Libby City Councilor Allen Olsen says it’s Mayor Doug Roll’s “arrogance” of the law that led him to break conflict of interest statutes in January. But Roll said he meant no harm when his auto shop fixed a city-owned truck for $289.20.
Now, a long brewing conflict between Olsen and Roll has erupted again and the councilor is demanding the mayor return the money. Olsen also said that if the county attorney doesn’t do anything, he would bring a civil lawsuit against the mayor.
“I brought it up at city council and it was shot down, but it was illegal,” Olsen said, referencing various sections of Montana Code Annotated.
But Roll says he has done nothing wrong.
“It’s not the council (complaining), it’s Allen Olsen, he’s the only one complaining,” Roll said. “Mr. Olsen is interpreting state law very liberally.”
In early January, a 1996 Chevrolet pickup truck used by the Libby Wastewater Treatment Plant wouldn’t start, according to maintenance supervisor Corky Pape. The truck had been sitting at the city shop for nearly a week and all of Pape’s mechanics were stumped. With more pressing projects on their plate, Pape directed one of his mechanics to call DP Automotive, a garage owned by Roll since 1994.
Normally, Pape would call other garages to see who could fix the truck, before using Roll’s business as a last resort. But Pape said the wastewater plant needed the truck back and he didn’t have time to wait. He said he knew Roll could get it in that day and repair it.
“I’ve told city employees that I don’t want to see city rigs up here unless no one else could do it,” Roll said.
When the truck arrived at Roll’s shop, mechanics found that the ignition switch had to be changed, a part that cost the city $196.20. It took about 90 minutes to do the work, which added $93 to the bill.
Roll said in his 10 years on Libby’s city council and as mayor, he has only repaired two vehicles for the city – once in August 2010 for $75 and again this year. Before entering politics, Roll fixed a lot of the city’s vehicles, according to Pape.
During the Feb. 4 city council meeting, the $289.20 bill from DP Automotive appeared in a list of expenditures to be approved by the council. The board voted five to one to pay the bills, with Olsen dissenting. Olsen, who was elected in 2011, alleged that Roll has broken both conflict of interest and ethical laws.
Multiple sections of the MCA address conflicts of interest and ethics within local government. According to section 7-3-4256, a city employee or elected official cannot have an interest in any contract of services for the municipality.
Olsen says it is clear Roll has broken the law.
“I don’t think it was a mistake. It was his arrogance and stubbornness and the fact that he thinks he’s above the law,” Olsen said.
But Roll says Olsen is not looking at the right law and points to section 2-2-201, which also discusses conflicts of interest. According to section IV, an interested party may enter a contract for services if it “must be performed within a limited time period and no other contractor can provide those services within that time period.”
Roll said when the truck arrived at his shop, he wrongly assumed that city employees had called other garages in town. He also said the $289.20 bill is small compared to the nearly $71,000 spent by the city on vehicle repairs at other garages over the last five years. But Olsen doesn’t see it that way.
“If it isn’t contested, what’s next?” he said. “Some people think I’m being vindictive, but the law is the law.”
This is not the first time a disagreement between Roll and Olsen has spilled into the public arena. Last year, Olsen called the mayor a “dictator” because he wouldn’t put the newly elected councilor on any city committees. Roll said he didn’t have to put every councilor on a committee and that Olsen shouldn’t hold office because he didn’t live in the city. Olsen owns a tree nursery located just outside of city limits and spends most of his time there, although he began renting a house in town so he could run for council. In July, Roll put Olsen on a handful of boards.
According to Olsen, the Lincoln County Attorney is looking into Roll’s actions. The attorney’s office would not comment on whether that is true..”
Olsen said if the county attorney does not take action, he would personally file a lawsuit against Roll. Both men said public opinion is on their side, but Olsen says the mayor will have a hard time keeping his position for long. Roll is up for reelection this year but hasn’t decided if he will run again.
“It’s not going to look good for Doug come Election Day,” Olsen said.
Meanwhile, the city employee who decided to send the truck to Roll’s garage says he regrets that decision.
“I would have never done this if I thought all this would happen,” Pape said. “It was a minor deal that got blown way out of proportion. He was just trying to help the city by getting the truck going.”
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