The Bridger Canyon Fire District board of trustees decided Thursday not to seek legal action against a group of citizens that is threatening a recall election, at least for now.
Instead, the board chose to hold a special meeting to discuss issues within the district and give the public an opportunity to speak and ask questions.
The date and time of that meeting were not set at Thursday afternoon's meeting, but the board chairman said he would like to hold it within the next week.
“What we need are the people who haven't decided or the people who have been approached on the sly by the safety coalition,” board chairman Mike Conn said. “I want people to hear the board's side of it.”
An attorney for the board members, Bill Hanson, recommended the board hold the meeting instead of pursuing legal action.
“If you do that it seems to me, whether it's well-attended or not, in the interest of the district, you're attempting to advance,” Hanson said.
One trustee voiced her doubts about holding such a meeting.
“I don't think it will be productive. I think it'll be suspects as usual. It's probably the right thing to do, but I don't think it'll be productive,” trustee Colleen Carnine said.
“I think it would be poorly attended,” she added.
Opponents of the board claim that a May 23 meeting was held without proper notice or public participation. However, Hanson said a judge could rule that the meeting was an emergency and not subject to open meeting laws — due to the fact that the fire chief and 15 firefighters had quit, leaving the district without proper fire service.
“My view, in all likelihood, is that it would be a legitimate emergency under that statute,” Hanson said Thursday.
Hanson also said the he does not believe a judgment from the court would resolve the question of whether the board violated the open meeting law before there would be a recall election.
“I don't know what else you can do, because I don't think you have enough time to get a judicial decision,” Hanson said.
Residents in the Bridger Canyon Fire District Safety Coalition have been collecting signatures to recall all five trustees. They must collect 105 signatures for the county to hold a recall election for each trustee.
“My position is that we not pursue a lawsuit at this time. I just don't see it helping,” Conn said.
About 30 people attended the 4 p.m. meeting.
Audience member Kathy Anderson encouraged the board to hold the forum.
‘I think it's valid,” Anderson said. “I think it's worthy to try.”
Another member of the public said such a meeting would be a waste of money and neither side would be swayed.
“It's going to cost us money. Just decide on a lawsuit and that's it,” he said.
Bridger Canyon residents previously asked a judge to reinstate former fire Chief Dan Astrom and the firefighters who left. Some residents claimed the trustees failed to provide adequate fire protection after their departure.
District Judge Mike Salvagni ruled he had no authority to force the chief or firefighters back to work. At the request of some of the residents, he also dismissed the portion of the suit regarding open meeting violations.
If the board had asked a judge to revisit the issue, with hopes the court would rule in the board's favor and resolve the conflict, it could have ended up costing the district for the trustees to defend themselves.