The following is a press release from the Bridger Canyon Fire District Safety Coalition:
Tuesday, the BCFD (Bridger Canyon Fire District) Safety Coalition began handing in more than 115 signatures to the Gallatin County Election Administrator in connection with the efforts to recall all five trustees of the Bridger Canyon Fire District Board for violations of their Oath of Office and the Montana Constitution, specifically the public’s right to participate and right to know as set forth in Article II, Sections 8 and 9 of the Montana Constitution.
The BCFD Safety Coalition received the go ahead to begin collecting signatures on new recall petitions on February 13, 2014 when the County Elections Office signed off on the language of the recall petitions.
The BCFD Safety Coalition collected the required number of signatures in less than two weeks. Once the Gallatin County Elections Office certifies those signatures, the residents of the Bridger Canyon Rural Fire District should be able to vote in the regularly-scheduled election on whether the Trustees’ conduct justifies their recall.
“Bridger canyon residents are entitled to a fair and open process, where our elected board includes the community in making vital decisions that affect us all, as is required by law,” said Mary-Martha Bahn, Bridger Canyon resident. “Montana laws afford citizens the right to participate in their governance, and this board’s failure to uphold their oaths of office, to represent the best interests of all their constituents, and to uphold their duty as public officials has led to an unacceptable loss of safety for the entire District, which still exists to this day.”
The recall petitions for four trustees cite three specific instances “in which decisions were made at meetings for which no notice was provided, public participation was not allowed, and no minutes were kept.” The recall petition for the fifth trustee cites two of the three instances, as he was not in office at the time of the third infraction.
The recall petitions further assert that “these Constitutional rights violations compromised the safety of the District and caused more than 80% of the volunteer firefighters to resign. The trustees’ continued behavior keeps them away.”
The new recall petition language addresses specificity issues with the first recall petitions identified during a hearing before Judge Holly Brown in late January 2013.
This hearing was the result of a lawsuit initiated by the trustees against the Elections Administrator to stop the recall process in which the Trustees claimed that they did not understand the basis for the recall petitions sufficiently to be able to respond.
The Trustees made this claim despite having sent countless communications to the residents of the District about the specifics of the recall petitions.
One of the three instances cited in the new recall petitions includes a May 23, 2013 secret meeting in which each trustee pledged “that nothing said in this board meeting will be revealed to anybody in the canyon, or the media, or anywhere.” This pledge to keep the contents of this meeting from their constituents was made by the trustees the day after the long-standing chief and more than 80% of the volunteer firefighters resigned due to the board’s mismanagement.
Nearly every one of the volunteer firefighters who resigned has committed to return when the current board is gone.
“This board should not operate like a social club where they get together for dinner, nor is it a board of a private charity, where folks get to make their decisions in private,” said Franklin Coles, District resident. “These trustees are elected to a public office where they are beholden to the residents of the District—all of the residents of the District—and they have one responsibility, to ensure the safety of the District in the best possible manner.”
Residents of the Bridger Canyon Fire District banded together in June 2013, united in their concern for public safety given the loss of so many experienced firefighters under the direction of the current Board.
This group quickly grew to more than 35 concerned citizens and began calling themselves the BCFD Safety Coalition.
While sharing information about what led to the firefighter resignations, the group arrived at several important conclusions: The District’s emergency services had been severely compromised due to the actions and behaviors of the Trustees; the Trustees were not sharing accurate information with District residents; an effort to cover up the Trustees’ actions was well underway; and a recall was the best, and perhaps only, option District residents had to restore adequate emergency protection to the District.
Each recall petition requires signatures from 15 percent of District residents who were registered voters at the time trustees were elected, in order to place the recall on a ballot.
According to the Gallatin County Election Administrator, the Bridger Canyon Fire District has 693 registered voters, which means petition gatherers must obtain at least 104 signatures within 90 days. The Elections Office has 30 days to verify the signatures.
Once the signatures have been certified, the Election Administrator then notifies each trustee that the recall initiative will move forward.
If the trustees do not resign from office, then the recall petitions will be included in the next regularly-scheduled election, which is scheduled for May 2014.
In order for the ballot initiative to pass, a simple majority of active, registered voters in the District who return their ballot initiatives must vote “yes” to recall each trustee.