Recently I posted about the fact that Mayor Malesich was defeated in the last election here in Dillon and that our new Mayor, Mike Klakkon would be taking over the position at the first of the year. As is normal in Dillon Politics, it didn’t take long for things to blow up completely. Stick with me here, there is a lot to discuss.
My history with Dillon Politics -
I am not a newcomer to Dillon Politics (as anyone that has been reading me for years knows). For four years, I followed Dillon politics – recording City Council meetings, City committee meetings, getting involved in elections etc. At one point, a “member of the city administration” contacted my ISP and threatened them with a suit if they didn’t take down my webpage. I changed ISP’s and continued to report on the City Government anyway. I was even arrested at the behest of Mayor Malesich and in collusion with the City Councilman (Swede Troaddson) my wife was running against for City Council. That story made statewide news, but nothing really changed in Dillon Government.
So when I say that I am used to Dillon Politics, it is coming from a position of having “been there and done that”. I have hundreds (if not thousands, I have never really counted) of hours of video and I have spent more time than I care to think about following Dillon City politics. It got to the point where I had to decide if it was worth it to continue following it or just focusing on the things that I needed to focus on – our house, my knife and sword making, and our life. I made the choice to stop spending 60 hours+ a week dealing with the idiocy.
A New Day –
Last November, the Dillon voters had a clear choice – Mayor Malesich and his “spend, spend, spend” mentality or Mike Klakken and his platform of reducing the cost of city government on the Dillon taxpayers. By a large majority, the people of Dillon chose Mike. Malesich, true to form, made some nasty remarks about both Mike Klakken and the Dillon Newspaper on his way out, but now Mike is the new Mayor.
What wasn’t well reported in the local paper was the situation with our City Councilmen. Dillon has four wards and each ward has two City Councilmen. For the last six years, those positions have been very hard to fill. In some cases, only the incumbent ran. In some cases, the incumbent was stepping down and only one candidate ran. Sadly, in most cases, NO ONE ran and the position was either appointed or a candidate submitted a last minute writein application – ensuring they would have the position with a single vote.
This last election was no different. Four city council positions were up for election. Three of the incumbents for those positions chose not to run . The one that did run (Lynn Westad) ran unopposed. In each of the three wards with no candidates, a single person submitted a write-in application. This ensures that they will have the position as long as a single person votes for them. NOT ONE OF THESE CANDIDATES WON A REAL ELECTION. They didn’t have to campaign, they did not have to find out what the voters wanted, and they serve no one but themselves.
I know two of the candidates that won this way. Swede Troaddson is the new Ward 4 councilman and given my experiences with Swede, you can imagine my joy that he is now “representing” the people of Ward 4. He couldn’t win in a real election so he took the backdoor and now he is making decisions for not only this Ward, but all the Wards of Dillon. He “won” with 25 votes.
The other candidate is Dick Achter. He previously served on the Dillon City Council and while I personally had no real issue with him, I questioned some of his votes while he served. I actually like Dick, but I am not sure how he will represent the citizens of Dillon. He “won” with 12 votes.
I know very little about William R Shafer, the new Councilman for Ward 3. He was not on the council while I was following the City Council so I have no idea what his politics are all about. He “won” with 16 votes.
While I applaud these councilmen (well, not Troaddson) for stepping up as Councilmen, I do not have any reason to believe that they represent anyone. They did not campaign, they did not have to talk to the people of their ward and they not did get “elected” in the traditional sense.
What it does, though, is reinforce the obvious disconnect between the City Government and the citizens of Dillon. I will get to more on that later.
The History of the War for Power –
Nothing short of an outright struggle for power existed in the Dillon City Government while I was recording it. Mayor Malesich presented himself as “The Decider” (yes, he actually said that at a city council meeting and I have it on tape). It was his contention that he was the final authority for all things relating to Dillon Government. He supported council members (like Swede) that supported his authority and did everything he could to drive off those council members that disagreed with him. The list of Council members driven off is long and many of them didn’t even finish out their terms. He was not above using personal attacks either – as evidenced by him having me arrested when my wife ran for office.
Many on the Council – at least those that weren’t in Marty’s inner circle – resented this power grab and many of the City Council meetings erupted in heated arguments, shouts and even threats of suits (usually by Malesich and his pet attorney Wilber, but sometimes by Councilmen themselves). Malesich declared himself the “Chief law enforcement Officer” of the city – supposedly giving him some kind of special rights in enforcing his agenda and based on a misrepresented “interpretation” of an Attorney General Opinion. Malesich claimed the right to decide legislative issues through the use of a “tie breaking vote” when he could only get four of eight council members to support his agenda. This situation continued on up to the time he left office. It is no wonder that the Dillon City Council is concerned about the new Mayor and how he will deal with the City Council.
