Page One News at a Glance
By Michael Howell
The procedures used recently by the Stevensville School Board in conducting a couple of executive sessions were questioned last week by School Board trustee Bill Goslin and Bitterroot Star publisher Michael Howell. The first executive session took place during a regularly scheduled board meeting on September 12. The second took place at a special board meeting called a "work session" held on September 26. At the most recent board meeting on October 10, in the public comment portion of the meeting, Goslin expressed his concern about the reason given for adjourning to a closed session in one case and improper notice on the agenda of the second meeting. Howell agreed with Goslin about those procedural questions, but also stated that he was concerned to have discovered that no minutes were being taken and no records being kept of what transpired in the executive sessions.
Goslin stated that the matters had been placed on the agenda at his request, but that, in the first case it was not the reason given for adjourning into executive session. He said that the agenda stated what he wanted to discuss was the handling of a Title IX "complaint," but he said the reason announced for going into closed session was not to discuss a complaint, but to hire a lawyer to get direction on Title IX "procedures." He said that, while discussing the handling of a specific Title IX complaint may be a valid reason for closing a meeting, discussion of policy or procedures was not.
Later in the meeting, approval of the minutes was held up over the question of what reason was actually stated at the time for closing the meeting of September 12. Business Manager/Clerk Bill Schiele was charged with determining from the tape recording of the meeting how the actual motion to adjourn was stated and approval of the minutes was tabled.
On Monday, Schiele told the Bitterroot Star that the motion on the tape recording was, "to hire an attorney to give us guidance on our Title IX discipline procedures." Following that motion the Board adjourned to executive session to discuss it. When they returned, the motion was unanimously approved.
In the second case, at the September 26 work session, Goslin said the agenda mentions only a "Discussion concerning administrative procedure concerning complaints by community members via executive session." He said that in this case the agenda item as noticed was not a valid reason for closing a meeting. Once again he stated that matters of policy and procedure should be addressed at an open meeting. He believes the agenda should have mentioned that a "complaint" was being considered.
"What I asked for was a Board review of the administrative findings of a Title IX Complaint," said Goslin.
According to unofficial minutes of the meeting, before any discussion was held Chairman Jim Cloud stated that the first item before the Board is "the Board strategy regarding pending litigation and for that reason the meeting will go into executive session."
Attorney for the Montana School Board Association, Debra Silk, was present at the work session meeting and, according to the same unofficial minutes, explained to the Board that there are two circumstances in which the Board can go into executive session.
"The first one is when the Board Chairman determines that an individual right of privacy clearly excludes the right for the public to know and the second one is for the Board to discuss litigation," state the minutes.
Elementary School Principal Jaclyn Mavencamp then asked if she could assume that, since it was being closed for litigation strategy, no personnel issues or other issues regarding any individual would be discussed.
According to the minutes, Silk told the Board and the audience that an individual could be discussed in the executive session depending upon the nature of what the Board perceives as pending litigation.
The meeting was then closed. Upon re-opening the meeting, no mention is made in the minutes as to what transpired, if anything, in the closed session. Instead a motion to table the only other item on the agenda was approved and the meeting was adjourned.
At the most recent meeting of October 10, Goslin also requested that an item be placed on the next school board meeting agenda to discuss an issue of "employee performance." He said that it may involve another executive session due to privacy concerns.
Howell said he shared Goslin's concerns about the way the procedure and agendas were handled in the most recent cases, but he also had grave concerns about the fact that the School Board was not taking minutes or keeping any record of what transpired in executive sessions.
He noted that he was in possession of a recent memo from the Board's attorney, Elizabeth Kaleva, in response to an inquiry from Superintendent Dennis Kimzey, which states that minutes do not need to be taken in executive session if it is not the board's practice to do so.
Howell stated that, based upon phone conversations with an attorney working for the Freedom of Information Hotline at the Meloy-Trieweiler office in Helena, he was prepared to disagree with the Board about the legality of the policy. He said that the Board would be receiving a letter soon from that firm addressing the matter. Howell said that rather than see these opposing legal opinions collide in court, he was hoping to work with the Board and arrive at a mutual understanding of the Open Meeting Law and how it should be interpreted in the case of executive sessions. He stated that he could see a lot of reasons for wanting to keep a record of what transpires at these meetings even if it is not available to the public for review. Such a record is still available for judicial review should the need arise, he said, and is, in fact, the only way possible for the public to hold elected officials accountable for what they do behind closed doors. Failure to keep any record would obviously thwart judicial review, he said.
Howell proposed that the Board place the matter on its next agenda and possibly consider changing the policy. He said that he would at least like the chance to hear from the Board members themselves what reason there might be to not keep a record.
The Board agreed to place the matter of recording executive sessions on the agenda of its next meeting.
Chairman Jim Cloud, who is out of town and was absent from the last School Board meeting, told the Bitterroot Star in a telephone interview, after consulting with an attorney for the School Board, that the topic of discussion in both of the recent executive sessions that required a closure of the public meetings was a Title IX complaint. He would not say who filed the complaint or what it concerned except that it was alleging a Title IX violation, which means that a written allegation of sexual discrimination had been received by the district.
