Bitterroot Politics

You get what you vote for…

Bitterroot Politics - You get what you vote for…

Who will they blame it on now?

Well, the commissioners are in a bind now. For years they’ve been blaming lawsuit losses over subdivisions on the previous group of commissioners. The awful Democrats made such bad decisions that they led to lawsuits against the county.

Now they’ve lost one of their own that the Democrats had nothing to do with. Legacy Ranch, the massive development approved by the commission despite loads of objections, was struck down in the courts recently. The court stated the commission failed in their decision making process in several areas. Basically, they rubber-stamped the development without bothering to look at what kind of an impact it would have on the county and the environment.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that the commissioners approved a development over the span of decades. This was not a development that would be completed in the next few years. This is one that generations of Bitterroot residents would be dealing with. It’s impossible to determine the impact a development will have 20 years from now. Why would you approve it now and be in a position where you can request/demand changes to the plan as the conditions change.

The court also stated the commissioners failed the “hard look” standard in multiple ways but this shouldn’t be a real surprise. The current (and previous) commission has a tendency to not look beyond the first page or two of a report. They don’t seem all that interested in actually learning about what they’re looking at but instead just vote with their gut or how their party expects them to vote.

You get what you vote for and in this case you get a group of commissioners who are more concerned about helping their developer buddies/donors than looking out for the public good. And they can’t blame this lawsuit loss on the Democratic commissioners. This one was all theirs.

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Julie King schools complaining commissioners

The county commissioners have been up in arms recently that they don’t have standing to object to the Forest Service’s latest Travel Plan for the Bitterroot National Forest. They’ve argued that they should have a say in the travel plan and the forest should hear their complaints.

The problem with that, however, is that Forest Service rules only allow people who submitted comments on the draft travel plan to file objections. The county commission never commented on the travel plan so they have no standing to file an objection now.

The commissioners point to their “Natural Resource Policy” as their comment, but it was put out in 2012 while comments were taken on the travel plan in 2009. Three years before the natural resource policy.

They also complain that those were the actions of a previous commission. The problem with that argument though is that Greg Chilcott and JR Iman were on the commission at that time and never submitted comments on the draft travel plan.

Julie King, the current forest supervisor, takes the commissioners to school in her letter to them. You can read the letter HERE. She lets them know that not only does she have evidence that the forest DID include the commission in discussions back then, but that even if they didn’t, the travel plan doesn’t fall under the same regulations as forest management. And the natural resource policy which the commissioners point to as their comment addresses forest management, not travel management, so even if it had been done in time, it still wouldn’t give the commission standing to object now.

It’s also great to see her point to the fact that Chilcott and Iman were both on the commission in 2009 and didn’t offer comment at that time,┬ábut chose not to.

All of this points out, once again, that this board of commissioners is not forward thinking. They react to things. They don’t look ahead. They have no plan for the future. All they can do is react to things as they come. Instead of planning ahead and working to move the county in a specific direction, they’re content to just drift along and let the current take the county where it will. This is no way to govern and it’s hurting the county the longer it goes on.

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Part time commissioners

Being a Ravalli County commissioner sure is a cushy job. Look at their calendar this week. There’s nothing on the calendar for Thursday and Friday is scheduled as “office management,” which is the same as “we’re not really in.”

This week, you’re paying your county commissioners for 3 days of “work.” These are the same commissioners who earn at least $62,000/year plus full benefits and mileage reimbursement for driving to and from work.

For a conservative group of politicians, they certainly aren’t giving the taxpayers their money’s worth.

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Ready to start paying for the airport expansion?

Over the last few weeks, the Ravalli County commission has been going through their annual budget hearings. Each department comes and presents their budget requests. For the most part the commissioners just sit there and accept whatever they’re told. They’ll ask a few questions but that’s about it.

The airport budget hearing revealed some unsurprising news… at least unsurprising to this writer…

During the discussion, the issue of expansion costs came up. Last year, before the expansion plan was decided upon, a group of anonymous donors claimed they would pay the county’s share of the expansion costs. They would ensure the county had to pay $0 when it came to the expansion.

During the meeting however, the cost of expanding the ramp area of the airport came up. Then the airport manager let the cat out of the bag… the group will only pay for the expansion of the ramp beyond what is already there. That means the resurfacing that will also be required is going to cost the county $215,000. So much for the county not having to pay anything if it agreed to expand the airport.

Had this commission not thrown out the previous plan and simply moved forward with the approved and selected expansion plan, the project would be done and it would have cost the county less than it’s going to cost now. If you think taxes are high and services poor now, wait until the bill comes due for this expansion. This is not conservative governance. This is “take care of your buddies” governance.

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Too late again

Before the last election, the Ravalli County Commissioners discussed putting a move from 5 commissioners to 3 on the November ballot. They spent a couple hours discussing it and listening to public comment before it was helpfully pointed out to them that they didn’t have enough time to complete the process in order to get it on the ballot. Two hours of people’s day was wasted because the commissioners hadn’t looked to see if they could do something before proposing that they do it.

Fast forward 9 months and they still haven’t learned. The Forest Service has released their draft Travel Plan for the Bitterroot National Forest. This impacts what kinds of activities are allowed on the forest and shuts down a number of roads and limits motorized travel in certain areas.

So of course the Commissioners schedule a meeting to discuss filing an objection. Here’s the problem with that though… new Forest Service rules, which were widely reported in local media, only allow people who comment on a proposal to file an objection. Of course the commissioners didn’t comment on the travel plan update while it was being put together, because they don’t pay attention to those things… so when they scheduled this meeting, a Forest Service official kindly informed them that they wouldn’t be allowed to file an objection since they hadn’t commented earlier in the process. Once again, their inaction and reactive posture prevented them from having a seat at the table.