The Situation Now –
Mike Klakken ran for Mayor on a platform of fiscal responsibility. It is not a surprise to anyone that actually lives in Dillon that his platform was successful. In the last eight years, we have seen out water and sewer bills doubled, our Street maintenance tax go up by 254%, other taxes in the city increase and we were saddled with just short of 10 million dollars of debt in just the last two years for Malesich’s pet projects. The people of Dillon spoke with their ballot – they are done with the ridiculous increase in public spending by the City Government. They elected Mike to reign in public spending and MIKE KLAKKEN WON THE ELECTION BY A FAIRLY LARGE MARGIN. The people of Dillon made it clear what they wanted.
It is no surprise that many in Dillon aren’t happy with the City Attorney – Wilber Gilbert III. He was the threat behind every nasty statement the Mayor made. Malesich should have trademarked the phrase “If you don’t like it, Sue me”, he said it so often in City Council meetings. In fact, at one point, I had a montage of Malesich saying it over and over in different meetings on my blog. Malesich liked to go to court and everytime he took us there, Gilbert made thousands – regardless of whether we won or lost. In one year, the city shelled out over 95,000$ to Gilbert, making him the highest paid public city attorney in Montana. This is an area that we can certainly save money on. There is no reason Dillon should be funding such a sum for a City Attorney. If Gilbert wants to make a fortune, let him make it in the private sector – where he actually has to, you know, work.
Likewise with our city Treasurer, Ty Cobb. Dillon didn’t have a full time Treasurer before Malesich appointed Cobb and then increased his part time position to full time. Many believe that Dillon doesn’t need one – in fact, few cities our size do. The fact that Ty Cobb makes just short of 50K is ludicrous. This is another area that the City of Dillon should save money on.
Now both of these positions serve at the pleasure of the Mayor. This is written into our ordinances. The Mayor appoints those positions and the City Council approves them. That was one of the things that got Malesich in trouble – he signed the contract for Wilber without City Council approval. It was one of the charges in the Recall against Malesich that Judge Tucker upheld.
The Struggle begins –
It should come as no surprise that the Dillon City Council would want to push back some of the authority that Malesich usurped while in office. I know if I sat on the City Council, that would be one of my concerns. Unfortunately, they took it too far. Like any power pendulum, they dug in their feet and by deciding not to work with the Mayor, they have created a very broken City Government.
It should also come as no surprise that the one that kicked it off was Troaddson. The City Council meetings started off well enough and it was obvious that Mike was willing to work with the City Council from the beginning. One of the council members wanted the public comment moved to the back of the agenda (an idea that was originally proposed by Malesich to cut down on city residents commenting, but I will get to that later) and Mike was willing to do that. Then the shitstorm happened. Mike went to get his appointments approved.
Let’s be very clear on this. The ordinances are easy to read and quite specific – the Mayor Appoints certain positions in City Government and the City Council has the right to approve or disapprove the appointments. THE CITY COUNCIL DOES NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO APPOINT THOSE POSITIONS.
Klakken wanted to appoint James Dolan (the attorney that is currently representing the city part-time with Wilber) to the position of City Attorney full time. Dolan was willing to do the position for 30.000$ less than the city is currently paying both Dolan and Gilbert. That is a savings of $30,000 EVERY YEAR – a significant chunk of change.
Klakken also wanted to appoint Neal D Straus to the position of City Treasurer and take that position back to a half time position – again a savings to tens of thousands of dollars for the City.
The meeting went downhill from there. There was shouting, accusations and some less than helpful input from our crazier element (like Norma Duffy). I recommend you watch the video (start at about eight minutes in). In my opinion, no one really handled the situation well (other than the lawyer that explained why Lynn Westad was an idiot, but .. well.. we already knew that). It should also come as no surprise that the one to start the idiocy was none other than Swede Troaddson – the city is going to pay dearly for him being back on the city council.
The bottom line is that the council voted to NOT to allow those two appointments. The problem is that it leaves our City in a very interesting position. Gilbert and Ty’ contracts have expired. They expired the first of the year. Since Klakken hasn’t appointed them, they technically aren’t working for the city in those positions. Since the City Council refused to allow Klakken’s appointments to those positions, those positions are technically vacant. This is what happens when egos get in the way of governance. To be fair, there is a line in the ordinances at the very end of the Mayor’s section that says that the appointed officers can serve the city until new officers are appointed, but that leaves the city in some legal gray area – most especially in the area of city finances. It also opens up the city to suit as neither of these individuals are operating under contract.
The City and the City Government -
More than half the people in this city can’t tell you who their councilmen are. They used to be able to, but not now. In point of fact, most simply don’t care anymore. There is a very good reason for that.
