by nathan oster
Ross Jorgensen, who for six years served as the town’s public works director, was appointed to the Greybull Town Council Monday night, ending an at times contentious internal struggle over who would complete the remaining two years of Bob Graham’s four-year term.
Jorgensen’s appointment, which was approved by a unanimous vote, capped a 45-minute discussion in which the council failed to agree on the appointment of Dave Havener and refused to put to a vote the appointments of either Rod Collingwood or Lindsey Casey.
The council had decided the fate of a fifth candidate, Les Lowe, in January. The third-place finisher in the November general election, Lowe failed to get a majority of the council votes, as he received the backing of both Clay Collingwood and Myles Foley, but was opposed by Mayor Bob Graham and Bob McGuire. Three votes were needed to win the appointment, and because he had gone to a vote, he could not be brought up for another vote.
Monday’s discussion picked up where the one in January ended, with McGuire and Graham pushing for Foley or Collingwood to second a motion made initially by McGuire in January to appoint Rod Collingwood. Graham emphasized that a second from either of them wouldn’t constitute agreement, but rather that it would be a step toward bringing Collingwood’s appointment to a vote and thus, giving him his “due process.”
Graham opened the discussion with a prepared statement. He apologized again for not being prepared for the impasse that occurred, but said he had consulted a variety of people and legal documents since that special meeting — state, county and municipal officials as well as numerous attorneys, including the town’s own counsel, Scott McColloch.
The consensus, he said, “was that we, as a council, have the responsibility, the obligation, the duty to fill the vacant position,” and that the council had agreed during the first meeting of the new year — with McGuire motioning and Foley seconding — to seek letters of interest from community members rather than simply appointing the next-highest vote getter from the general election.
Graham said that wouldn’t be as clear cut as it may seem, noting that while Lowe was, in fact, the third-highest vote getter in the race last fall for the expiring seats of Kay Fleek and Jan Johnson, Art Moser was actually the third-highest vote getter for the seat that Graham vacated to take over as mayor. In the general election of 2010, when voters elected Graham and McGuire, Moser ran a very strong third, finishing just two votes (343-341) behind McGuire for the second seat. Graham was the top vote getter in that election.
After Graham finished his rehash of the January meeting, Councilor Collingwood asked Moser, who was seated in the audience, if he filled out a letter of interest. Moser said he did not do so — and was not interested in filling the vacant seat.
That brought the council back to the final four candidates. Pressed once again to offer a second to the motion of appointing Rod Collingwood, Foley said he decided in January that he could not support him and that he was going to stand by that decision.
“Gentlemen, I have a question,” said McGuire, addressing Foley and Collingwood “By rules, we should at least get it to a vote; that’s when you decide. From what Mr. Graham said, he’s simply asking that every candidate be given the same consideration (as Lowe received).”
That, he said, would be a motion and a second, followed by discussion and a vote.
“At that point, when the vote is cast, same as what happened with Mr. Lowe, if doesn’t pass, we take the next one up.”
Graham added, “It’s only fair … that we give them all the same process we afforded Mr. Lowe, and with respect to the fact that these people are our constituents, they voted us into office, and we should give them the opportunity to be put up for a vote.”
Councilman Collingwood questioned the fairness of that, but after being assured by McColloch that he could also offer up a motion if he didn’t like McGuire’s, Collingwood took the first step toward a compromise
Collingwood motioned, and got a second from Foley, to appoint Dave Havener, the pastor of the Greybull Alliance Church.
Foley and Collingwood had refused to consider Havener in January.
“From listening to Dave, I now think he’d be a good choice,” said Foley. “I like his opinions, his ideas, his personality.”
Collingwood agreed, saying, “He’s a good choice.”
McGuire wouldn’t go as far. Instead he emphasized the qualifications of both Rod Collingwood and Jorgensen, which he believed exceeded those of Havener. In addition, he stated that he had a conversation with Havener after the January meeting.
“I told him I believe he has a value to the community in his current position as a minister of religion, and that being on the council could create fractions within his congregation,” McGuire said. “I told him I have more value in him being where he is than in causing problems, and as we visited, he seemed to agree with that.”
Councilor Collingwood said he got a different sense from Havener. “I don’t have the same opinion as you,” he said.
McGuire concluded, “I can’t support Mr. Havener when there are two other candidates who are much more qualified to work for the council and would be more effective to the community at large.”
