By Justin Franz, 3-19-12
||Caption: Troy Mayor Donald Banning, right, sits in Lincoln County District Court on March 14 for a hearing about his possible recall from office. - Justin Franz/Flathead Beacon
LIBBY – On a gloomy afternoon, Troy Mayor Donald Banning and Councilor Fran McCully walked side by side down the courtroom aisle and took their seats near the front; not a word was said between the two.
In Troy’s fractured city government, scenes like that are what led Banning and McCully to take the stand last Wednesday afternoon in Lincoln County District Court to make their cases regarding why the mayor should or should not face a recall election. After nearly two years of disagreement and bickering between the mayor and some council members, Banning’s fate is in the hands of Judge Jim Wheelis. As the Beacon went to press on March 19, Wheelis was expected to decide sometime this week if the reasons for the recall are legitimate.
In early February, McCully, frustrated with recent actions by Banning, filed a recall petition with Lincoln County election officials and soon after the mayor was informed that he had 10 days to resign or state he would stay in office and face a recall election. Instead, Banning and his attorney Jim Reintsma filed a restraining order and injunction against the recall, which led to the March 14 hearing in Libby.
The reasons McCully cited for the recall included her belief that Banning had gone around the city council last month to fire former City Attorney Charles Evans without legitimate reason; that in March 2011 the mayor had cashed a $331.80 check for travel expenses without council approval; that in October 2011 Banning had approved the construction of a new picnic area and pavilion at Roosevelt Park without the consent of the council; and that Banning had gone forward with the codification of city ordinances and never told anyone on the council.
Last Wednesday, Reintsma – who Banning has picked to replace Evans as city attorney – made the case that some of the decisions in question were made not by the mayor, but by department heads without his knowing. Banning also acknowledged that he made a mistake in trying to fire Evans without consent and when he realized he was wrong, he went about trying to correct it. Reintsma said it was a complicated scenario in which the person who would have normally been able to give legal advice was the very employee being fired.
Much of Reintsma’s defense was summed up in one question asked of city clerk Tracy Rebo: “If you punch me in the nose, is it the mayor’s fault?”
Reintsma said after the hearing that the issues McCully has brought up are simply how government works and that all of the problems had been resolved before the petition was filed, thus she lied in her affidavit.
“If someone wants to go in a direction that’s not allowed, the other side lets them know and they’ll correct it and that’s exactly what happened here on all four points,” Reintsma said. “The ability to admit that you made a mistake and to fix it is what government is supposed to be about.”
McCully’s attorney Heather McDougall said the mayor knew he was in the wrong and continued to break the law. McCully said the incidents she referenced in the recall petition are just a few of the numerous problems the mayor has created.
“There has been a two-year pattern of this behavior and that’s why I decided to try and recall him,” McCully said after the hearing.
If Wheelis rules in favor of the recall, a special election will be set up by Lincoln County officials. If Banning is recalled, the city council will appoint a new mayor to serve out the rest of the current term, which ends in 2014.
After the hearing, Banning said he was confident the judge would rule in his favor and the recall would end. He said he was ready to put the whole situation behind him and get back to doing his job.
“(We’ll continue) the same way we’ve been moving for two years,” he said. “Getting things done in the city.”
McCully was hopeful the mayor’s time in office is coming to an end and said if he stays in office, she wasn’t hopeful for the next two years.
“I would hope we could move forward, but I honestly think we will still be fractured for two more years,” she said.
[End of article]