When I first started recording city council meetings, it wasn’t unusual for me to have to jockey for a seat where I could set up my video recorder. I would arrive before the doors were open and be the first one through the door so I could set up. There were the people that ALWAYS attended, but there were also usually at least 10 – 12 members of the community that were there to give input or to listen about some new ordinance being considered.
In the four years I recorded the city council meetings, that number dropped over time – and there were lots of good reasons for it. First, when the public was asked to come to a council meeting to give input on an item, the vote on the item was scheduled immediately after that public input. In essence, the city government was saying we want your input but we aren’t going to listen to it – we will do what we want and if you don’t like it, you can sue us. Then came the many attempts to completely silence public input – proposals to limit who could talk to the city council and how long they could talk, threats of arrest if anyone pissed off the mayor or council, policies to prevent city council meetings from being recorded, moving the public comment to the back of the agenda so the public would have to wait through a 2 – 3 hour meeting before expressing their concerns to the city Council - the list goes on. Longtime residents have been told that their opinion doesn’t matter for so long that they have accepted that and moved on. Very few people here in Dillon believe that anything we say or do will matter at all when it comes to City Government. I confess that I, too, am pretty much of that opinion.. UNDER MALESICH. Now things have changed – at least I hope.
People stopped running for City Council positions. The people that were appointed – more often than not – were people that would support Malesich’s agenda even when it went against the will of the people of the city. City Councilmen stopped being seen as representatives and more as pawns in Marty’s power game. Fewer people ran for positions until it got to the point that the only people running were people invested in the supposed authority of the position.
Then you have the local paper – The Dillon Tribune. I have written before that the Dillon Tribune is pretty much a PR paper for the City but that is somewhat unfair. It used to report at least some of the more interesting things that occurred at City Hall. They were on top of the story when Malesich and Troaddson had me arrested. They questioned some of the more questionable actions by the City Government. Then – all of a sudden – all that ended and it ended overnight. The story is that the reporter making writing those articles got chewed out because friends of the Mayor’s were calling the paper and threatening to pull their advertising. Personally, I don’t know. I do know that in a span of less than a month, reporting on City Hall dwindled to fluff peices. When the Tribune reported on City matters, it was always perfunctory and vague. Facts were in short supply and very little controversy was reported. When there was controversy reported, it was almost as if the paper was trying to start controversy. Very few Dillon citizens (at least the ones that have not stopped caring altogether) see the Dillon Tribune as good source of information on our city Government.
If you want an example, you don’t have to go any farther than our most recent edition (the Trib is only published once a week). The Headline of the front page article is “Who’s the boss” – Mayor, council could clash over appointments. It is obviously meant to stir controversy and they succeeded in spades, though they missed a few pertinent facts along the way.
Now it was already understood that there was going to be some acrimony over the appointments. Everyone in town knew that Klakken probably wouldn’t appoint Wilber back the position of City Attorney. It was also pretty much assumed that Klakken would not keep Cobb either. I am guessing (but it is an educated guess given the comments I have gotten from my blog post on the election) that many people who voted against Malesich were also voting against Gilbert and some of the other members of the Malesich administration. Rumors were running rampant in town and one of our real Crazies posted online how Klakken was going to fire “everyone” in the city administration. Those of us that actually asked Klakken, knew that he was trying to save the city some money by replacing Gilbert and Cobb.
What really irritated me about the Trib article is that they used Swede Troaddson as the “counterpoint” to the Mayor’s desire to appoint the new Treasurer and Attorney. They list Swede Troaddson as having been “elected” in Ward 3 (he is the Ward 4 councilman) and that he had taken a hiatus from serving on the council. Bullshit. Troaddson didn’t take a hiatus, he didn’t retire, he was soundly defeated in a real election by my wife. He didn’t represent our Ward then and he certainly will not represent out Ward now. He wasn’t elected, he was handed the booby prize by submitting a writein application the last day of the application period. I guess that would have ruined the narrative, though.
The article fails to mention that the appointments were being made to save the city tens of thousands of dollars, they fail to do any kind of fact checking at all in that article. Swede’s insistence that it is the authority of the City Council to appoint those positions is absolutely NOT supported by our ordinances and as a former City Councilman he should have known that. Swede’s insistence that Klakken would have to wait until those people retire or “screw up so bad” that the council removes them is also not in keeping with our ordinances. The office holders in question work by contract and appointment. Both appointments are up as of the first of the year and Klakken is within his right to make those appointments.
Well, the jury is in. The City Council, led by Swede Troaddson, made it into a pissing contest and once again, the citizens of Dillon are screwed, our city government is not operating in accordance with our ordinances or law and there appears to be nothing we can do about it – in other words, business as usual.