Council meets for first time in a long time

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Members of the Dillon City Council and administration gathered last week in person and via Zoom, in mask and not, to work through, in an often roundabout way, a meeting agenda laden with leftovers from the cancellation of city council meetings in recent months due to the coronavirus pandemic. M.P. Regan photo

Ambivalence featured prominently at last week’s Dillon City Council meeting, the first complete meeting held by the city’s legislative body in around two months.

“First off, welcome back everybody to a regular meeting again,” said Mayor Mike Klakken, shortly after opening the meeting.

“Kinda,” added Councilperson Bill Shafer in acknowledging the many irregular aspects of the council’s first opportunity to sit down with each other since the recent easing of some of the restrictions placed on public gatherings by Gov. Steve Bullock earlier this year in response to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic into Montana.

Some councilpersons attended the meeting in person, while others participated remotely with their faces projected onto a screen in City Council Chambers and their voices coming across speaker phone—though the voices in the council chambers did not always convey efficiently in the other direction.

“Mr. Mayor, is there a way to turn up the volume? I can’t hear the councilmen,” wondered Rich Wassall, one of the two councilpersons participating in the meeting remotely, via Zoom.

“Can you hear ‘em now?” Klakken asked after making an adjustment.

“This is not an AT&T ad,” joked Klakken after someone else in the room asked the same question featured in a series of cell phone ads last decade.

“Or is it Verizon? I can’t remember which,” added Klakken.

Only one councilperson heeded instructions printed at the bottom of the meeting’s agenda and wore a mask, while everyone else in attendance in City Council Chambers bared all—above the neck.

Several key items on the meeting’s agenda passed, while others got tabled or watered down.

And the city’s longtime commitment to an area organization got questioned.

And it’s next commitment to a fire chief turned out to be short term.

“I am appointing BJ Klose to fire chief. He was voted in by the fire department, with understanding from everybody that this would be interim, until a fire chief is hired—a permanent fire chief,” said Klakken of the appointment of the Dillon Volunteer Fire Department’s assistant chief for the past five years to head a department that has been over the past year transitioning to accommodate the hiring of a fire chief from outside DVFD fully qualified and educated in fire fighting and inspection with Fie District 2.

“How long do you expect the interim position will be, like a year?” asked Councilperson Mary Jo O’Rourke.

“Hopefully, it’s less than that. It’s all dependent on an interlocal agreement coming together,” responded Klose, citing ongoing negotiations between DVFD and District 2, which encompasses all of Beaverhead County, to create a paid, fulltime fire chief position and fill it with someone boasting all the necessary qualifications.

“We started it and the fire district didn’t like it. I mean, they started out liking it, but then they didn’t like it. They brought somebody else in and redid it,” said Klakken of the still-developing agreement.

“In our ordinances, we can only take the person—the fire chief is the one the fire department appoints or votes in. And, so we’ve got to get them to sign off on agreeing that things have changed. This is the interlocal agreement we are talking about, so that has to be changed, too, to work. And there might be some other stuff, too,” added Klakken.

“I am hoping that as soon as everybody—the city, the fire department and the fire district— all agree to the interlocal agreement, and we get everybody’s votes and the signatures all on it, then we will interview, or go out and post for interviews,” said Klakken of advertising for applicants for the new, expanded fire chief position.

“So, who knows—I’m hoping for a couple months, maybe. Or less, but I doubt it,” concluded the mayor.

“Darrin has done a great job in the last few years doing it,” said Klose of retiring DVFD Chief Darrin Morast.

“But I tell you what, it’s exhausting,” said Klose of managing, as a volunteer, one of the biggest volunteer fire companies in the country.

“Okay, the next item is to approve with conditions or deny the mobile home and RV park of Mike and Patricia Todd in the Klassen-Link Subdivision,” said Klakken, moving to the next item on the meeting agenda.

“Mr. Mayor, I move to table this,” said O’Rourke.

“It has serious flaws and I think we are putting the cart before the horse. There are a whole bunch of things that are not included in here. And I think it’s going to put the city in a precarious position, if the city needs to go forth and negotiate things that are better left to the developer,” continued O’Rourke.