Cloud cautioned jumping to any conclusions about what is involved, calling it a "pretty broad" law covering everything from inequity in sports to the more specific individual cases of sexual harassment.
Superintendent Dennis Kimzey, who was absent from the "work session" meeting, confirmed that at least the first closed session involved a discussion about a Title IX complaint filed last spring. He said the complaint had been investigated by the school's Title IX Coordinator, Jim Notaro, and that a report had been turned in to his office on June 19, 2006. Kimzey said that he reviewed the investigative report and issued his own decision in the matter on July 15, 2006. He said that the complainant in the case did not appeal his decision to the Board of Trustees.
According to Stevensville's Title IX procedure, if a complaint cannot be resolved among the parties involved, the complainant has 15 days from the incident to file a written grievance with the principal. The principal then has 10 school days to render a decision in the case. If the complainant is not satisfied, that decision may be appealed within the next 10 days to the Superintendent. Beyond that, the complainant has another 10 days to appeal the Superintendent's decision to the Board of Trustees.
By Michael Howell
In response to a request from Trustee Ed Cummings at a previous meeting, Superintendent Dennis Kimzey announced at the October 10 meeting of the Stevensville School Board that he could not find any record of a Board of Trustee approval of a road easement to the neighboring Creekside Meadows subdivision.
The problem is that documentation of a road easement does exist. It grants the road easement to the subdivision where the subdivision interior road turns to access the Phase II development and crosses onto the corner of the school property.
Cummings said that he remembers discussing and agreeing to easements for sewer and water lines, but he could not remember discussing or agreeing to a road easement.
Kimzey did supply the Board with a copy of the road easement with his signature on it on behalf of the district.
Cummings said that he did not believe the superintendent had the authority to dispose of school property without the approval of the Board of Trustees.
Kimzey countered that no property had been transferred, only an easement.
Cummings said that a piece of land is now in use as a road and unusable for anything else.
Town councilor Paul Ludington, who works for the school district, said that since the subdivision was annexed into the town, the town considers it a city road.
"It's a problem," said Kimzey.
"It's a bigger problem for the developer," said Cummings. "He's got an easement that is not legal and we are headed into murky water."
"How can we make it right, at this point," asked Kimzey
Cummings said that the way to rectify it would be for the Board to ratify the Superintendent's action, but it would have to be placed on a future agenda. It was agreed to do so.
In other business the Board:
• set November 14 as the date for a work session to discuss a potential building program
By Michael Howell
Ravalli County Attorney George Corn has revised his advice to the County Commissioners on how to proceed with subdivision applications. Corn's office earlier advised the commissioners simply to put on hold any subdivision applications that had not been determined to be complete by October 1, 2006. On that date the old regulations became invalid under the new Subdivision and Platting Act of 2005. The county had a year to adopt new regulations in conformity with the Act but failed to do so.
At a Commissioners' meeting on October 4, however, a letter was presented from attorney John Tabaracci on behalf of the developer of the Legacy Ranch subdivision proposal, north of Stevensville, arguing that all subdivision applications made before the October 1 deadline should be processed under the regulations in effect at the time of the application, whether they were determined to be complete before that date or not.
As a result of those arguments presented by Tabaracci and other developers and their representatives, Corn wrote in a memo dated Tuesday October 10, that he is now revising his original advice "upon reflection of the fact it was the county's responsibility to see that the new subdivision regulations were enacted by October 1, 2006 and that fact did not occur. In these circumstances it is inequitable not to allow applicants to proceed under the subdivision enactments in place so long as the applicant realizes the risk in doing so."
Corn reiterates that the most conservative (less risky) way for a subdivision applicant to proceed would be to wait until the new subdivision regulations are enacted. But if the applicant wants to proceed under the old rules without the application having already been determined to be complete they may, provided they submit a request to do so in writing "knowing that the application may be subject to challenge and the County will, in all probability, not defend a legal challenge to such an application and any legal defense of the process will be up to the applicant. Further, applicants must sign a hold harmless and indemnification agreement with the county."
Corn states in his memo that Planning Director Karen Hughes believes that a deadline of November 10, 2006 for enactment of the new subdivision regulations "is a tight but realistic deadline."
By Michael Howell
The Ravalli County Commissioners adopted a budget for the 2006-2007 fiscal year that totals $13 million in operational funds. An additional $8 million is forecast to be available from grants and other funds. One such fund, the Capital Improvement Program fund, was created by the Commissioners earlier this year. In previous years, unspent money in department budgets at the end of the year would be funneled to other departments which were stretched for funds. Under the new CIP, those funds would roll over into the CIP fund which can then be tapped by the department when it needs the extra funds.
The new budget grants a 3.4 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA) to all county employees. It grants a 10 percent increase, the highest in the budget, to the public safety fund, bringing the Sheriff's Office budget up to $4.2 million, an increase of more than $380,000. Itemized into the Sheriff's budget are $140,000 for new patrol cars, $130,000 for medical services at the detention center with another $30,000 for purchase of a transportation van for transporting inmates. Another $25,000 is earmarked for use on the evidence room.
