Troy Mayor Donald Banning’s fate is now in the hands of the voters. Lincoln County District Court Judge Jim Wheelis denied Banning’s injunction against a recall in a March 20 ruling and ordered county officials to set up a special election, which could happen before the end of May. Banning said he planned to appeal.
The decision was the result of a March 14 hearing to determine if a recall petition filed with the county last month by Councilor Fran McCully was legitimate. Banning and his attorney had filed an injunction and restraining order against the petition. McCully has said Banning, who took office in 2010, has been increasingly difficult to work with over the last two years and has made decisions without consulting with the city council.
“He has refused to work with people and does it his own way, even if it’s against the law,” McCully told the Beacon last month.
During the March 14 hearing in Libby, Banning and his attorney, Jim Reintsma, said that while the mayor has made mistakes, everything was corrected by the time McCully had filed the recall and therefore she lied in her affidavit. Reintsma also argued that some of the decisions in question were made by department heads, not the mayor.
But in his ruling, Wheelis wrote: “This court concludes that Mayor Banning’s acts were not simple mistakes, but a concerted intent to ignore the council, the state statutes and the (City of Troy’s) Charter.”
McCully’s attorney Heather McDougall was pleased with the outcome and said that the ruling was a step forward for the council and the town.
“I don’t think anyone realizes how frustrating it has been except for the people directly involved,” she said in a statement.
Banning said he was surprised by the decision and still reviewing his options, but he would likely file an appeal. If that were to fail, Banning said he would go forward with the recall, although he added that he thought the process was unfair. In accordance with the Montana Recall Act, Banning can write 200 words to be included on the ballot stating why he thinks he should stay in office.
Banning said he believes that he is falling victim to an inexperienced city council.
“(Those councilors) have no clue what’s going on in the government and they are hurting the town,” he said.
McCully agreed that the recall was hurting the town, but said it was Banning who didn’t know how government was supposed to work.
“I do think it’s hurting the town, because if this were to end today we could get back to the business of the people of Troy,” she said.
With Tuesday’s decision, Lincoln County election officials quickly began the process of setting up a special election. According to election administrator Tammy Lauer, officials will begin to craft a ballot later this week before sending it to the Secretary of State’s office for approval. Once the wording is approved there is a 60-day waiting period before the ballot could be sent to the voters. Lauer expected a mail-in vote to happen sometime in late May and have results before June 1.
If Banning were to be recalled, City Council President Phil Fisher would step in as acting mayor until a new chief executive could be appointed by the council to serve out the rest of Banning’s term. Fisher said he wasn’t surprised by the judge’s decision and, like everyone else, was looking forward to getting this incident behind him.
“I’m glad it’s going to the voters of Troy so that they have a chance to make the decision,” he said.
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