Mayor Suggests Use of Town Properties at Commissioners Meeting
June 22, 2022
“I have a big three-car ambulance garage that I think would make a great Western Legacy Center (WLC),” said Mayor Mary Janacaro-Hensleigh at the Jefferson County Commissioner meeting on June 14, held in Cardwell.”You know, Town Hall and Western Legacy Center right there on Legion Avenue. Just a thought, but there’s always always another plan. There’s always a possibility.”
Mayor Janacaro-Hensleigh said this after Commissioner Leonard Wortman noted that at the Jefferson Local Development Council’s meeting that morning, the Board voted not to purchase the Roberts building, commonly known as the Forest Service Building, for the WLC. She stated that she was “very disappointed” by the Board’s decision and that there are “always options and there’s always hope.”
The Mayor also added that while the animal shelter levy had failed, other options exist.
“I have another garage in the old town hall that might make a wonderful animal shelter, so, just things to think about,” she said.
The Mayor’s suggested use of town property has caused much talk in town as to the legality of the suggestion and how the Town Council felt about the discussion.
“First, to answer your question, no, the Mayor cannot unilaterally bind the Town concerning the use of the Town’s property,” Town Attorney Ed Guza said in an email to the Whitehall Ledger. “Section 7-1-4124(3). MCA, states that a municipality with general powers has the power, subject to the provisions of state law, to “buy, sell, mortgage, rent, lease, hold, manage, or dispose of any interest in real or personal property.”
Guza noted he did not feel the Mayor’s words were an offer to the properties.
“It has been the law in Montana for over 100 years that “[i]f an offer contemplates an acceptance by merely an affirmative answer, the offer must itself contain all the terms necessary for the required definiteness.” Donovan v. Bull Mountain Trading Co., 60 Mont. 87, 198 P. 436, 438 (1921) As you noted, the Mayor conditioned her words by saying that there are “options and there is always hope [to use the buildings],” “just a thought,” “there is always another plan and another possibility” and “things to think about.” I interpret those vague comments to mean that the Mayor is willing to discuss the possible use of those buildings as a “possibility”... meaning, if terms could be negotiated, she would ask the Council to decide on those negotiated terms if they elect to entertain the issue.”
Comments on the Mayor’s suggestion were requested from the Whitehall Town Council, as well as the Jefferson Local Development Corporation, and the Western Legacy Center coordinators.
“As a Council member, I have a hard time responding to this issue. However, as a resident of the Town of Whitehall, I feel this needs to be brought before the Town Council, either as an emergency meeting or at the next meeting, which isn’t until July 11, 2022,” said Councilwoman Katy James.
“My belief is that candidates when campaigning for political offices have a tendency to make promises that they may or may not have the proper backing to make,” James said.
“This definitely is an issue that needs to be brought before the Whitehall Town Council as well as the residents of Whitehall. There are other suggestions that can be entertained in regards to the proper use of the “empty” space in the Old Town Hall as well as the garage area of the space in the building at 207 Legion Street.”
“I welcome all creative ideas to bring business to the town,” Councilwoman Pat Petersen said. “In this case, I think we need to get public input on both ideas before taking any action. The Planning Board would also need to be involved.
Councilwoman and Planning Board Chair Linda Jung also commented.
“This has not come before the Council - we have had no notice of this suggestion. Therefore, I feel this is inappropriate to talk about at this time.”
Comments from Councilors Bill Lanes, Shawn Hoagland, and Roy McBride were not obtained before the print deadline.
Wortman later said in a meeting with the Whitehall Ledger that having the Town Hall as the location for the Western Legacy Center “defeats the purpose” but was open to discussions about potentially having displays at the Town Hall.