By Michael Howell
Tim Hunter, former owner, with his wife Shelley, of the Bitterroot River Bed and Breakfast, was selected as the new Town Councilor for Ward 1 in Stevensville. Hunter will be filling the seat being vacated by Councilor Ron Klaphake, who is taking on the position of Municipal Court Judge.
Only one application was received for the Ward 1 council seat by the deadline for application submissions and a few people raised questions about the process, suggesting that the timeline was “rushed” or that the application process should have been extended in order to seek more applicants.
Mayor Gene Mim Mack defended the process and described it in detail. He said that the opening was advertised in the local newspaper on June 18 and again on June 25 as well as being posted on the Town’s website and on the notice board outside Town Hall, as well as being announced at Council meetings. He said that the process was clearly set out in Town policy adopted in 2010 and with state law.
The Mayor noted the rules state that the Council President should be notified of any vacancy or “potential vacancy” and that this was done. The rules state that the Council shall commence action to appoint a replacement prior to vacancy, if possible, to ensure that voters are not deprived of representation during the process. He said state law requires that an appointment be made within 20 days of any vacancy.
“The council’s method is in compliance with state law and with its own rules and will prevent any lack of representation for the people living in Ward 1,” said Mim Mack.
Councilor Ron Klaphake said that it was too bad that they only got one application but that the right process was followed and all the legal timelines were met.
“In this case we did get someone with a great deal of credentials and I am surprised and pleased at the results,” said Klaphake.
Hunter got a letter of support from former Town Planner Ben Longbottom, who stated that Hunter has the background and experience to enable him to become a valuable member of the Council “and he has proven himself to be a valuable member of the community.”
John Grove, a neighbor of the Hunters for nine or ten years, echoed and elaborated on Longbottom’s remarks, adding that Hunter showed himself to be a thoughtful, respectful person, capable of thorough research.
“He is a good communicator and has a background of working well with city management in Missoula and Hamilton,” said Grove. He added, “Tim and Shelley are both deeply invested in Stevensville.”
Dale Burk praised Hunter’s “openness, thoroughness and fairness” in all his involvement with the community.
“In terms of the Main Street Association and the Civic Club and his continuing involvement with the community, he has maintained that type of inquisitiveness, that same type of caring, and that same type of follow-up through physical actions, not just talk,” said Burk.
Hunter’s work experience spans 30 years working in the field of wastewater management and working with municipal government in that regard.
The vote to appoint Hunter to the vacant Ward 1 seat was unanimous.
The Council also set the new judge’s salary at $18,000 annually. The mayor said that the past two town judges were paid $1,500 per month which amounts to an $18,000 salary annually. He noted that the Town of Darby pays its judge $24,000 annually. He said the average of the towns examined was about $17,500 annually.
Although the last judge did get some benefits as part of her pay plan as part of a negotiated deal, no benefits were being offered in the present case. Although the salary is set there are no set hours and really no other obligations set in the contract because by law the judge sets his own court days and hours and other matters are governed by the Montana Supreme Court, not the town.
Asked about his goals for the position, Klaphake said that his main goal was a commitment to joining the rest of the municipalities in the state in instituting the Full Court system software. He said this would help tremendously in keeping good records and filing timely reports. He said that getting on the Full Court system would remove a lot of the burden on the Court Clerk and provide for better follow up on collection of fines. He said he was also looking into extending the ability of the Stevensville Police to issue tickets outside the town limits if they observe legal infractions.
The $18,000 salary was approved unanimously.
The Council also adopted lawn watering regulations designed to keep the town’s reservoir full by limiting the time and days that residents may water their lawns. No lawn watering is allowed on Sunday to guarantee that the reservoir remains full for emergency services in case of fire. Streets and Alleys Superintendent Ed Sutherlin said that once the town begins using its new well field the need to have such regulations may be alleviated and the restrictions could be reconsidered.
Current restrictions limit customers who water by hose to Monday, Wednesday and Friday for those with even numbered addresses and Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for odd numbered addresses. Hours are restricted to 7 a.m. to 12 noon and 5 to 9 p.m.
Customers using automatic sprinklers observe the same watering days according to whether they are odd or even numbered addresses but may water from 12:01 a.m. to 6 a.m.
In other business the Town council:
• approved Amended Change Order #5 adding the $9,787 cost of some additional paving and reducing the number of days of contract extension granted based on recommendations by Rural Development. The amended change order brings the final price of the entire water system improvement project to $2,339,023.10.
• accepted the low bid of $35,271 for re-roofing the Town’s water reservoir by Independent Roofing. Mayor Mim Mack noted that the company had a work record demonstrating they were capable of doing the job and received good recommendations from the town supervisors and the engineers.
• approved an additional expense for the airport improvement project environmental analysis that would include a $5,500 study. The Federal Aviation Administration will cover 90% of the bill. The Town will cover 10% of the cost or $550.
• approved writing off a bad debt of $999.27 for utilities owed on a house that went into foreclosure. The Mayor noted that in the past realtors have paid outstanding water bills upon closing without the Town having placed a lien on the property. But placing a lien will be adopted as part of the procedure in the future to avoid this kind of situation.