Updated: June 27, 11 a.m.
The editor of Libby’s twice-weekly newspaper has resigned after it was discovered he helped draft a petition to recall the city’s mayor.
On June 24, The Western News reported that former editor Bob Henline is one of the people behind the effort to remove Libby Mayor Doug Roll from office. According to the report, authored by the paper’s interim editor, Henline helped with at least two draft petitions for recall that were later submitted to the county election office by local businesswoman Tammy Brown.
County officials rejected the first two petitions in April but a third one was validated on June 17 and proponents now have 90 days to gather 329 signatures to force a recall election.
According to The Western News story, draft copies of the recall petition were found on Henline’s computer in April and at one point the former editor asked a co-worker to proof read a version of the document. Henline used the newspaper’s copy machine to print dozens of copies of the draft petition to give to Brown.
Henline also reportedly emailed an attorney about obtaining a restraining order against Roll in an effort to prevent the mayor from attending city council meetings.
Upon discovering Henline’s involvement in the recall effort, newspaper General Manager Suzanne Resch informed management at the Hagadone Corporation.
According to The Western News story, when management approached Henline about the recall he denied any involvement. However, Henline was removed from the Libby city beat as a precaution.
Henline submitted his resignation on May 26 and has since been replaced with an interim editor.
Henline came to The Western News as a reporter in October 2014 and as editor continued to cover Libby’s city government. Henline was a vocal critic of the mayor on the newspaper’s editorial page. On April 8, less than two weeks before the first petition to recall was filed, Henline wrote an editorial titled, “The time has come for Roll to go.”
“Libby is operating under a dark cloud, and has been for some time. The constant obstructionism and conflict cast not just the city government, but the entire city and everyone in it, in a negative light,” Henline wrote. “And Doug Roll is responsible for it.”
In the June 24 story about Henline, General Manager Resch said she informed her supervisors about the editor’s activity “because we needed to preserve our integrity and become transparent in this entire matter. Being a trusted news source for our community is very important to the daily operations of The Western News and its readership.”
Resch declined to comment for the Beacon’s story.
Mayor Roll said he was not surprised to learn that Henline was involved with the recall and that he had suspected it for sometime.
“Instead of writing the news, Bob was manipulating the news to further his own agenda,” Roll told the Beacon.
On June 27, recall supporters issued a press release where it criticized The Western News’ story and accused the paper of trying to distract people from the effort to remove Roll. They also stated that Henline only talked to an attorney to review the legality of a recent city meeting Roll had held and that the former editor was not trying to bar the mayor from future city council meetings.
“We are extremely disappointed in how The Western News decided to handle their coverage of the recall effort,” said committee chair Tammy Brown. “Not only did they decide to ignore the history of misdeeds and violations of both process and law perpetrated by this mayor in their attempt to vilify a former employee, they didn’t even take the time to get the facts right.”
In The Western News story, Henline defended his actions and said it was appropriate for a newspaper’s editor to play an active role in the community.
“I believe it is the role of the newspaper to better their community,” he said. “Integrity is matching actions with words.”
Proponents of the recall have until Sept. 17 to gather enough signatures to force a recall election.