A Gallatin County District Court judge on Monday stopped an effort to recall board trustees of the Bridger Canyon Rural Fire District.

District Judge Holly Brown ruled the language in the recall petition wasn't legally sufficient to be submitted to voters.

Gallatin County Clerk and Recorder and Election Administrator Charlotte Mills notified board trustees on Nov. 27 that a petition to hold a recall for their positions was filed in her office.

The reasons listed on the recall petition included official misconduct by holding unannounced meetings since December 2012 and violating their oaths of office by failing to uphold the state constitution.

The petition included 108 valid signatures, enough to hold a recall election for each of the five trustees.

After Mills began processing the recall election, Trustees Colleen Carnine, Mike Conn, Margaret Foster, Dennis Guentzel and Dave McKee filed a suit asking a judge to halt the election. Trustees argued the recall petition didn't include a clear statement of their alleged acts.

Brown temporarily halted the election in December until a hearing could be held.

On Monday, the trustees' attorney, William Hanson, reiterated his claims that the recall petition was too vague and denied the elected officials a level playing field in the recall.

Mills had the duty to determine the legal sufficiency of the recall petition and she did not apply the correct standard in this case, Hanson argued.

Bruce Jacobs, attorney for the Bridger Canyon Fire District Safety Coalition, said the group joined the lawsuit to make sure the residents of Bridger Canyon had a say in the future of the board.

“This is a board that we allege ran off more than 80 percent of the volunteers in one of the premier volunteer fire departments in the state,” Jacobs said. “Your honor, the people should be allowed to speak.”

While rendering her ruling, Brown alluded to a 2012 battle between the board and firefighters over whether alcohol would be allowed in the fire department's community room as a catalyst for problems within the district.

“Somehow, the issues of a venue has been allowed to blow up into a firestorm that could destroy the community that you have all chosen as your own,” Brown told the crowd of more than 30 in her courtroom. “How you choose to resolve these issues and this conflict will affect not only your own lives and your home and your community, it affects the future.”

The fire district was in District Court earlier this year when Bridger Canyon residents asked a judge to reinstate former fire Chief Dan Astrom and the firefighters who left because they didn't want to serve under the board.

District Judge Mike Salvagni ruled he had no legal authority to force the chief or the firefighters back to work.

Trustees Foster and McKee will be up for re-election in May.

Whitney Bermes can be reached at wbermes@dailychronicle.com or 582-2648. Follow her on Twitter at @wabermes.


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