Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
A position filled by the Havre City Council Tuesday night was vacated by Havre Mayor Bob Rice after a community member questioned the legality of the vote.
Rice had asked the council to approve the appointment of Lou Lucke to the Havre-Hill County Historic Preservation Commission during a portion of the City Council meeting reserved for public comment.
After the council approved the appointment, local landlord Cam Worstell told the council that at least two items were handled that were not on the agenda. The mayor also had told the council about a breakfast for active members of the military, and asked the council to look at a draft of a lease for the Heritage Center. Votes were not taken on either of those matters.
"I really do feel the items need to be on the agenda," Worstell said.
State law says city councils may not take action on any matter discussed unless specific notice of the matter is included on an agenda and public comment has been allowed.
Rice responded that he had been on vacation and had not had time to get them put on the agenda.
Rice said this morning that he decided after the meeting to vacate the position. He said he will put it on the agenda for the March 1 meeting.
He said the reason he vacated it was so the issue wouldn't promote negativity.
"We're talking about a negative side of something that was supposed to be positive," he said. "Rather than delve into the negative, I try to keep things on a positive level."
Rice said he thought the appointment had to be reported in writing to the State Historic Preservation Office in Helena by Tuesday or the commission's funding might be put in jeopardy.
The office had told him he could report the appointment today, he added.
Rice said the vote did not set a precedent. There have been several occasions in which the City Council has voted on a matter that was sent to it by the council's Finance Committee, like bid openings, but were not put on the agenda, he said.
"I don't know if it was legal or not, and if it wasn't, we won't do that anymore," he said.
Council president Rick Pierson said today it's different when matters are referred from committee because committee reports are included on the agenda.
Pierson said he does not know if the funding for the preservation office was an extenuating circumstance that would allow the council to take a vote without the matter being on the agenda.
He said he will be doing some research today to find out whether the vote was illegal.
"We'll look into it, and I mean, I guess for our own knowledge, to find out if under extenuating circumstances if we can vote on something that's not on the agenda," Pierson said.
City Council member Emily Mayer Lossing said today there was no concrete Feb. 17 deadline for the vote on the appointment. Mayer Lossing is also the city historic preservation officer.
"It wasn't any sort of deadline," she said. It's just, I'd like to get this done so that it's finished."
She said she talked to the State Historic Preservation Office today, which told her that the commission's funding was not in jeopardy, but that the positions should be filled as soon as possible.
"If last night's appointment was a mistake, then it was an honest mistake," she added.
Lucke said today he had not heard that the position had been vacated, but that it was probably wise to put it on the next meeting's agenda to make it formal.
"It probably should have been on the agenda rather than on the public meeting," he said.
Havre resident Charles Grant also complained at the meeting that he had requested to be put on the agenda and was left off of it.
"Under what authority of law did you not put me on the agenda?" he asked Rice.
Rice replied, "Mayor's decision."
Grant said that according to state statute, he has a right to be put on the agenda.
Today Grant said he made the handwritten request on Feb. 11. The request said he wanted to "discuss being able to apply for and purchase water from the city of Havre." Grant and a few other local landlords have argued in meetings that renters, not landlords, should be responsible for water bills.
He said he wanted to request the council to call a public meeting on the subject. He said he wanted to be on the agenda so the council could vote to set the meeting up, and so any other members of the public could come and give their views.
"The reason I wanted it to be on the agenda is they can't vote on it unless it's in the agenda," he said.
Rice said this morning that he will put people on the agenda if they submit a draft to him of what they want to talk about and then come talk to him about it. Grant, he said, only gave a handwritten note to City Clerk Lowell Swenson.
"I don't have a problem with anybody going on the agenda ... but when you drop a handwritten note down with my clerk and you don't even take the time to talk with me about being on the agenda, I think that's inappropriate."
Pierson said today he believes that according to state law, it is the mayor's prerogative to set what's on the agenda.
"We don't have the authority to my knowledge to tell him what he has to put on the agenda," he said.
Grant said he is going to write a letter to Rice asking him to identify the statute by which he could refuse to put him on the agenda. If Rice does not answer it or does not answer it properly, he said, his next option would be to go to district court.
"If I have to, I will seek relief through the courts," he said.
City Attorney Mary VanBuskirk could not be reached for comment this morning. No one from the city attorney's office was present at the City Council meeting.