By Michael Howell
Stevensville Town Council member Ron Klaphake’s appointment by Mayor Gene Mim Mack to replace outgoing Town Judge Marty Birkeneder was unanimously confirmed by the Town Council last week. Klaphake was one of seven applicants for the job and one of the six to be interviewed for the position.
At last month’s Council meeting, Klaphake’s appointment was put on hold to give Councilors Robin Holcomb and Jim Crews time to review the applications and resumes themselves. They both expressed concerns about a potential conflict of interest in the appointment and wanted to personally review the material. At last week’s meeting they both expressed appreciation for the chance to do the review and both agreed to support the appointment.
Crews asked Klaphake whether, if he was selected for the job, there would be any conflict of interest if either the Mayor or Councilor Bill Perrin should come before him in court.
Klaphake said there was no conflict of interest nor would there be if either Crews or Holcomb came before the court. He said it would be different if it involved a family member. Asked how he would handle a conflict of interest, he said he would do what the law says, which is to recuse himself and put another judge on the case.
Birkeneder’s term ends on June 14 but the law provides that she will continue to serve until a new judge is appointed and certified. Certification could take up to a month. Klaphake must resign his seat on the Council before he is officially sworn in as Judge, but by law he will be able to vote on his successor. The Mayor does not get to cast a tie breaking vote in this process.
The Council decided unanimously to re-activate the Town’s Park Advisory Board.
“We know that the Park Board has disappeared,” said Councilor Robin Holcomb, “but we need to talk about it again.” She said that with proposed play structure improvements and ongoing issues with the swimming pool, it was time to reconsider and maybe bring the Park Board back.
Mayor Mim Mack noted that the Park Board was established by resolution in 1975. The Board, as established in that resolution, consists of seven members, six appointed by the mayor with approval of the council and the seventh member a council person appointed by the mayor. Each member is appointed for a three-year term, except that two members of the initial board shall be appointed for one year only and two members will be appointed for two years only and thereafter the appointments are for three years. Park Board members must reside within 15 miles of the Town limits.
All the previous Park Board members resigned after the pool was reconstructed.
In other business:
• The Town received notice from Governor Steve Bullock’s office that a Montana Department of Commerce grant of $222,750 from Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund to B.E. Forest Products had been awarded. The funds will assist the new business with its expansion efforts in creating at least 30 new jobs. Effective date of the award is May 13, 2014.
• The Council approved a Change Order in the engineering agreement with Professional Consultants, Inc. for an additional payment of $7,900.68 for additional services added to the sewer main project over the course of completion. The original contract for $127,304 was increased by the added amount and now totals $135,204.68.
• The Council approved a change order related to the same project that reflects a $60,914.64 decrease in the contract price for the sewer main project because certain machinery was not needed in the project.
• The last change order related to the sewer main project would add about $23,765 to the contract price for additional work done at the wastewater treatment plant, slight tweaks made in the field to connect to existing infrastructure, additional sanitary sewer lines, additional asphalt patching, chip sealing and sprinkler repair. This would bring the total cost of the project to about $683,528.
• The Council approved paying out accumulated comp time to employees for a total liability to the town of $1,480.64.
• The council approved using $17,000 in gas tax funds to pave some parking areas along Church Street.
• Following legal advice concerning nepotism laws, Mayor Gene Mim Mack requested that his daughter Alison work at the town’s swimming pool as a volunteer instead of being paid. Alison was hired by pool manager Melissa Henderson. Henderson submitted a written statement that she had hired every applicant for the job so no one was being displaced by offering the job to Alison. She said without Alison she would be juggling to meet the needs of the program when college starts and other workers leave. She said that the mayor would not be involved in matters concerning Alison’s employment, but would be replaced in that role by a town council member. She recommended letting Alison take the job for pay. She said it was worth encouraging young people who want to work.
Mayor Mim Mack said that he encouraged his daughter to apply for the job, but once he looked at the law on nepotism, he asked her to volunteer at the pool instead and she agreed because she did not want to create any trouble. He applauded her for her decision. At least six people spoke in favor of paying Alison, but she will work as a volunteer instead.