Council’s Troedsson feels group is treated unfairly by local media

Dillon City Councilperson Nils “Swede” Troedsson addresses a member of the public during a recent meeting at City Hall. Troedsson feels the local media have not given the council a fair shake in recent coverage. J.P. Plutt photo

 

Sometime after the Feb. 5 meeting of the Dillon City Council, Councilperson Nils “Swede” Troedssen called the Montana Standard in Butte. He says he felt the local media in Dillon was not treating the council fairly and wanted a different source dealing with the story.

“My main point was, the local media was not coming to any of the council members outside of the city council to reaffirm and add information as to why their position was as it is,” said Troedsson. “I contacted the Montana Standard to get our side of the story better explained. Our big one was the firing of our attorney without consent of council. That just blindsided us.”

The Dillon Tribune’s first opportunity to report on the Feb. 5 meeting was Feb. 12. Troedssen’s story with the Montana Standard came out Feb. 11, and dealt with the firing of City Attorney Duke Gilbert, and the subsequent scramble by the council to ensure Gilbert was given four cases to “finish up.”

Troedssen admitted later in the interview that Gilbert had decided to retire.

“Duke was going to go anyway, he was going to resign,” admitted Troedssen. “He had told us.”

Neither the Feb. 11 Montana Standard story, nor a following story ever touched upon the topic that the Dillon local media had been reporting on for almost a month leading up to Troedssen’s decision to take his case to Butte — the refusal of the council to consent to new Mayor Michael Klakken’s appointments of a new city treasurer and a new city attorney. The positions are appointed to two-year terms.

“What personally forced me to go the the Montana Standard was because I felt our position of not going along with (City Treasurer) Ty Cobb’s replacement was not adequately presented in your newspaper,” explained Troedssen.

There has yet to be a story in the Montana Standard on the failure of the council to recognize the new mayor’s appointments.

The Dillon Tribune had reported the situation by attending the public city council meeting and reporting on the testimony of council members, public comment and the votes of the council. While many members of the public continually asked why the appointments were not being recognized, Troedssen feels the council had reasons they did not feel necessary to bring up during the public meeting, despite the public’s requests for an explanation.

“Going into the codes and a lot of these details, there is just not time at the council to get in-depth,” said Troedssen.

Much of the discussion centers on powers established in the City Charter of the City of Dillon, adopted in 1996. The charter is much like the U.S. Constitution is to the federal government – it holds supremacy over statutory provisions added later and cannot be changed other than by a vote of the citizens of Dillon.

The Charter details the powers and responsibilities of each branch of city government. Under “Powers and Duties” of the council, Troedssen reads the first two sentences of the first item, and draws the conclusion that the council has all of the power and that the mayor is essentially a figurehead.

it reads: 1, The council shall be the legislative and policy determining body of the City of Dillon. All powers of the City shall be vested in the city council except as otherwise provided by law or this Charter, and the council shall provide for the exercise thereof and for the performance of all duties and obligations imposed on the city by law.

The final two parts of the section appear to limit the council’s power: 2, Neither the council, nor council members shall in any manner dictate the appointment or removal of any city officers or employees whom the mayor or any subordinates are empowered to appoint. 3, Except for the purpose of inquiry or investigation under this title, the council or its members shall deal with the local government employees who are subject to the direction and supervision of the mayor solely through the mayor, and neither the council nor its members may give orders to any such employee, either publicly or privately.

While the Charter provides specific legislative duties to the council, the powers granted the mayor are more broad and specific to the Charter’s definition of the mayor as the “chief executive officer of the city.” The Charter spells out 11 powers and duties, four administrative duties, as well as the legislative authority to decide all tie votes of the council and provides the power to veto all ordinances and resolutions.

At the Jan. 15 meeting of the Dillon City Council, the council rejected Klakken’s appointments of Jim Dolan to replace Duke Gilbert as city attorney and Neal D. Straus to replace Ty Cobb as city treasurer. Again, under the Charter, the powers and duties of the council are direct, “Neither the council, nor council members shall in any manner dictate the appointment or removal of any city officers or employees whom the mayor or any subordinates have the power to appoint.”

The council denied both appointments at the Jan. 15 meeting, based on councilperson Lynn Westad’s legal opinion on a City of Butte lawsuit and what she felt was a similarity with the City of Dillon’s appointments by the mayor.

