A group of citizens from Big Timber and Sweet Grass County has filed suit against the Big Timber mayor and three members of the City Council over their handling of the Dornix Park issue.
The suit was filed last week in Sweet Grass County District Court by Tom Biglen, a former Sweet Grass County attorney, and Brian Miller, an attorney from Helena.
On behalf of 35 plaintiffs, they asked the court to declare that the City Council violated the plaintiffs’ rights to public participation, as guaranteed by the Montana Constitution, when it voted on Oct. 4 to halt development at Dornix Park and to remove existing structures in the park.
The lawsuit also seeks an injunction prohibiting the city from “taking any action to remove, deface, destroy, or alter any structures or fixtures” in Dornix Park.
According to the suit, the Oct. 4 City Council agenda called for a “discussion of Dornix Park-Master Plan.” But then, instead of conducting such a discussion, the council, without discussion and without taking any public comment, voted on a motion by Councilman Justin Ferguson to cease development of the park and to remove the structures.
The motion passed 3-1, with Ferguson joined by Kevin McCauley and Randy Rembold. Councilwoman Lori Minette cast the only “no” vote.
Ferguson, McCauley and Rembold are named as defendants in the suit, as is Mayor Mark Stephens, who votes only to break ties.
Stephens is named because he told people at the meeting that the issue had been discussed enough in the past and that there was no reason to take more public comment.
The lawsuit also says that about 50 people attended the Oct. 4 meeting, so many that some of them were forced outside the room and were unable to observe or take part in the meeting.
When Bill Warwick, one of the plaintiffs, asked the council to reschedule the meeting at a larger venue, he “was told that the meeting would continue as planned.”
The plaintiffs also said that, after the motion carried, some of those present objected to the proceedings and attempted to question the mayor and council. Their questions went unanswered, and the council moved on to the next agenda item, the suit says.
The plaintiffs also said they have reason to believe that prior discussion of the Dornix Park motion had occurred among Stephens, Rembold, McCauley and Ferguson, or some combination of the four, and in conjunction with two local groups known as the Sweet Grass Council for Community Integrity and the Sweet Grass County Patriots.
Plaintiffs further say that the defendants “may have discussed removing, altering, or otherwise destroying … structures at Dornix Park on the grounds that Dornix Park was part of an international subversive conspiracy, known as ‘Agenda 21,’ which the Defendants believe was directed by the United Nations in an effort to infiltrate local communities and take away private property rights under United States law.”
Dornix Park is a 50-plus-acre riverfront park on the site of Dornix, the settlement that preceded the establishment of Big Timber. It consists of public trails, signs and several structures “of historical significance and importance,” according to the lawsuit.
The park was conceived in spring 2006 and has been worked on by city and county residents, students and faculty from Montana State University and Sweet Grass County High and members of a nonprofit group known as Friends of Dornix Park.