HELENA — Petitions are now circulating, calling for the recall of Helena’s mayor and two city commissioners over accusations that the hiring of the interim city manager was not sufficiently transparent.
The recall petitions, filed by Sandra Holland, are directed at Mayor Wilmot Collins and Commissioners Andres Haladay and Heather O’Loughlin. In the petitions, Holland claims the three officials violated provisions of the Montana Constitution guaranteeing the public the right to participate in and observe governmental bodies’ operations.
Lewis and Clark County elections supervisor Audrey McCue said the office approved the petition forms on June 12. She said state law requires election officials to confirm that a proposed recall petition is properly formatted, but it does not give them the authority to consider the grounds for recall.
On March 9, Collins, Haladay and O’Loughlin voted to approve a contract making Melinda Reed the interim city manager. Collins said he had decided to recommend Reed – the former executive director of the Friendship Center – after have discussions with commission members about what they wanted from an interim manager and looking through candidates who had shown interest in the job.
However, several members of the public testified at that city commission meeting, saying the selection process should have been more open. They argued the selection of a finalist for the position should have been made in public.
The two other commissioners, Emily Dean and Sean Logan, voted against Reed’s contract, saying they had wanted to have a public discussion about the potential candidates for the interim city manager job.
In the petitions, Holland said: “No reasonable opportunity was provided to any citizen of the City of Helena to participate in any public comment session prior to the night of the final vote; no citizen was provided a copy of the city’s contract, and no copy of the candidate’s resume was available. There was no chance to observe deliberations prior to the night of the final vote, and no questions asked by any citizen were answered in any venue.”
Once a petition is approved for circulating, there will be three months during which registered voters within the city can sign it. A recall election would only occur if a petition is signed by at least 20% of the number of voters registered during the last city election in 2019. McCue estimated that would be about 4,200 signatures in this case.
The earliest a recall election could occur would be on the general election date of Nov. 3.
Montana law says elected officials can be recalled on the grounds of “physical or mental lack of fitness, incompetence, violation of the oath of office, official misconduct, or conviction of a felony offense.”
Collins told MTN Friday that he believed the commission had followed proper guidelines in hiring Reed, and that all commissioners had been involved in the hiring process.
O'Loughlin sent a statement to MTN:
"All members of the Commission were involved in giving recommendations and providing feedback on the appointment of a temporary, interim city manager," she said. "We received public comment in advance of the meeting, as well as, on the night of the vote. Manager Reed’s leadership in the midst of a public health pandemic has been critical to ensure city operations continue while the Commission takes on the lengthy and important process of hiring a permanent city manager."