Prior to the Feb. 5 meeting, Klakken hired Adam M. Shaw, an attorney with the Dillon law firm Erb & Suenram, to provide a legal opinion comparing the Butte case to the Dillon case. Klakken says he couldn’t get an opinion from Gilbert or Deputy City Attorney Jim Dolan, because both had a personnel conflict riding on the outcome. He opted to hire Shaw for an independent opinion.

Prior to the Feb. 5 meeting, Klakken fired Gilbert for what he termed “insubordination.”

Shaw determined that the Dillon and Butte situations were very much different in that the Dillon positions were appointed to two-year terms that expired at the end of two years. In Shaw’s opinion, the city was not in jeopardy of violating the Wrong Discharge of Employment Act (WDEA).

“”That’s Shaw’s opinion, refuted by the attorney from Missoula,” said Troedsson. “That opinion supported our position at the first meeting.”

The Missoula attorney proved to be a surprise guest at the Feb. 5 meeting, hired by City Treasurer Ty Cobb to represent his interests. Sherine D. Fernando an attorney at Datsopoulos, MacDonald & Lind of Missoula, insisted WDEA did apply to the Cobb’s situation. Fernando addressed the council and answered questions from the public. At one point, she said the same WDEA principle would apply to State of Montana appointees of the Gov., including such positions as the Director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

Under the powers and duties of the mayor, Klakken has the ability to make appointments “with the consent of the council.” While this seems to give the council the power to nullify an appointee who is not qualified, the powers or limitations of the powers of the council seem designed to prevent the council from interfering with the chief executive’s ability to “administer affairs of city government.” Both the attorney and treasurer fall under the authority of the administrative branch of city government.

Again, the charter restricts the council under the listed powers and duties: 2, Neither the council, nor council members shall in any manner dictate the appointment or removal of any city officers or employees whom the mayor or any subordinates are empowered to appoint.

“We did not agree with his appointment because we did not want to open the city up to a suit for wrongful discharge which his attorney agreed to,” said Troedssen, speaking of Ty Cobb and the testimony the lawyer he hired to protect his interests gave at the Feb. 5 meeting. Troedssen did not agree with what was presented as an independent opinion of a lawyer with no ties to either party in the dispute.

“We refused the appointment at the first meeting because we felt it would have opened us up to a possible wrongful discharge,” said Troedssen. “Her opinion at the second meeting was solicited by Ty to support our position at the first meeting.”

Troedssen felt both Klakken’s appointees were qualified for the positions, and in fact stated that Straus may be “over-qualified.”

“Had Ty resigned, we would have brought in Straus in a second,” said Troedssen.

As it stands, Troedssen feels that Cobb deserves the job as long as he wants it, as long as he meets the requirements of the job. Essentially, a two-year appointment means a lifetime appointment.

“I’m just saying, this is the process we would go through with the Forest Service,” explained Troedssen. “If he wasn’t doing his job he would be advised in writing of that beforehand and given time to rectify his inadequacies. If he didn’t, then we would have documentation that he was given due process if he didn’t correct it. He might find a better job, you never now, but until he’s ready to leave, he’s go the job as long as he’s doing the job.”

Regarding Gilbert and the vote not to honor Klakken’s appointment of Dolan at the Jan. 15 meeting, Troedssen spoke of an issue that didn’t even come up until the Feb. 5 meeting – a resolution guaranteeing Gilbert the four cases in question.

“The first time as I recall, we had concerns about Dolan because he was living in Anaconda,” said Troedssen. “We had promises about him moving down here if he was appointed. We’ll talk about that when you get down here.”

When Troedssen was reminded that Cobb was a resident of Madison County he pointed out that there are no residency requirements for the position. His feeling was that if a search warrant or other legal remedy needed to be implemented, it would not have been convenient with Dolan in Anaconda.”

Reminded again that Dolan had served as Deputy City Attorney for a number of years and that he had promised he would move to Dillon in time should he be appointed to the city attorney position.

“It was an issue in our minds because he wasn’t here,” said Troedssen.

Other thoughts from Councilperson Troedssen:

Troedssen feels the mayor did not have the authority to hire the attorney Shaw and that the bill could possibly not pass through the Finance Committee for payment. According to Klakken, he hired Shaw under powers granted by the Charter – “the mayor may appoint one or more administrative assistants to assist in the supervision and operation of the local government, and such administrative assistants shall be answerable only to the mayor.” Klakken said the council seemed in need of an opinion on the Butte Silver Bow case as it related to the Dillon appointments. The bill should be paid out of the city council budget under contract services, an account with a balance of $17,500, according to Klakken.