Great Falls to reconsider clerk's firing

GREAT FALLS -- The Great Falls Town Council plans to reconsider its decision to fire clerk Julie Blackwell, Mayor H.C. "Speedy" Starnes confirmed Wednesday.

The mayor said the council will hold a special meeting at 8:45 a.m. Friday to discuss the issue.

The decision, first reported Wednesday at heraldonline.com, comes after a backlash from residents unhappy with the council's 4-3 vote to terminate Blackwell on Sept. 25, a day after she accused four council members of holding an illegal meeting.

No reason has been publicly given as to why she was fired.

Starnes, who voted against firing Blackwell, said he called Friday's meeting at the request of Councilwoman Maxine Wood, one of the leaders who voted to fire the clerk.

Council members Toby Gladden, Jack Taylor and Earl Taylor also voted to fire Blackwell. The four were the same ones Blackwell confronted about the illegal meeting. None of them could be reached for comment Wednesday night.

Blackwell was employed by the town for 13 years and managed the town's records, including finances, since 2001.

The day before she was fired, Blackwell told council members Earl Taylor, Jack Taylor, Wood and Gladden that they were holding an illegal meeting after the four had gathered at Town Hall. State law prohibits public bodies from holding unannounced meetings, and a majority of council members gathered together constitutes a meeting.

Including the mayor, Great Falls' council has seven members.

According to a Great Falls police report, the four council members came to Town Hall and went inside a front room. When they asked Blackwell to join them, she told them they were in an illegal meeting, the report stated.

After her sudden termination, more than 200 people signed petitions asking town leaders to reconsider their decision.

"We the people of the Great Falls area strongly disagreed with the action of certain council members pertaining to the firing of Julie Blackwell," the petition states. "We request a special town meeting to review this decision. We request that she be rehired."

During an interview with The Herald last week, Wood hinted that her position on the matter might have changed.

"If I am presented with a petition with the valid signatures of the majority of the registered voters of Great Falls in favor of rehiring Miss Blackwell, I would certainly be remiss in my duties if I ignored their concerns," she said then.

When reached at home Wednesday evening, Blackwell said she heard the news about the special meeting at 5 p.m. Although she doesn't know what will happen Friday morning, Blackwell said she's just glad it's being held.

"I had hoped it would (happen)," she said. "The response ... from the town has been overwhelming. ... I felt like that if they (council members) were really serving the town, they would listen to what the people wanted."

Asked if she would take her job back if it's offered, Blackwell said, "Oh, yeah."