Great Falls votes to rehire clerk

GREAT FALLS -- More than two weeks after the Town Council suddenly fired her, Great Falls Town Clerk Julie Blackwell is happy to be back on the job.

At a special meeting Friday, several supporters watched as council unanimously agreed to rehire Blackwell. She resumed her position immediately.

First reported Friday morning at heraldonline.com, the motion to reconsider terminating Blackwell passed by a 6-0 vote, and the subsequent decision not to fire her also was unanimous. Town Attorney Michael Hemlepp said her employment was bridged and it will be as if she never left.

"I'm just ready to get back to my regular routine," said Blackwell as she headed back to her office. "I'm behind."

The special meeting was called after hundreds of residents voiced their disappointment with council's 4-3 vote to terminate Blackwell on Sept. 25, a day after she accused four council members of holding an illegal meeting.

Councilwoman Maxine Wood called Friday's meeting and made the motion to reconsider terminating Blackwell.

Wood, along with council members Jack Taylor, Earl Taylor and Toby Gladden, originally voted Sept. 25 to fire Blackwell. Gladden did not attend Friday's meeting. This was the same quartet of council members Blackwell confronted about the illegal meeting at Town Hall. State law prohibits public bodies from holding unannounced meetings, and a majority of council members gathered constitutes a meeting.

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

The brief discussion by council on Friday was mostly limited to instructions to reconsider the original vote. The meeting lasted less than 15 minutes.

Hasty action

In a written statement, Wood said the action taken against Blackwell was legal by the state's Municipal Association and town attorney standards, but it "may have been taken a little too hastily and perhaps did not follow proper protocol."

In-house personnel should handle issues first, according to Wood's statement.

"After much thought and reflection, I feel it only right that I rescind my vote and give the system a chance to work," Wood wrote.

No reason has been publicly given as to why Blackwell, a 13-year employee who managed the town's records since 2001, was fired. She was making just over $25,000 annually when she was fired.

After Blackwell's termination, more than 200 people signed petitions asking town leaders to reconsider their decision. The petition also asked council to call a special meeting to expedite the process.

Mayor H.C. "Speedy" Starnes said this is the first special meeting he has been a part of in 10 years.

"If this meeting was at night, this room wouldn't have held the number of people that would have shown," said supporter Hartsell Gladden. "Julie knows her job. She tells it like it is."

After Friday's vote, Blackwell was bombarded with hugs, hand-shakes and congratulations. Blackwell said she appreciates all the support and hopes a similar situation doesn't happen to other town employees.

"Hopefully the council members who made the decision can put it behind them and help me do my job," she said.