Bitterroot Star Masthead
The Bitterroot Valley's only locally owned newspaper

Volume XIX, Number 29


Wednesday, February 11, 2004

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Star Editorial

Commissioners should respect groups' growth policy document

The County Commissioners are not being honest with us or with themselves as they hack away at the current Growth Policy and amendments proposed by the Ravalli County Planning Board and the All Valley Focus Group, under the guise of making minor adjustments and rearrangements to an otherwise valid document.

At least two of the Commissioners should be able to remember, in the face of such unparalleled growth with all its attendant problems, how many people clamored for action, begging the Commissioners to enact a Growth Policy to help guide the rampant development that was occurring.

At that time the Commissioners refused, saying that they would not dictate to the Bitterroot public how future development would occur. Instead they encouraged the concerned public to work with the Planning Board and come up with their own policy and promised that if they did, the Commission would stand behind it and see that it was enacted.

Literally hundreds and hundreds of people took the Commissioners at their word and went to work. Thousands of hours were spent at public meetings pounding out the issues and the requisite guidelines.

The Commission did finally adopt the policy. But instead of implementing it by rewriting pertinent county regulations to bring them into conformity, they listened to some vocal detractors and encouraged the Planning Board and the All Valley Focus Group to go back to the drawing board and address what they saw as relevant criticisms.

In a heroic effort the public went to work again and in an exhaustive process collected and analyzed all the criticisms generated by another round of public meetings and long hours of work and discussion. No comments or commentators were turned away without consideration in the process. As a result the public produced through a set of amendments a final policy to present to the Commissioners.

And now what do the Commissioners do? Do they give it the support that they promised? No. They proceed to throw one quarter of it into the trash in one fell swoop. Oh, they don't call it the trash, they call it the "tool box." But whether it's placed in a drawer in the planner's office, in a so-called "tool box," or in a trash bin, the fact is, it is no longer in the Growth Policy.

It's one thing to clean up a document, taking out some redundancy, but it's quite another to trash three quarters of the work. For those who worked so hard over all these years on all those words and sentences it must be heartbreaking.

And for the Commissioners to even consider doing it at this point is a serious act of bad faith. If they want to produce something "readable" and think that the public won't read anything over twenty pages, as Commissioner Lund has said, what they should be doing is writing a well crafted and beautifully phrased executive summary to accompany the document, instead of destroying what so many people worked so hard on based upon the Commissioners' urging and promise of support.

Letters to the Editor

Open Letter to Commission Chairperson Betty Lund on Growth Policy:

The purpose of this letter is to express the depth and intensity of our feelings regarding recent efforts to change the Adopted and Amended Growth Policy for Ravalli County by you and Mr. Chilcott.

You were a primary driving force in directing the newly formed Planning Board to develop a growth policy for Ravalli County. What has changed so drastically that you are now redoing the work you so vigorously supported for almost three years? It is hard to describe in words, the feelings of betrayal we are now experiencing. Hundreds of people poured their hearts and souls into this process because the Commissioners, especially you, gave us such strong support and constant encouragement.

We believe the following to be true:

You were strongly supportive and instrumental in getting $ 100,000 added to the Planning Board budget for the Growth Policy effort.

You were the most visible and vocal supporter of the planning process, appearing at the original seven focus group meetings as well as many school district focus group meetings and most of the All Valley Focus Group (AVFG) meetings. These, with other meetings and hearings, involved hundreds of valley people.

You were adamant that the process had to be driven from the ground up and the document, at least Chapters 3 and 4, be developed by a diverse group of residents.

You were instrumental in convincing the other Commissioners to have your faces on the billboards, urging public involvement.

You provided more public statements of support for the planning process than any other Commissioner.

You were enthusiastic about the consensus process and totally supportive of the agreements by such a diverse group.

You were the most vocal Commissioner the day the Planning Board and Commissioners spent ten hours going over almost every word of Chapters 3 and 4 of the Policy, and you gave the appearance of supporting the results after most of your suggested changes were put into place.

You consistently maintained your desire to have a straw vote in each school district at the end of the process.

And last, but certainly not least, you signed a letter stating that you would approve the Growth Policy ³Šif it is endorsed in each district by a majority of citizens participating in the district planning process." This endorsement by the majority of participants has been demonstrated to you and others many times at many meetings.

Can you explain to us what you are trying to accomplish at this point in the process? Are you getting pressure from people with vested interests in unmanaged development of our Valley? Are you getting pressure from the Republican Central Committee? Many of us are Republicans who do not feel the Central Committee represents our positions.

Why are you so convinced that the current amended growth policy cannot pass the vote in November? What information do you have that leads you to believe a handful of naysayers rather than the hundreds of people who have worked closely in the process? At some point it becomes important to honor the process and the people who participated and not sacrifice the broad support achieved through the consensus process. We are serious about this. We will not go away nor will we give up in our quest to get answers. The entire Ravalli County community deserves an expedient response to these questions.

