DAYTON — About 30 Dayton citizens applauded a public statement opposing Mayor Norm Anderson and asking for his removal from the mayoral position at the Dayton Town Council meeting Wednesday.
Several contentious issues were discussed, including Anderson’s conduct, building permits and hiring practices for town employees. Anderson was not present at the meeting as he is recovering from lung surgery.
Thursday morning, Anderson said as mayor he has tried to make decisions in the best interest of the town to encourage a small-town atmosphere, has followed ordinances and has no intention of resigning. Some town regulations might need to be updated but he can’t contradict existing systems, even if they’re outdated, until they are officially changed.
While attempting to incorporate the council in major decisions, many items come before Anderson don’t need to be brought to council to make an appropriate decision, he said. The people who spoke at the council meeting are a “vocal minority,” Anderson said.
Council member Laurie Walters-Clark said the council has been routinely kept in the dark about hiring decisions for town employees. Because of this, Walters-Clark made a motion, which was approved by the council, to establish an interview committee that would review job applications and allow the council’s recommendation to be discussed in executive session with the mayor prior to any position being filled. The mayor would still maintain the final say on hiring town employees.
Attorney Brendon Kerns said while the mayor does maintain power over hiring, the council controls the budget and could deny funding for any position.
“[The purpose is to] have more than one set of eyeballs doing something. I don’t think I ever worked in a place in my whole working career that there was not some type of committee for hiring people,” Council president and acting mayor Dennis Wagner said.
Anderson said his hiring decisions have been sound and an interview review committee would be an unnecessary council oversight. Recent hiring decisions were in the interest of filling necessary positions quickly as the town was left with minimal staff, he said.
When hiring new employees, Anderson said he looks for longevity in work history, knowledge of the type of position, a hard-working attitude and someone who would work well with other town employees.
Walters-Clark said several building permits have also been approved without council knowledge in recent years and she moved to establish a review committee that would provide oversight for building permits beyond the mayor’s consideration. The council will be searching for feedback from the Dayton planning committee within a month regarding the increased workload a review process would place on the committee.
“We have dealt with this type of thing in the town of Dayton for the last 11 years,” citizen Brad Johnston said. “It’s always a different answer when you come to town to talk about building permits…I think it’s extremely important that the town of Dayton establish a very standard set procedure for getting building permits.”
Community members Glen and Joey Sheeley expressed frustration during public comment with the mayor’s decision to grant a building permit for a home-based business next to their house and Kerns’ response to their letter of concern in objection to the permit.
The proposed business, an in-home salon, would bring high visibility, traffic and impact on the neighborhood, the Sheeleys said.
“I think they’re just wanting to get rid of me and get rid of all my authority,” Anderson said. “[With] building permits, I feel sorry for the guy coming in with a little shed or something like that, that has to wait for a total review on it before he can get his permit.”
The Sheeleys asked the council to review the permit and override the mayor’s decision to grant the permit. They weren’t aware of the permit until Nov. 4, they said, 11 days after the official date the permit was granted.
Kerns said a 1984 ordinance allows an application to appeal a permitting decision to the board of adjustments to be filed within 20 days of authorization, which passed Nov. 13, based on the Oct. 24 date.
A letter the Sheeleys sent as a complaint didn’t qualify as an appeal application and the time period had expired before there was time to fix the problems with the letter, Kerns said. The council doesn’t currently have the authority to amend the 1984 ordinance requirements or extend the timeline, he said.
The Sheeleys argued they should have had 20 days from the time they were notified to file their objection to the permit. Anderson said as long as the business meets ordinances and codes, it’s not up to him to stop a business from going forward.
Anderson said he listened to comments from some of the council before approving the permit and checked that it fit the criteria for a home business. A review committee would extend the building permit timeline by several weeks — what would normally be quick turnaround after ensuring compliance with ordinances — he said.
Prior to public comment, council approved $1,400 in funding to establish and operate a notification service for emergencies and non-emergency situations for one year — a service Wagner said would have been useful in this case to notify the community about the permit.
Anderson said the notification service may be beneficial but isn’t a necessity in a small town like Dayton. The larger issue is the council acting on their own and attempting to take charge of all decisions, making his job difficult, Anderson said.
The building permit authorizes the building itself and allows for someone to have a hair salon as a home occupation, but further conversations will determine if their business plan will meet town ordinances, Kerns said.
“Just because the building permit was approved does not mean for a minute that the business can operate in a manner that violates the zoning code,” Kerns said.
Kerns said he believed the business owners chose not attend the council meeting out of concern that discussion would become heated and unruly.
Walters-Clark suggested the council hold a special public meeting with the business owners and acting mayor Wagner to acquire their business plan and move forward from there.
“I’m just asking this council to please, do not allow this to happen in this small town,” Glen Sheeley said. “We cannot have businesses running through all these blocks in town, in front lawns…it will make a mess of this town.”
Dayton business owner Wanda Johnston read a prepared statement detailing her objections to Anderson’s performance in his position and called for the council and community to urge him to resign.
Johnston claimed the mayor has engaged in discriminatory hiring practices, ignored or misrepresented ordinances, created hostile work environments, hid information from the council and community and issued or denied building permits without following proper processes.
Johnston said lawsuits filed against the town could have been avoided by following proper processes and ordinances.
“This council has listened, has tried and we believe will continue to try to move forward towards a healthier culture than what we are experiencing,” Johnston said. “This current administration, and I will say current mayor, has pitted neighbor against neighbor, business owner against business owner and friend against friend…yet sees itself as untouchable, sees himself as untouchable, and not responsible in any way, shape or form for these mounting problems.”
Johnston called for a change from a “dictatorship” to a proper form of democracy, allowing public speech and consideration of town decisions by the council. She argued for creating a form of government that best serves people of Dayton overall and not individuals because the current mayor-council system doesn’t allow for mayor removal, she said.
The room applauded her comment.
Kerns said Wyoming statute does not provide any recall ability or means to remove a sitting mayor.