The Arnegard City Council has called a special meeting Wednesday, March 6, to vote on whether to dismiss the city’s two police officers.
The meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m. at city hall, comes a little more than a week after the council voted 3-1 to present Arnegard Police Chief Troy White Owl and officer Travis Bateman with separation agreements. Council members Bryan Bjornstad, Josh Moody and Lowell Mosby voted in favor of giving the two the agreements, and Bryan Hilbers voted against it.
The deadline for the two to respond to the agreements was Monday, March 4.
The meeting also is set for five days before a recall election for Arnegard Mayor Virginia Elliot.
In November, a group of Arnegard residents filed a petition to recall Elliot. She won election in June, beating then-incumbent Mayor Jeffrey Kindel 35 votes to 31.
Elliot, who has served on the council for more than 20 years and served a previous four-year term as mayor, is being challenged by Kindel, who served a four years as mayor and, before that, four years on the city council.
For some in the city of less than 150, the election seems to be dividing the community. Philip Litteral, an Arnegard resident, told the Williston Herald he thought he was among many who were confused by what’s happening.
He said he supports the police and he and his wife chose to live in Arnegard because of its location and because it’s a small, safe community. When Elliot was running for mayor last year, she had promised to get rid of the city’s police force, something he said he didn’t understand.
“No one’s been given a reason,” Litteral said.
He said he and others have asked why the city is considering firing its two-person police force but haven’t gotten an answer.
“It’s divided us into two halves,” he said.
Susan Hilbers, the wife of council member Bryan Hilbers, said she didn’t understand why the council was making the decision so close to the recall election.
“What’s the rush?” she said to the Williston Herald in an interview Tuesday. “What’s the urgency? We have an election in six days.”
Hilbers, who spoke at an October council meeting where a video of a contentious meeting between White Owl, Bancroft, Bjornstad and Elliot was played, said she has been trying to get the council to speak to the public about the issues it has with White Owl and Bateman. She said the council has not been willing to listen to the public’s concerns about it.
“Can somebody give a reason, a legitimate reason, why this has to happen and why this has to happen now?” she asked.
At the Feb. 25 meeting where the council voted to present White Owl and Bateman with the separation agreements, no reason was given during the public meeting. The terms of the agreements have not been made public.
On Feb. 13, White Owl and Bateman, along with City Auditor Juelie Bancroft, filed a grievance with the city council against Elliot. The grievance accused the mayor of unprofessional behavior and creating a hostile environment. The three wrote in the grievance that they were being represented by attorney J. Michael Geiermann and requesting all communication go through him.
Geierman was not available for comment Tuesday on the agreements or on Wednesday’s meeting.
A call to Elliot seeking a comment in advance of Wednesday’s meeting was not returned.