Tuesday night, our democratic principles took a blow in Red Lodge.
In an overflowing City Council meeting, the vacant mayoral position and future direction of our city was decided by five city councilmen despite the requests of our citizens to hold a special election allowing us to decide who will serve us as mayor.
For those new to the story, our elected mayor resigned his position on June 14 and as if it was an administrative position, gave two weeks’ notice of his leaving. His last day was June 28, 18 months before the end of his elected term.
Per our city charter, City Council President Mike Schoenike assumed the role of interim mayor.
After the mayor announced his resignation, the City Council asked those interested in serving as the mayor to come forward. Three qualified and well intended individuals did, including Mr. Schoenike. Information on who they are and their vision for our town were limited to the town’s website and social media. I would guess most Red Lodge residents aren’t aware of who these candidates are, or that the process of the City Council appointing the next mayor was even taking place.
At Tuesday’s meeting the Council Council tried to put on a good show, allowing all three candidates to speak and then asking for public comments. Five public comments were made, the majority requesting a special election. The council then followed with two follow-up questions on policing and budgeting, to which all three candidates responded.
However, in the end, the council’s predetermined decision and intentions became evident. Councilwoman Glory Mahan pulled out a typed piece paper and read a motion for the appointment of Mike Schoenike as mayor.
It was unanimously approved by all the other councilmen. There were never any motions or intention to make a motion for either of the other two candidates or for holding a special election.
The citizens of Red Lodge deserve the opportunity to determine their future by voting for a candidate that best represents their interests. The candidate with the most votes should serve as mayor. This is our democracy, and what we were all taught in sixth grade civics class. The City Council and the city attorney that advised them that what they were doing was legal should be ashamed of their actions. It may be within the city charter, making it legal, but it doesn’t make it right or legitimize the position.
Mike Schoenike is a good man and will be an improvement as our mayor. He likely would win in a special election, but that should be for the citizens of Red Lodge to decide, not five individuals. My argument is not with Mike, but with the process our city council chose to take.
The citizens of Red Lodge deserve better.
Mike Booth lives in Red Lodge. He is a self-employed business consultant and is a volunteer fireman at Red Lodge Fire and Rescue.