So then they fall back to their controversial and pointless “Natural Resource Policy” claiming that it is their “standing comment” which should give them ground to object to the travel plan. They also claim that since they were never specifically asked for comment, the Forest Service failed at following the rules of “Coordination,” – the crazy Tea Party notion that the Forest Service has to do whatever local government says. Now we see just what people have been telling them for years… Coordination is not a real policy but only one imagined by Tea Party separatists hoping to usurp the federal government.

Aren’t you glad you’re paying for these commissioners to get nothing done?

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Back from a break

After the Legislature ended, I needed a break from politics. Watching the crazy shenanigans carried out by the Bitterroot Valley contingent made my head want to explode. Rather than getting more and more angry, I stepped away to get some perspective and relax a bit.

I’m back now though and there’s plenty to talk about! From Nancy Ballance claiming not funding infrastructure was a good thing to the commissioners being reactive rather than proactive, and it keeping them out of the process one more time. So let’s get back into it!

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Whole lot of nothing

Do you ever sit back and think about what you’re paying for a whole lot of nothing? Because if you’re a taxpayer in Ravalli County, you’re paying a lot for not much.

In this instance, I’m referring to the county commission. Ask yourselves if you can name one thing the commission has done in the past six months. Can you? You might be able to name one, because they did make the news by giving MAPS Media Institute a special day. Other than that though, can you name anything?

Probably not. That’s because the commission really isn’t doing much with their terms.

They’re not working on making Ravalli County more attractive to businesses. They’re not improving roads. They’re not working to fix a diversion dam that has killed a young child and prompts state officials to shut down a portion of the river when water levels get too high.

Given that there aren’t too many subdivisions for them to rubber stamp these days, what exactly is it that they’re doing all day?

If you believe the commissioners’ calendar, they’re busy with “office management.” Of course, anyone familiar with the work of the commission knows that “office management” is code for “we’re not here.”

For all of this not working, you’re paying at least $62,000 per commissioner. That means for five commissioners to do virtually nothing, the taxpayers of Ravalli County are paying more than a quarter of a million dollars.

But hey, you get what you vote for.

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Government inefficiency

The sordid tale of Valerie Stamey just never seems to come to an end. This week the Montana Supreme Court ruled that she could not keep her employment records at MCPS secret and they were released to the public.

Shockingly, they revealed she was terminated for misusing school funds to pay for items for a private catering event and her husband’s concessions business. This should have disqualified her from consideration for county treasurer but when you’ve got buddies in high places I guess it doesn’t matter.

But now, she’s been gone for a while and if it weren’t for media reports about the court ruling, we may have forgotten about her. Apparently the commissioners had.

Suddenly, after the stories in local newspapers appeared, she’s back on the commission’s calendar. This time they’re talking about hiring a process server to serve Stamey with the lawsuit they decided to file against her OVER A YEAR AGO. 

For a party that rants and raves about government inefficiency, it sure doesn’t work efficiently when it comes to dealing with this black mark on the county. Their lack of efficency already cost the county. When Stamey’s house was forceclosed on, the lack of action by the commission meant the county lost out on any funds that would come from the eventual sale of that property. 

Now Stamey has had a year or more to hide and the odds of getting the lawsuit served are poor. Had they simply served her when she was still collecting her paychecks from the county, perhaps the county could have gotten some of the money back that she cost it. Instead, the lack of effort by the previous commission and the current one has ensured that we’ll just be out the hundreds of thousands of dollars she’s cost.

And in case you were wondering, this isn’t the first time this topic has been on the commission’s calendar. They discussed this a year or so ago as well. Apparently no action ever came of that and they’re going to talk about it again. Government inefficiency at its finest. The next time one of these commissioners talks about how inefficient governments are, know that they speak from experience. They’ve done everything they can to make sure this drags out as long as possible.

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Study commission interviews commissioners

The local government study commission isn’t wasting time. They’ve set a goal for the June 2016 primary to have their proposals before voters so any changes made to our form of local government would go into effect for the 2016 general election in November.

As they get underway, they took the day to interview the current county commissioners about their thoughts on county government. After watching the interviews, here are a few thoughts.

1. They all claim there was support during the election season for keeping the commission at 5. Not surprising though I’d love to know where they got that. Letters to the editor in both newspapers as well as general conversations seem to indicate the only people in favor of that are the commissioners.

2. Jeff Burrows finally admitted the appointment of Valerie Stamey as treasurer was a political move. When asked if some positions should be appointed rather than elected, he claimed he wouldn’t want to appoint a treasurer. (Oh the irony…) He then said that as much as people may say it doesn’t happen, those decisions always become political. Too bad he couldn’t be honest about it during the election.

3. All five want commissioners to be elected at large instead of by their district. Of course they do. They claim it allows them to focus on the whole county instead of just their district, but the real reason is that they know they’d likely lose one seat at least if it was limited to the district. For example, Burrows lost his district in the last election but was saved by being voted on at large. Voting by district would allow candidates to get to know their constituents better. It also allows for more accurate representation.

Curiously, Ravalli County election rules still state that a candidate must live in the district they represent. If you represent a district but don’t have to be elected by that district, why does it matter where you live? Clearly the commissioners are trying to game the system to ensure their party stays in power.

The study commission will be holding more meetings with other county officials in the future and will eventually hold meetings around the valley. It will be interesting to see what they come up with in terms of proposals and how those are presented on the ballot.

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