HOT SULPHUR SPRINGS - A four-person committee of residents here has turned in a petition to recall the town's Mayor Hershal Deputy.
A petition with as many as 102 signatures on it in a town with 350 active voters was handed into Town Clerk Sandy White on Tuesday, March 6.
According to White, the petitioners needed 24 signatures to put in motion the process of recall.
The petition lists several alleged wrong-doings by Deputy. The most serious among them appears to be "the spending of funds without town board approval."
Asked to elaborate on this and other concerns about Deputy, recall committee members Megan Carlson, Susan Carlson, Lori Baumgardner and Summer Shuster submitted statements to the Sky-Hi News with further details.
On the subject of spending funds without town board approval, "an example is a copier which had been discussed for purchase in a public meeting, then tabled for more discussion during the next meeting," the committee wrote. "During the next meeting, nothing had been said but a copier had been purchased. When town board members were asked, they had no knowledge of the purchase and thought it was still under discussion."
Records at Hot Sulphur Springs Town Hall show the copier was approved unanimously on Dec. 17, 2009, not to exceed $5,000, during a regular board meeting. The vote was 5-0, with trustee Lucy Meirose absent and another trustee, Robert Shirley, resigned. The Savin C9020 copier - the rationale for which was to accommodate the copious paperwork associated with receiving federal stimulus funds for the town's new water plant, according to town officials - was purchased for $4,677. In the town's March bank statement, a copy of the check made out to Peak Performance Copier Inc. of Silverthorne shows two signatures, both H. Deputy and Trustee Kathy Knight.
"Every expenditure by the town of Hot Sulphur Springs is approved by a voice vote of the town board, and every check signed is authorized by two signatures, by only board members," Deputy said.
Reached on Wednesday, committee spokesperson Megan Carlson questioned whether that approval had been passed during a special meeting, since she has been to most board meetings. She said the other example of spending without board approval is Deputy authorizing employee expenditures for outside training without the full board's approval when one is needed.
Other reasons to oust Deputy put forth by the recall committee are the firing of town employees - one who was allegedly still on workman's comp, another who allegedly was fired "on a Sunday without the vote by the town board."
The last time any employee of Hot Sulphur Springs was fired was prior to 2010, according to town officials, prior to the last election - an election in which Deputy ran for re-election as mayor unchallenged.
Asked about these incidences of firing, Deputy declined to comment under the umbrella of "personnel issues."
Committee members contend that the particular termination did not follow ordinance, which requires a vote of the full board since Hot Sulphur Springs does not have a town manager.
Other accusations put forth in the petition against Deputy concern his conduct in meetings, such as "making false accusations of criminal wrong-doing of a town citizen during a public meeting," or calling citizens "trouble makers" in a public meeting.
Deputy "specifically (named) a citizen for assaulting a town employee when there was neither police report or complaint on the matter," the recall committee letter states. "This type of behavior cannot be expected to be tolerated by any townspeople, nor will it."
"It's the first I'm hearing about the specifics," Deputy said, when contacted about the recall effort last week. "If these were such big problems, I don't understand why they were not brought to my attention."
Carlson said that in the past she and others have approached Deputy with a problem, but never witnessed him following through with solutions.
In response to accusations of bad behavior, Deputy said there are "passionate discussions on the board," at times, but he could not recall the charges vaguely outlined in the petition.
"If I did it, I hope that people realize, if I misspoke in any way, it was never intended to be malicious or accusatory in any way," he said.
Carlson gave examples of citizens requesting items from the town, such as a sprinkler system for a Little League ballfield or bike-ramp improvements to Pioneer Park, and Deputy "blowing off" the requests, even after promising to follow through.
"People in town no longer want to come to meetings because they feel nothing is going to happen and nothing is going to get done," she said.
"I'm glad I'm living in a community and country where we can do recalls," Deputy continued. "But in a lot of respects, I think it's an unfortunate use of taxpayer money and resources. Just wait two years. I don't understand."
Without a recall, Deputy's term expires in 2014.
"The reason it's happening now is because it's become so intolerable," Carlson said.
A recall election, if not protested during an upcoming 15-day time frame, is estimated to cost the town about $2,000, according to Town Clerk Sandy White. The recall election could not coincide with the upcoming April 3 municipal election due to its mandatory protest period overlapping with the town's need to print mail ballots for the April 3 election.
The date of the election may be set by the town board of trustees at the town's April 19 board meeting, provided there are no protests filed. If one or more is filed, there will be hearings on the issue.
Deputy, who also served as town trustee, originally was appointed to the board as mayor on Dec. 21, 2006, to fill the seat vacated by then-mayor Clint Roberts.
Deputy defends his time as mayor, during which the town went from boil and bottled-water orders, water monitoring and reporting violations with the state, to a new state-of-the-art water plant.
"I have trouble looking back in a negative way," he said. "I have difficulties with that. We've been through a lot (as a town)."
Deputy pointed out that during the recent General Store fire in Parshall, firefighters trucked in excess of 100,000 gallons of Hot Sulphur Springs water to the site to help extinguish flames.
"Three years ago, we wouldn't have been able to provide that. It would have drained us dry.
"I've been really proud of what the town has accomplished, with the support of the citizens and the work of the board of trustees," he said. "They've had to make some very hard decisions. As a result, I think the town is better off than it was four years ago. Truly, I've taken the responsibility entrusted to me by this town extremely seriously. My only goal in all of this is to make Hot Sulphur Springs a better place."
Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603