Councilmember Thomas Smits wanted to return to the MEDC board as the city’s representative, but was voted out, in favor of freshman Councilmember Gail Marvel.
The ensuing conversation did not go smoothly, with Mayor Kathy Ellis accusing Smits of not having acted in the city’s best interest, and Smits then calling Ellis a “powerbroker,” followed by Councilmember Bill Patterson weighing in to suggest that he does not trust Marvel’s judgment.
During the discussion, Ellis said, “I asked a friend about the vote” at an earlier MEDC meeting, and “he felt [Smits] worked really hard against the [Montrose City] Council that night,” Ellis said.
Ellis's husband, Montrose County Commissioner Gary Ellis, sits on the MEDC board.
“Why don’t you ask my wife about the meeting?” Smits retorted.
“Was your wife at the meeting?” Ellis asked.
“Of course not,” Smits snapped. “This is a political game and they [the three women councilmembers] indicated they had already made up their minds.”
Ellis said, after the meeting, that while Smits' charges were untrue, she had asked her husband to confirm that Smits had voted against MEDC’s contract with the city, which would give the economic development group $6,000 per quarter for administrative expenses.
He confirmed that Smits was against MEDC's “accepting the contract, ” Ellis said, adding that her husband had “recused himself” from that vote.
Smits disputed suggestions that his vote against the MEDC contract ran counter to the will of the Montrose City Council.
“From an MEDC perspective, I did not feel I could uphold it,” he said, “because it was a violation of their bylaws.
“I didn’t have the luxury to come back and ask the council,” he added.
Patterson pronounced Smits, a banker, a good fit for the MEDC board.
“Thomas could bring us back good judgment,” Patterson said, to which Marvel responded, “Bill trusts Thomas but apparently he doesn’t trust me.” Patterson did not respond.
During the discussion, there were rumblings from several members of the audience, prompting Councilmember Carol McDermott, a former teacher, to yell loudly at them: “People in the audience! You know how to behave!”
After the meeting, Patterson said he believes Mayor Ellis does not want Smits on the MEDC board because Smits asks too many questions, particularly about MEDC negotiations to bring Extra Aircraft, an airplane manufacturer, to Montrose.
Patterson, who is a pilot and owns a manufacturing company, said he doesn’t trust Extra’s motives.
“From a business standpoint, there’s nothing there,” he said of Extra. “You have a guy with a bargain on a bankrupt business and bought assets to put together seven airplanes, and that’s his business plan. They are after as much money as they can get.”
Mayor Ellis said after the meeting that she was disappointed with the rowdy meeting.
“Some people just don’t like MEDC, and that was the whole thing,” she said. “They think Gail will be a ‘yes’ person.” That’s exactly what Patterson thinks, he said.
“Gail has always been a champion of MEDC, and anything they do is great and wonderful,” Patterson said. “I talked to her later, and said it was nothing personal, but that she would not question what they were doing.”
Patterson said he agreed with Smits that the MEDC board appointment was “ramrodded” through.
“I have trouble with this whole thing,” Patterson said. “Kathy wanted to be mayor, and I think this was the deal, to push through to have Gail Marvel on the MEDC board.”
The city council selects the mayor of Montrose, and Ellis was elected to her second term in April, with Patterson and Smits both voting against her.