Byron Mayor Heidi Brightly, challenging “the validity and legality” of a revised ordinance limiting mayoral authority “to make appointments or to remove persons from appointed positions,” aims to take the town’s four councilmen to court in an effort to overturn their decision, which she claims was made partially “in retaliation” for matters involving the town’s beleaguered Recreation Department.
Brightly has engaged Cody attorney Bradley D. Bonner, who filed a preliminary injunction in District Court in Big Horn County on Friday, Jan. 8. Counselors Alan Bair, Sydney Hessenthaler, Walter Roman and Gary Petrich were served on Monday, Jan. 11. The mayor seeks a hearing “commanding the Town (Council) to reverse and rescind any appointments or removals made in accordance with amended Section 5.05.030 since Oct. 20, 2015” and “enjoining the Town from taking any further actions not in compliance with Wyoming Statute 15-2-102.”
As plaintiff, Brightly also wants the council as defendant to pay her “reasonable legal fees and costs incurred in bringing this motion and providing such other and further relief as the Court deems just and equitable.”
Prior to the council meeting in the Byron Town Hall on Tuesday night, Jan. 12, the mayor alerted a reporter to her legal steps. The matter was only indirectly noted Tuesday after a sometimes heated 90-minute meeting in regular session. Bair moved to adjourn into an executive session closed to the press and public “to discuss pending litigation.” The mayor did not attend the secret session, and Bair expressed appreciation. Upon reconvening to open session after some 30 minutes, he stated that “inasmuch as there is legal action against the council, I move we suspend our existing policy” for correspondence between the mayor, council and the town’s attorney, Joey Darrah of Cody. Under Bair’s approved motion, rather than everyone being copied, “all correspondence relative to his action (by the mayor) be directed to Sydney Hessenthaler, who will distribute the information to the rest of the council.”
After the meeting concluded, Bair was asked by a reporter if there would be further comment on the preliminary injunction. Speaking for the council, he said “no,” as Darrah, who was consulted Tuesday by Bair and Hessenthaler, advised against that. The council is using Darrah as its attorney, Bair said.
During her telephone call to a reporter on Tuesday morning, Brightly said that she felt it necessary to fight the revised “illegal” ordinance passed because it significantly alters the town’s form of government. Her claim is that said ordinance “wrongly takes away (her) mayoral authority and discretion and improperly vests the same in the town council.”
She added that she is taking the action after being encouraged by some of “our higher elected officials” in the Big Horn Basin including some town mayors “who also fear the possibility of a renegade council.” She takes extreme issue with the 4-1 decision (she opposed the motion) during an Oct. 20 special meeting that appointments and dismissals of department heads and various commissions and committees must be approved by a majority vote of the council. Brightly said at the time that she “sees it as a binding force and as retribution for (her) Rec Department changes,” which included dismissing the former advisory committee without prior notice and without advising the council before taking the action.
In Brightly’s court-filed complaint, it states in part, “Shortly after plaintiff restructured the (Rec) Committee and appointed a new administration, the Town Council determined to and in fact took steps to extinguish plaintiff’s legal authority and lawful discretion to appoint town department heads or to remove (them) from their positions. At the same time the Town Council elevated the position of Director of the Recreation Department to a department head level in order to effectively remove plaintiff’s lawful authority over (the Rec) and its leadership.”
The complaint further refers to Brightly working “closely with the four elected council members” since her election as mayor in November 2014. But it adds that since being elected, she and the council “have at times been at considerable odds” because in her efforts “to make the town’s business more transparent and accessible to the public, many of (her) efforts have been resisted by members of the Town Council.”
The Rec seems to be at the crux of the disagreements with references not only to mayoral authority on appointments but referring to Brightly claiming a need for reorganization “because the (then) existing committee was operating (the Rec) fully separate from other town business and outside the authority and oversight of the mayor. This involved considerable monies being spent and received by (the Rec) with very little accounting, oversight or accountability.”
Brightly further claims that after her unilateral reorganization, “Certain members of the former committee refused to cooperate and turn over information to new committee members.” The council, she adds, “openly opposed any changes (she) made to the committee. Moreover, council members objected to (her) efforts to make the money spent within (the Rec) transparent.”
Editor’s note: Other business conducted at the Jan. 12 council meeting will be reported in the Jan. 21 edition of the Chronicle.
BY BOB RODRIGUEZ