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Voters oust one Bridger Canyon Fire Trustree

By Grace Ditzler, KTVM Reporter, gditzler@ktvm.com
Published On: May 07 2014 01:44:55 AM MDT
Updated On: May 07 2014 08:30:39 AM MDT
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

One trustee will be ousted. The decision to recall Mike Conn was decided by one vote.

Voters decided not to recall the other four, Colleen Carnine, Margaret Foster, Dennis Guenztel, and Dave Mckee.

Early Wednesday morning, the unofficial final vote came in for the Bridger Canyon Rural Fire Department Board of Trustees.

Only one board member was recalled, Mike Conn, and by just one vote. But the recall for other trustees was close, in some cases by less than ten votes.

"The mission statement of the firefighters is really simple, it is to protect lives and property. The mission of the fire board is equally simple, to facilitate the mission," said John Maloney, a Bridger Canyon resident who's part of the "Safety Coalition," the group responsible for getting the trustee recall on the ballot.

He said he feels the current trustees put firefighters at risk. Last year the chief and at least 18 firefighters quit over reported disagreements with the board.

"They managed to create a situation where they lost a very capable chief and some very capable firefighters," Maloney said.

Board members uphold that they communicated in good faith and gave firefighters a chance speak up, but they never heard specific concerns.

Though residents votes were divided, they have made their decision on who will stay, and who will go.

Here's some history:

The controversy between the Bridger Canyon Rural Fire District Board of Trustees and some members of the community started back in November 2012, when trustees considered a plan that would have allowed alcohol in the community room.

Fire fighters protested the plan, and the board voted unanimously to shelve the plan.

But tensions between the board and the firefighters continued. Last April, two firefighters unsuccessfully ran against two trustees.

A month later, the chief and at least 18 fire fighters quit. One fire fighter told NBC Montana there was a huge rift between the department and board of trustees, and it reached a breaking point.

But board members said they communicated in good faith and gave firefighters a chance speak up, but never heard specific concerns.

Neighboring fire districts agreed to cover Bridger Canyon while the district hired more fire fighters.

Following the resignations, a group of residents formed the safety coalition.

According to their website, their goal is to promote fire and emergency safety in the district.

The group launched a recall effort of trustees last September that ultimately found its way to court.

In January, a judge ruled the petition language wasn't in compliance with Montana law.

The group rewrote its petition, and a month later had gathered enough signatures to put the recall on the ballot.