Despite public support, no word has come out about potential reinstatement
MT. PLEASANT—A dispute over a door resulted in Mt. Pleasant Mayor Mike Olsen firing ConToy Arena manager, Jack Widdison, precipitating a flood of angry citizens showing up at a city council meeting last Tuesday, July 12.
Not a seat was left empty in the council chambers as attendees overflowed into the lobby. Most were there to voice support for Widdison, and conflicts escalated to the point of shouting, with one citizen being escorted out of the meeting.
After listening to the public comments, the council passed a motion to go into executive session to discuss a personnel issue. The council remained in closed session for approximately 45 minutes. When the public meeting resumed, the mayor announced that the council was taking no action in the Widdison matter.
According to sources close to the situation, the council did, in fact, agree that Widdison will be reinstated with conditions. However, there has been no official announcement as to whether he had been reinstated or not as of last Monday.
The termination reportedly originated from a dispute between the Mayor and Widdison over converting a set of swinging double doors into a rollup door. Widdison said the swinging doors posed a safety hazard to horses and people. Widdison’s wife, Gaylynne, who is co-manager of the arena, said the problem arose when the swinging doors blew closed as horses were being led through them.
Gaylynne said that when the door(s) struck a horse as it was being led through, it would sometimes bolt, posing an immediate danger to the handler. The Widdisons proposed converting the two doors, which had to be held open when a horse passed through, to an overhead, garage-style door. While safer for leading horses through, the new door would pose a fire risk by trapping people inside, as it can only be opened electronically.
The Widdisons proposed adding a standard door with a standard knob and latch next to the new garage-style door for human egress in the event of a fire. The mayor told them to hold off until the city could access whether such a change would comply with the fire code.
The Widdisons invited council member Sam Draper, the city fire chief, along with the county fire warden, to inspect what they were proposing. They said Draper agreed with them that converting the double doors to an overhead door would be safer for horses and handlers. Fire officials also confirmed that putting in an additional standard door on the same end of the building should satisfy the fire code concerns.
The Widdisons took Draper’s verbal sign-off as satisfying the mayor’s concerns and they authorized the conversion. The rollup door hardware was already in stock, so all that was needed was to get it installed. They hired Roberts Garage Doors of Wales to do the installation. Widdison said the cost was under the amount for which he was required to seek approval, so he felt he was within his authority to order the work done.
While the roll-up door is installed, the man-door has not been. A contract has reportedly been let for the cement sawing needed, but work has not yet commenced.
When the major visited the arena last week and saw that the roll-up door conversion had been made but the man-door was not in place, he confronted Widdison over it. The confrontation escalated and resulted in Widdison’s firing.
Several people signed up to speak at the public participation segment of the meeting. Several were local citizens who spoke favorably of the Widdisons’ work and expressed opposition to Jack’s firing. One of the public participants was an equestrian show producer who said that they viewed the ConToy Arena as one of the top three facilities in the state thanks to how the Widdisons managed the facility.
Todd Tree, a local resident and stock provider for the Wasatch Academy equestrian program said he was opposed to Jack’s firing but volunteered to help out at the arena during this uncertain time. He emphasized that his services would not be provided beyond the scope of his work for Wasatch Academy and should not be interpreted as any sort of endorsement of Jack’s firing. Todd Tree’s father also spoke out in support of Widdison.
Conflict in the meeting escalated in the later part of the meeting. The crowd began to shout down the city council and to speak out of turn without their name being listed on the public comments roster. One older gentleman became belligerent and was escorted from the room by police chief, Jim Wilburg.
A question was asked from the floor as to who had the authority to fire a city employee. The Mayor contended that it was his authority alone, but another party cited state law that said that in a 5th class city, which Mt. Pleasant is, a mayor could not act alone but required majority approval of the city council. That statement prompted loud applause from the crowd.
On Friday, at the invitation of arena management, ConToy’s architect, Gil Rand, inspected the building, including the new roll-up door. He told officials that the building, which has nearly a dozen exits, had more than adequate fire exits even without the proposed new exit door. He said he would provide the city with a letter stating such.