for a long time as the spoils system or patronage system – “to the victor belong the spoils.”  The site pointed out that politicians wanted to pull away from the negative image cast by the terms patronage and spoils, leading them to rename the process political appointments.

Dr. Klakken paid the filing fee to put his name on the ballot, he painted signs, he walked from door to door throughout Dillon visiting with citizens, he purchased advertisements.  He took a risk, he worked hard and he won the election by a convincing margin.  It is not an easy path to walk.  Voters only give two grades, an A or an F.  You are elected or you are in a very public manner, rejected.

Dr. Klakken had two months after the election to formulate his plans and to assemble his team, and I’m sure he did so with a great deal of enthusiasm.  He had won the election and surely wanted to justify that trust with his best effort to move Dillon forward as the new mayor.

At Dr. Klakken’s first meeting as mayor last week, the council opted to attempt a coup d’etat of sorts by sending the message that the mayor not only had no power,  but offered up a veiled threat that they could cut his salary and benefits.

Of course, this is the shortsightedness or deviousness of the plan.  We all learned from the last administration that the council cannot take action on any item unless it appears on the agenda, and the mayor controls the agenda.

So what is the potential outcome.  The council falls into a dysfunctional body with constant battles between us and them – if they’re for it, I’m against it.  The back and forth will continue for two years until the next city election when perhaps the mayor will try to get “his” people on the council.

So maybe the mayor gets control of half of the council and the battles rage on for another two years until the next election when the mayors office is up for grabs.

No, no, no, please no.

We are Dillon.  We are special.  We do not do this and that because that is how they do it in Butte or Missoula.  We do what is best for Dillon.  We set the bar, we are special, we are Dillon.  We do not follow, we lead.

In my experience, Dr. Klakken does not have a mean nor vindictive bone in his body.  As a member of the council, he justified all of his arguments and regularly mentioned Montana Code Annotated because he insisted on following the law.  If he leaned a particular way on an issue and someone offered a compelling argument to do things a different way, he was open to changing his mind.  

I am sure he was excited to turn the page and open a new chapter of city government, one in which he would indeed be a facilitator.  I’m sure his vision included a council that represented a cross-section of Dillon, openly discussing topics and deciding issues via an educated vote.

It does happen in Dillon – with the school boards, planning board, museum board, fair board – and many other entities that are made up of volunteers that also spend a good deal of time on their particular endeavors, and do so in a pleasant, respectful, cooperative manner.

We are Dillon.  We are community.  We are family.  We are all in this together.

Does Dr. Klakken have a Nelson Mandela-like idealism?  Yes, I think if the council can follow the rule book and reverse their error at the next council meeting, I believe Dr. Klakken will forge on with his refreshing, idealistic hopes for City of Dillon government.  

The burden is on the council – David Spehar, Bob Cottom, Lynn Westad, Derek Gore, Nils “Swede” Troedsson, Dan Nye, Dick Achter and Bill Shafer.  Embrace the ideal, strive for the best.  You are Dillon, you are community, you are family.

Be special.  Last week, you embarrassed the family.