By Justin Franz, 5-25-12
||Caption: Troy Mayor Donald Banning is seen in his office at Troy City Hall. - Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
A political dispute that consumed the tiny Northwest Montana town of Troy is over. Donald Banning was recalled as mayor on Thursday night and on Friday was awaiting official notification that he was relieved of his duties.
Lincoln County election officials counted mail-in ballots late Thursday evening and the unofficial results were 190 for the recall, 123 against. What exactly will happen after Banning is removed as mayor remained unclear Friday morning. According to Banning, the city would essentially be leaderless until the city council appointed a new mayor within 30 days. But City Council President Phillip Fisher said he would become acting mayor once Banning stepped down.
The dispute between a few city councilors and Banning had been brewing for months. Everything came to a head in early February when Councilor Fran McCully filed a petition for recall with Lincoln County. In an affidavit submitted with the petition, she wrote that Banning had overstepped his bounds on numerous occasions, including cashing unapproved checks for travel and trying to fire the city attorney without the consent of the council. Banning filed a restraining order and injunction against the petition shortly after. On March 14 both sides met in Lincoln County District Court to state their cases for and against the recall. The following week, Judge Jim Wheelis denied Banning's injunction and ordered county officials to move forward with the recall election. Ballots were sent in the mail on April 30.
On Thursday night, just moments after being informed that he had been recalled, Banning was surprised and maintained that he had done nothing wrong.
“I had no idea that it'd go the way it did, that they'd recall me for no reason,” Banning said.
Banning said he didn't feel like he had lost a job, but rather that the city had lost a volunteer. He vowed confidence in city employees and department heads that they would know what to do in his absence.
“I wish the town the best of luck,” he said.
But even though his tenure as mayor is soon over, on Friday morning Banning was still in his office.
“I couldn't get any sleep, so I got up at 5 a.m. and got down here to start the day,” he said.
McCully, who started the recall process four months ago, took a somber approach to the results. In a prepared statement she wrote earlier in the day, McCully said: “I can't say that I'm happy with the results of this recall. It's not something to be happy about; it was just something that had to be done. The decision was made by the citizens of Troy and now we need to move forward.”
The city council president also took a reserved tone. Although Fisher was pleased with the results, he had hoped it wouldn’t have to end this way. He said he was looking forward to working with the other councilors now that the mayor who he said had created a culture of division at City Hall was gone. Fisher said he would take over for Banning as acting mayor until the council appointed a new city executive. He said he hopes to be considered for the permanent position, but would support anyone who could do the job.
“I'm for whoever will be best for the city,” Fisher said.
But not everyone was so optimistic about Troy's future. Councilor Joe Arts, who was elected last November, had supported the mayor during the recall and said that McCully and Fisher were only trying to grab more power. He said the situation inside City Hall was only going to worsen in the coming months. He believes city employees would leave their jobs and that he too would be booted from his council position. He stopped short of explaining how that could happen.
“The dark side are the ones who started this and now the retribution will begin,” Arts said. “We have different ways of looking at things, and if you're not with them, you're against them in their mind's eye.”
As for Banning, he had plenty of time to think about the future as he sat in his office Friday morning, waiting for county officials to send notice of the recall. Although the ballots were counted, the results were not official until the Lincoln County Commissioners signed off on them. After that Banning would have a lot more free time on his hands. And for the first time since 2000 he would not be part of Troy's city government.
“I've been retired for 22 years,” Banning said. “I suppose it's time for me to retire.”
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