By Michael Howell
Stevensville Town Councilor Pat Groninger, who has come under fire recently for allegedly bullying former Mayor Lew Barnett and Councilor Desera Towle, has resigned his position as Council President but aims to remain on the council representing Ward 1.
At the September 26 meeting, Groninger told the council that with the amount of work facing the town and with the Mayor resigning, a lot of work needs to be taken care of that would require signatures. He said that he was lucky to land some work that could take him out of town or possibly out of state.
“To save expense, to save time, to save effort, to save all kinds of stuff, I would resign as Council President,” Groninger told the council. He agreed to put his resignation in writing.
Councilor Robin Holcomb was elected to fulfill the term of Council President, which expires at the end of the year. Holcomb was elected on a 3 to 1 vote with Councilor Towle casting the lone dissenting vote. Councilor Mullan stated that he nominated Holcomb because she is the senior member of the council.
Councilor Towle, who considered quitting the council and was preparing to move out of state in search of employment, found a job working at the Bitterroot Chamber of Commerce and decided to remain and serve as Councilperson for Ward 2.
The council also took up with the issue of Groninger’s alleged bullying of Towle. Councilors Holcomb and Mullan placed a request for an investigation into Groninger’s alleged bullying and/or harassment of Towle on the agenda.
“As we all know some allegations have been made and as a result it is appropriate that there be some sort of investigation into these allegations to see if they have merit,” said Mullan. “If there is merit to the accusations, some action should be taken.”
Town Attorney Keithi Worthington recommended that the council follow standard procedure as though it were a personnel matter. But she said generally a complaint was needed to initiate the process. She said that it was up to Towle if she wants to pursue it or not.
Mullan said he supported an investigation.
Newly appointed Mayor Gene Mim Mack said that it raised a lot of questions such as who would conduct the investigation. He said that it was clear that allegations had been made in the press and that Groninger believed them to be lies. Mim Mack said it was unclear what would be gained by pursuing an investigation. He suggested that Groninger seek legal counsel if he felt like he had legal grounds for challenging his accusers. He suggested the council review the rules of decorum governing councilors’ behavior. He also raised the issue of the cost of any investigation.
“Both sides have made their positions clear,” said Mim Mack. “But I don’t see anything being advanced for the good of the public by such an investigation.”
Councilor Holcomb said that with all the allegations in the newspaper, “people will be wondering why we let it happen.” She said that she does not approve of bullying, but hadn’t seen it.
“I’d like to see a letter of allegations. I’d like to see something happen,” said Holcomb.
Bitterroot Star editor Victoria Howell commented that it was possible that some people don’t understand what bullying is. She suggested the council consider getting a presentation from a professional on the subject.
Councilor Towle made no comment.
No motion was made and no action was taken.
In other business, the council set a date of November 14, at 6 p.m. at town hall for a public hearing on a proposed Sign Ordinance. Town Planner Ben Longbottom said that the Planning and Zoning Committee was recommending adoption of the ordinance. A copy of the document may be viewed at Town Hall or at the Main Street Association office. He said the committee had been working with business people in town for a few years on fashioning the proposed ordinance.
Don Ramer of PCI told the council that Phase I work on the new 16-inch water main along Park Street was essentially complete. He said there were only a few punch card items left that must be finished in the next 30 days. He said work on the west side of Park Street in the boulevard was continuing and that painting, striping and placement of signs was the only outstanding issue. He said the council could solicit price estimates from three companies without advertising since the project is estimated to cost about $5,000, well under the $50,000 limit imposed by the law.
Phase II of the project, which involves installing water meters, was meeting some snags, according to Ramer, as too many people were not responding to phone calls or door knob tags advising them to make an appointment for installation.
“I don’t know if people are thinking there is a cost involved or not,” said Ramer. The installation of the meters is not being charged to the homeowner, but is being paid for with Water Project funds. He said the company would like to finish before the snow flies. The council will consider ways to help, including perhaps writing letters of explanation to the residents.
Phase III is nearing completion of the design stage, according to Ramer. It involves placement of water mains and a source of water delineation and well field design.
The council also approved the decommissioning of the 1965 Ford pumper by the Town Fire District.
The Council also agreed to apply for a grant from the Stevensville Community Foundation to develop a power point program for the town. Brandon Dewey offered to help develop a similar multi-media power point program that he constructed for the Fire Department.
The Council also approved the hanging of pink ribbons on light poles and posts in town as part of celebrating Breast Cancer Awareness Month.