Havener was the only one of the four remaining candidates who didn’t attend Monday’s meeting, and while Foley admitted, “I wish he’d be here tonight,” he stuck with his support for Havener, as did Collingwood, who said the question of whether there’d be a conflict with his congregation was for Havener and not McGuire to decide.
Before it went to a vote, Casey walked to the podium and asked Collingwood and Foley what had changed since January, when they wouldn’t support Havener.
“Two months of thinking about it,” said Collingwood.
Added Foley, “I originally had (Lowe) in mind, but after think about it for the past month, and what Mr. Havener would bring, I have changed my mind.”
Collingwood said he, too, wanted Lowe, but admitted that he hadn’t considered the case for Moser.
When it was put to a vote, Collingwood and Foley voted in favor of Havener; McGuire and Graham opposed. Like Lowe, Havener failed to receive the three votes needed, which ended his candidacy.
Reached Tuesday, Havener said church business prevented him from attending the meeting. “I wish I would have been there,” he said, adding that he “probably would have accepted” had the vote have gone differently.
“The way I approached it was, if the Lord wants this to happen, it’s going to happen,” he said. “I wanted to be involved in our community and thought it was one way that I could contribute.”
When informed of Jorgensen’s appointment, Havener said he was “not worried in the least,” saying he felt Jorgensen was one of, if not the most qualified of all the applicants in the field.
Now down to three candidates, the council shifted gears again. McGuire said he had some of the same questions as Casey. He reiterated that his goal from the start was to appoint someone better than him, who would “bring something to the table” and make the council better.
“I’m not sure what you two have decided to use for your criteria, but I’m left with some questions,” said McGuire. “If this were an open job application, I’d take the most qualified candidate, and quite frankly, I haven’t seen that from either one of you.
“For whatever reason, I can’t get a second and (move Rod Collingwood) to the discussion phase. If I’m forced into it, I’ll make a motion we accept Ross Jorgensen. That’ll be my motion.”
After a long pause, in which neither Foley nor Collingwood responded, McGuire turned to the two and said, “Gentlemen, I’ve got a question. I’ve made two motions. What agenda is out there? What is your criteria for making this selection. I’m calling you both out.”
Foley reiterated his belief that the third runner-up, Lowe, should be the choice, but was quickly reminded by McGuire that that is no longer an option — and that the council had only three remaining candidates: Collingwood, Jorgensen and Casey.
Foley discounted Casey, saying she has “a conflict of interest” and that it’s an obvious one (her husband Brent is a Greybull police officer) — but McGuire countered, “it’s not obvious; we haven’t discussed it.
McGuire added, “This is an open meeting. We are on record. Do you gentlemen want someone on this council who is qualified?”
Turning to McGuire, Collingwood responded, “Who are you to say who is qualified and who isn’t? You are making your own opinions, I am making mine.”
“But these are our choices,” said McGuire. “There are no more letters of interest. This is it. I can back up my choices and decisions. We’re not getting anywhere here and I want to know why?”
“I made a motion (for who should be appointed) based on what was fair,” said Collingwood, a point later echoed by Foley.
McGuire continued to press for a second of his motion for Jorgensen, and after a long delay, expressed frustration. “My perception is that for whatever reason, you don’t want Mr. Jorgensen, Mr. Collingwood or Mrs. Casey on the council.”
Collingwood eventually seconded the motion for Jorgensen, saying he was doing so “in the interest of going through the procedure.” In the discussion phase, McGuire cited Jorgensen’s “understanding of the inner workings of the town and his skill level,” while Graham pointed out that Jorgensen volunteered his time last month helping Town Clerk Kathy Smith fill out an application for funding for a water project.
“Ross was able to help in getting it prepared and sent off, and that kind of dedication to this community means a lot. If that’s not a qualification to sit on this council, then I question what is.”
Before he was put to a vote, Jorgensen was asked why, at the January meeting, he had pulled his letter of interest. Earlier in Monday’s meeting, Graham was asked how Jorgensen could still be a candidate because of that, and the mayor stated that his withdrawal was never acted upon by the council.
Jorgensen had said in January that he was pulling his application because he wanted to throw his support behind Collingwood’s candidacy, feeling he was most qualified for the job. He reiterated that Monday night, saying, “I didn’t want to see a stalemate. It isn’t good for our community.
“I just wanted the council to pick someone — because a council of four, two and two without a tiebreaker, doesn’t serve the best interest of our community.
When Mayor Graham called for a vote, all four hands went up in the air, and moments later, Jorgensen was sworn into office.