“That agreement on the lift station, those kind of things should be better left to the developer,” added O’Rourke.

“The recommendation from the staff that the standard conditions that all relevant issues covered by MCA 76-3-608 are discussed and agreed upon—that should never be a condition. That should be done prior to bringing in a resolution to the council. What 76-3-608 is all about is criteria our local government would use to evaluate a subdivision. That should be done at the Planning Board stage. It shouldn’t be done here,” asserted O’Rourke.

“The second one, all issues covered by 76-3-622—that is a list of something that should be included in the packet. That isn’t something that is discussed or agreed upon. That just is the part of the ordinance that lists out what the developer will include in his packet. So, that shouldn’t be a condition. That should be part of the packet that goes to the Planning Board,” added O’Rourke.

“Excuse me, is this a motion to table or is it a discussion?” interjected Wassall.

“It’s a motion to table and she is explaining why. Because, really once you make the motion to table and you second it, there is no discussion. You go right to a vote to table,” explained Klakken.

“The motion needs a second. I really don’t understand the motion,” said Wassall.

“Do we have a second?” asked Klakken.

“Second,” answered Russ Schwandt, who like Wassall, attended the meeting remotely.

“Mr. Mayor, I’ve got concerns also,” said Wassall, who then referred to page 3 of the staff report on the matter and a heading on it, Effect on Public Health and Safety.

“We mainly just have a motion to table. You can come in and discuss those if you want,” responded Klakken.

“Can we discuss the motion?” wondered Wassall.

“If it gets tabled, no, to discuss all the items you have a problem with, because the motion to table is on the table. I don’t believe you can discuss table. All those in favor of tabling until the next meeting” said Klakken in an attempt to end the discussion that he implied should not have happened.

“Reluctantly, I said, ‘aye’ because I think you cut off the discussion,” said Wassall in response to Klakken’s question on how he voted in the the 5-2 approval of tabling the matter until the next council meeting.

“Between now and then, what do you want to do with it, though?” asked Council President Don Hand.

“Two items have been handed out that came in after the packet was out. So, I didn’t put either one of them in nor did I hand them out, because it wouldn’t be right in open meeting because the public wouldn’t have had a chance to see either one of them. That’s why I held them back. Now, you guys have them, and the public can have them, too, at any time that they want. They will be entered into the record,” said Klakken.

“Can we discuss this at all now that we’ve tabled it,” asked Councilperson Raymond Graham.

“Not really,” responded Klak ken. “Not once you’ve tabled it.”

The council then moved on to discuss the city’s continued participation in the Headwaters R,C&D program from July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2022.

“Mr. Mayor, is there someone here who can delineate out for us the accomplishments of belonging to Headwaters in 2019 or 2020?” requested O’Rourke.

“They go through and help dig up programs for, like small business loans and they help everybody work through them. They have some training classes for business. They mainly are structured for business—to help the businesses in town,” answered Klakken.

“They also participate in the first-time homebuyers program,” added Hand. “They do certification for that and also provide the guidance for that program.”

“So, how many first-time homebuyers classes were offered in Dillon. How many small-business loans were garnered by businesses in Dillon? Specifically, what is it that, I believe it’s $3,000 that we pay,”

“No, it’s about $2,000. It’s not much,” said Hand of the city’s annual contribution to partner with Headwaters. “But what we get out of it is very good.”

“I know the people involved in this, and they have done a fabulous job for Butte-Silver Bow, and they’ve done a pretty fair job for Madison County. I guess I’m just not sure what they’ve done for Beaverhead County,” said O’Rourke.

“Is there a possibility we could have somebody from Headwaters come and give us a report on what has been accomplished?” asked O’Rourke.

“I will try to get somebody down there,” said Klakken, shortly before the council’s unanimous vote of approval. “I don’t know when I can.”

The council then quickly and unanimously, with little discussion, approved the second reading of an ordinance to Dillon Municipal Code Title 13—Public Services and the new Drug and Alcohol Policy for city employees.