Opinion

Great Falls clerk rehired

The official record will say, in essence, that Julie Blackwell never was fired from her job as Great Falls town clerk. But without her perseverance, the support of Great Falls residents and the willingness of the Town Council to acknowledge a mistake, the record might have read differently.

The basic facts of what occurred are a matter of public record. On Sept. 24, Blackwell accused four council members -- Earl Taylor, Jack Taylor, Maxine Wood and Toby Gladden -- of holding an illegal meeting inside a room at Town Hall. State law prohibits local governmental bodies from convening unannounced meetings to discuss public business.

The next day, the council voted 4-3 to fire Blackwell. The same council members who voted to fire her were the ones she had confronted the day before. Council members refused to offer any reason for Blackwell's firing.

But Blackwell, who had worked for the town for 13 years and had overseen its records and finances since 2001, did not go quietly. She insisted that she had not resigned and that she had been unfairly terminated.

Supporters in the community, after learning of the council's actions, immediately rose to Blackwell's defense. They circulated a petition that read: "We the people of the Great Falls area strongly disagreed with the action of certain council members pertaining to the firing of Julie Blackwell. We request a special town meeting to review this decision. We request that she be rehired."

Hundreds of residents signed the petition, and the message was not lost on town officials. The council scheduled a special meeting on Oct. 12 to reconsider Blackwell's firing. The meeting was called at the request of Councilwoman Maxine Wood, one of those who first voted to fire the clerk.

At the meeting, as first reported at heraldonline.com, council members voted unanimously to reconsider the firing and then, also unanimously, to reinstate Blackwell. Town Attorney Michael Hemlepp said records would be amended to indicate that her employment was continuous, as if she had never been fired.

This is a reassuring instance of grass-roots democracy in action. Thanks, in large part, to an outspoken public, an apparent wrong was undone.

None of the four council members who compelled the first meeting and then voted to fire Blackwell have commented on their motives. We might infer, however, that Blackwell's willingness to stand up for herself and the anger of members of the community played a role in convincing them to change their minds.

We have no knowledge of any issue that might have ignited this showdown, other than Blackwell's valid complaint about an illegal public meeting. But the actions of the four council members who voted to fire her looked a lot like bullying.

We are pleased to see that the issue has been resolved in this way, and we suspect residents eventually will learn more about the details of what transpired through the grapevine. It might even affect how they vote in future council elections.

  Comments