Thank you for reading this and thank you in advance for answering our questions.

Current Planning Board Members:
Rocky DuBose
Ben Hillicoss
Harriet Hooper-Gibson
Dan Huls
Tom Ruffatto
Former Planning Board Members:
Neil Crawford
Donald Dobberstein
Darlene Grove
Sonny LaSalle
LaRue Moorhouse
Bill Nelson

Grant money used inappropriately

Dear Editor,

Last summer I wanted to serve the people of Hamilton by running for public office. I had become aware of how our community was beginning to grow. The link between city and county government made me realize the importance of how the infrastructure within the city can be used to direct a healthier county unless abused by city officials and out of control development. I still to this day would love to serve this community with the knowledge I have gained.

Ten years ago my family and I were affected by a life changing experience. My son was hit by a car. He became disabled for life. The people of Hamilton shared with my family their hard earned money. Fund raising allowed our family to pay bills. One of those bills put a septic system in our back yard; ours had failed and without the system my son could not come home from the hospital. I had approached the city about hooking up to the city sewer system - cost $10,000. I chose the septic, which was less expensive. It was then that I became very aware of the impact those choices made by city and county officials have on families.

Taking a look at the City of Hamilton map I can see something that compares to a piece of Swiss cheese. Fourteen pockets of unannexed spaces are filled with people like me. There was grant money available to help people like myself. Where did that grant money go?

When applying for a grant you need the people. The people's level of income activates the ability to receive the money. Dale Huhtanen and Mark Shrives applied for grants to help low and moderate income people pay for the city water and sewer project.

But guess what! Did the poor and moderate income people get the money? No. It's gone to support developers, many of whom we are subsidizing. It's gone.

The new city council is about to take a fresh look at what has been happening within our city limits and make sure that the people who are paying the taxes are receiving their fair share of this multi million dollar water and sewer project.

At this point in time my property, which is completely surrounded by the City, has not been annexed. Unless infrastructure to my property is fairly funded, and equally treated with other wholly surrounded parcels within the City of Hamilton, it would be unfair to give me special treatment. I still desire to serve the voters of Hamilton, but do not want to cause the voters unnecessary expense to allow me to do so.

This is my home and my community. The people here have helped to raise me and my small family. I owe them more than I could ever repay.

Kathleen Driscoll

New council members deserve support

Dear Editor,

It is my opinion that the new Hamilton City Council members, Bob Scott, Robert Sutherland, and Tom Peterson, are not getting the recognition and support they deserve to accomplish what the citizens elected them to do. All three of these men are very well-educated and are highly qualified to manage this City. Mr. Scott and Mr. Sutherland were elected by an overwhelming majority of the voters who wanted to see change in Hamilton's government. These new Councilors take their positions very seriously. Mr. Scott and Mr. Sutherland have attended City Council meetings for the past year or more, and are well-informed on the problems and issues facing the City. Mr. Peterson was a former mayor of Hamilton. They should not be classified as novices. Let's all support our new City Council.

But before you form an opinion, go see for yourself how City Council meetings are conducted. The Ravalli Republic Editorial Board rarely attends a City Council meeting, and I have never seen Earl Pollard there. I know this because I have personally attended nearly every meeting since January 2002. These new Council members are doing the will of the voters, but change in government is often a slow and painful process. We need to give the new Councilors a chance to prove themselves. They do have the citizens' best interests at heart.

Unless people attend City Council meetings they should not complain or criticize those that do. But do not take my word for it, or anyone else's. See for yourself. Get involved. Meetings are held on the first and third Tuesdays of each month at Hamilton City Hall at 7 p.m. sharp.

Ellen Prosser

Bearing witness

Dear Editor,

Having the great good fortune to visit the nation's capitol last month, I took in some living history. I visited the William Penn house, an old Quaker meetinghouse, and the Holocaust Museum. Penn, one of our founding fathers, was referring to the Quaker perspective that there is that of the Creator in all people when he wrote, "Men must be governed by God or they will be ruled by tyrants."

At the Holocaust Museum I studied the gradual rise of the totalitarian Nazi regime in response to terrorism against the state. Were the German people aware at what point their Patriotism turned into Nationalism? The overarching lesson one leaves the museum with is that to remain silent in the face of something you know is wrong, is to support it. The Quakers call the nonviolent opposition to evil "bearing witness." In D.C. I was moved by the lives of those who had witnessed before us and the examples they had left for us to find and follow.

Personally, I'm for honoring the Spirit of God in everyone. That translates into trying to work with the international community to counter injustice and opposing preemptive wars. If you are interested in discussing these ideas pleas consider attending the 6 p.m. vigils at the Hamilton Peace Post on the first Friday of the month and those at the Stevensville Peace Post on third Fridays. Help celebrate today's freedoms in this great nation while we try to learn from history's mistakes.

Kerry Wall MacLane
Bitterroot Peace Seekers

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