Mayor's resignation from fire dept. raises questions
HAMILTON, Mont. —
The mayor of Stevensville's resignation from the volunteer fire department is raising questions especially relevant to small towns that rely on volunteers for many basic services.
The council demanded Mayor Brandon Dewey give up his unpaid firefighting job at the council meeting Monday evening, citing potential conflicts of interest.
As mayor Dewey supervises the fire chief, but as a firefighter the chief supervises him.
The city attorney said he didn't see conflicts of interest. But he said, although the mayor has limited supervisory powers, it's his opinion that Dewey holding both positions was "incompatible."
It's now an issue that's before the attorney general.
Dewey has served as a volunteer firefighter for 12 of his 27 years. Although he said he felt the council's demands were a "personal attack" he said he chose to resign to avoid gridlock.
"It's more important to me that we continue to govern for the people who elected us," he said, "than to dispute this any further."
Dewey said if the Montana attorney general determines his two roles are compatible he may rejoin the fire department.
At least for now, however, the council said it's going by the law.
"That's why I took the oath of office," said Council Member Raymond Smith. "I'm not going to do anything that's going to put my community into legal jeopardy."
Dewey said he understands the concerns. But he said he and Fire Chief Jeff Motley have a "solid relationship" and work to put the community's needs first.
"It really does kind of put us in a bind," said Motley. "I appreciate and am thankful to have had his support and his service."
At the council meeting many spoke in support of trying to keep Dewey on the department. They said in a small town like Stevensville the community needs volunteers to maintain essential services.
Firefighter Bill Perrin said young families struggling financially find it hard to volunteer.
He said Dewey has valuable skills.
"He is one of two firefighters," he said, "that is certified to operate the ladder truck that is available during the day."
Last year there were nearly 700 calls for service, and in 25 of those calls another agency had to respond.
Firefighter Mark Adams supported Dewey's resignation from the fire department. Adams said it's about the law.
"He has the opportunity to be much more effective as the mayor to help the fire department if he is not a part of the fire department, " said Adams. "Because when he goes out to gather money for the department that could be construed as a conflict of interest."
"We don't need that," he said, "we need him to help us get more funding."
Dewey said he does think the fire department can benefit more from his being mayor than from his being a firefighter.
Even though they are volunteers, Stevensville firefighters are eligible for a pension after years of service.
The attorney general's office has three months to render a decision on the issue.