BRIDGER CANYON, Mont. - On Tuesday night, Bridger Canyon Residents voted to recall Fire Board Chairman Mike Conn, but the race was extremely close. The decision was made by just one vote, which means if Conn chooses, he can petition for a vote recount.
Problems started in late 2012 when trustees considered a plan that would have allowed alcohol in the community room. Firefighters protested the plan, and last May the chief and at least 18 firefighters quit.
Following the resignations, a group of residents formed the Safety Coalition.
The group launched a recall effort of trustees last September. They created a petition that put the recall on the election ballot.
Although voters decided not to recall four of the trustees, and voted in two new trustees to take over expiring terms, they got rid of the board chairman.
Safety Coalition member John Maloney explained how he felt upon learning the election outcome on Wednesday morning. "I thought we've been partially successful," Maloney said.
Bridger Canyon residents voted 195 to 194 to recall Conn. The other four members were not recalled, though the votes were close for some of them.
"I have mixed emotions," said Dennis Guentzel, one of the board members residents voted to keep.
"We're elated," he said, "except for the loss of Mike Conn, our chairman, because he has done so much for this fire department since everything fell apart a year ago."
Maloney and Guentzel said the close election results paint a clear picture of the state of the Bridger Canyon Community, and just how controversial this issue has been.
"I don't think there's any question that the community is divided," Maloney said.
Guentzel said now that the votes are decided, the board will continue running the fire department as before.
Both sides explained they hope the recall election will be the first step in moving forward and bringing this community back together.
"We want this to be a great fire department, and we want it to be a great fire department for the whole town," Guentzel said.
It is now up to the Gallatin County Commissioners to appoint someone to fill the remainder of Conn's term.
The Gallatin County Elections Office tells NBC Montana there can be a petition for a recount. Trustees said they are not pursuing a recount, but say Conn may do so, and they would support him.
According to Montana election laws, Conn can petition with the elections administrator within five days of the election.
On Wednesday, Conn was out of town and unable to be reached.