Another department to receive an increase in this year's budget will be the Information and Technology Department, which gained about $70,000.
The Planning Department suffered a decrease of almost $17,000 in its budget compared to last year, but this is mainly due to the removal of the GIS function which is now a stand alone department in the County and operates under its own budget.
The reserve funds were increased by $155,000 over last year.
By Michael Howell
After weeks of dissension in which an alternative budget proposed by Councilor Bob Scott and supported by Councilors Deanne Harbaugh and Robert Sutherland was pitted against the budget proposed by Mayor Jessica Randazzo, Randazzo's version won out. A few of the preliminary budget meetings were canceled due to a lack of quorum, one in which only Harbaugh, Sutherland and Scott attended and another in which only Nancy Jo Hendrickson showed up. The budget was adopted in a vote of 3 to 2 in which Councilors Mike LaSalle, Jerry Steele and Hendrickson voted in favor of Randazzo's budget proposal and Scott and Harbaugh voted against it. Sutherland was absent on vacation.
The $7.3 million budget represents an increase of $500,000 over last year. About $1.3 million is slated to come from the reserve funds. The new budget gives up to a 5 percent raise to city employees. Councilor LaSalle pointed out that this represents only a .5 percent raise over the cost of living increase which is estimated at about 4.5 percent. He said that wages were still being negotiated and not all employees would necessarily receive the full 5 percent raise. He said it was up to the Mayor's discretion.
The budget includes an increase of $3,000 a year in the Mayor's salary from $12,500 annually to $15,500. It includes an increase in Councilors' salaries from $500 per month to $600 per month which represents about a $7,200 per year increase in total salaries for Councilors.
The most glaring difference between the budget adopted and the budget proposed by Scott is that Scott had included a $900,000 allotment for a newly created park land acquisition fund. The adopted budget made no such dispensation.
By Michael Howell
The Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission (RWRCC) and the USDA Forest Service (USFS) announced on September 28, 2006 that a proposed USFS Reserved Water Rights Compact has been agreed to by both entities through a negotiated settlement and is now available for public review and comment. A reserved water right is a right to water that is created when Congress or the President reserves land out of the public domain. These rights must be resolved either in court through Montana's statewide adjudication process or by negotiation of a compact that settles claims.
"After many years of negotiations, we're all pleased to be presenting this settlement to the public," said RWRCC Staff Director Susan Cottingham in a press release. "It would not have been possible without the teamwork and cooperation of everyone involved." Negotiations have been on-going for the past 13 years but have intensified over the last year, with meetings scheduled every month.
The 26-page negotiated settlement outlines the specifics related to the water rights that the USFS will have, mainly in central and western Montana. The proposed settlement covers the reserved rights the USFS has for use of water for district offices, ranger stations, guard stations, work centers, housing and other facilities; tree nurseries and seed orchards; riding and pack stock used for administrative purposes; road construction and dust abatement; and for water for emergency fire suppression. These rights will have a priority date set at the time that Congress established the National Forest.
The proposed settlement also establishes state-based water rights for in-stream flows for nearly 80 basins in the compact as well as a future process for the USFS to acquire state water reservations for other watersheds. Except for the South Fork of the Flathead Wild & Scenic River, the in-stream flow rights for the USFS will have a priority date of 2007. The priority date for in-stream flows on the South Fork of the Flathead will be Oct. 12, 1976, when Congress designated it Wild and Scenic.
State law requires that the negotiated compact settlement must be enacted by the legislature, be approved by federal officials, and go through the objection process in the Montana Water Court. After all objections have been resolved, the Water Court will issue a final decree for all water rights in each basin, including the reserved rights in negotiated settlement.
Comments from the public on the proposed settlement agreement will be accepted through November 27, 2006. The draft negotiated settlement as well as the dates and locations of the public meetings and open houses planned throughout the state may be found on the DNRC website at www.dnrc.mt.gov. Written comments may be sent to RWRCC, 1625 11th Ave., Helena MT 59620 or e-mailed to email@example.com.
By Michael Howell
Lance Corporal Jeremy Scott Sandvick Monroe, a U.S. Marine with the Fourth Platoon of the 23rd Echo Company, who once lived in Darby, is now listed among the dead on the American Heroes Memorial, a web site dedicated to soldiers who have died in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. According to information on the site, Monroe was shot to death while on patrol in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq on Sunday, October 8, 2006.
Monroe attended elementary and junior high school in Darby before moving to Chinook to attend high school and live with his mother, Melissa Pike. According to reports in the Missoulian and the Ravalli Republic, Monroe's father, Monte Monroe, and his stepmother Dana, who live in Darby, were notified by Marine officials of his son's death Sunday evening.
The reports state that Monroe was shot by a sniper's bullet to the head and died instantly at the scene.
He enlisted into the service immediately following graduation from Chinook High School and served a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He was reported to have made preparations for his burial while on a visit home prior to being redeployed to Iraq. Monroe was buried with full military honors on Monday following a memorial service at the Chinook High School gym.
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