Mayor’s race still up in the air

By: 
KATHLEEN GILLULY
Outlook managing editor
Dave Waggoner
Dave Waggoner

About 30 observers, many of them Laurel city employees and media, filled the galley for Tuesday evening’s city council workshop. Most, like the folks who observed the proceedings via Facebook Live, were interested in how the mayoral election would be handled by the city. Since the Nov. 7 election when voters gave Dave Waggoner a decisive win for the top job of mayor, the only discussion by the council has been how to void the results. 

Based on complaints about the election’s outcome filed by two members of the city council, City Attorney Sam Painter issued a memorandum addressing the issue. In the memo dated Monday, Nov. 27, Painter wrote that Waggoner cannot legally serve in the position while he is employed by the city. He cited a 1998 opinion by then Attorney General Joe Mazurek and Laurel’s city charter, which gives the mayor power to hire and fire employees, creating a possible conflict of interest.

“As you are aware, the City faced this identical issue in the previous mayoral election with the same employee,” Painter wrote. 

This was actually Waggoner’s first campaign for mayor. He had been unsuccessful in a bid for a city council seat in 2011. In his memo, Painter continued to refer incorrectly to the 2013 mayoral race, “Prior to the election, City Staff, including Mr. Waggoner’s Supervisors, had discussions with Mr. Waggoner regarding the prohibition of an employee serving as elected mayor … During this election cycle, the same or similar discussions were had.”

Waggoner contended at the meeting that until earlier Tuesday when his supervisor gave him a copy of the five-page memo, no one from the city or council had discussed his running for mayor or his subsequent election with him.

Painter also said in the memo that he had discussed the issue with Waggoner’s union representative. Fran Schweigert, the union rep, also a city employee, in attendance at Tuesday evening’s council workshop said that wasn’t true.

“Mr. Painter didn’t speak to me at any time regarding Dave running for mayor, or even when I ran,” he said. Schweigert made a write-in attempt to unseat Emilie Eaton as Ward 1 councilor in 2015.

When asked by another city employee, Roy Voss, about the memorandum, Painter said, “It was issued yesterday and made available to the public.” The Outlook received it Tuesday from a member of the council. When pressed, Painter didn’t say where it was publicly available.

“It appears the ones voted out [of the council] are causing the most uproar,” Voss said. “Represent the people that elected you.”

In his testimony before the council Waggoner said he didn’t run to cause a rift in the city.

“I have a heart for Laurel. I see the things that need done,” he said. “I’m not in this to cause conflict.”

Observers of the meeting through Facebook Live also landed squarely on the side of Waggoner.

Verda Volmer wrote on the feed, “Dave was working for the city when he ran! We all knew this, as well as they did. Now that he has the office they want to get rid of him! Wrong!!!!”

Scot Simons wrote, “He was voted in! That’s a fact! Why have elections if you don’t follow the rules. Go live in Russia, you lost give it up!”

If Painter’s memo is the last word on the matter from the city and Waggoner declines to resign from his job and plans also to be mayor, “an appropriate court action can be filed in advance to obtain a court order resolving the issue,” Painter wrote, adding that Montana’s 13th Judicial District Court would be the proper venue for that. 

If Waggoner declines the mayorship, the city will declare a vacancy on Jan. 2, and will appoint a mayor to serve two years until the next general election.

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