Page One News at a Glance
By Michael Howell
The Town of Stevensville has been designated a Preserve America Community The Stevensville Main Street Association submitted application for the designation, which is a recognition of the historic and cultural resources of a community. Notification arrived through a letter dated January 25, 2007 from First Lady, Laura Bush, to the Town of Stevensville.
Stevensville joins 10 other Preserve America communities in Montana: Fort Benton, Virginia City, Great Falls, Butte, Billings, Anaconda, Lewistown, Red Lodge and Missoula. Preserve America recognizes communities that protect and celebrate their heritage; use their historic assets for economic development and community revitalization; and encourage people to experience and appreciate local historic resources through education and heritage tourism programs. Benefits of designation include: White House recognition; a certificate of recognition; a Preserve America Community road sign; authorization to use the Preserve America logo on signs, flags, banners, and promotional materials; listing in a Web-based Preserve America Community directory; inclusion in national and regional press releases; official notification of designation to State tourism offices and visitor bureaus; and enhanced community visibility and pride.
As a Preserve America Community, Stevensville will have access to grants requiring the designation and plans are underway to utilize that privilege for historic preservation and promotion.
By Gretchen L. Langton
"I don't want people to think I'm a hero," Megan Klingler told me on the phone when I called to ask her for an interview. This reminded me of something a chef friend of mine was fond of saying, "Once you say you're the man, you're no longer the man." Don't toot your own horn - these are good words to live by. But some horns should be tooted and some people are heroes; Megan Klingler, despite her humble protestations, is a hero of the highest order.
Since she was a small child, Megan had big dreams of traveling to Africa. After graduating from Stevensville High School in 1998, completing her RN training through MSU, and spending a year nursing in New Hampshire, Megan's heart was still set upon visiting Africa. But when she joined the Peace Corps in October of 2004, Megan thought she would be going to Nepal. Instead she ended up in Namibia, the northwestern chunk of South Africa that gained its independence in 1990.
Namibia, like many countries in Africa, is a country in crisis. Having recently been at war, the country is poor and the populace is missing its 25-35-year-olds, who have died fighting, or from AIDS, or from malaria, or in traffic accidents (all common and frequent ways for young Namibians to expire). Megan says that 48% of the population is under the age of sixteen. At fifteen, girls begin to have children of their own and the average number of children per family is seven. Megan tells me the tragic saying common in her circles was "fifteen, pregnant, and positive," meaning a girl is fifteen years old, about to have a baby, and HIV positive. In Namibia, one in five people is HIV positive, according to the AIDS&Africa website. In the Kavango Region, where Megan lived and worked, the numbers are even higher: 37.5% of the men and 48% of the women (18% are pregnant) have the HIV virus.
"There is a funeral everyday," Megan points out. In fact, so many people where she lived were positive, and dying, that the general assumption by the people there was that "everyone is positive until they test negative." This backwards thinking gives us an insight into how deeply and how traumatically the population is affected by AIDS "in the Shambyu" (akin to us saying "in the Bitterroot.") It is an overwhelming and depressing setting for some 24-year-olds - three of the five Peace Corps volunteers sent to this region bailed out early - but not Megan, she stayed longer than her assignment. Why? Some have a heart for service that cannot be dissuaded no matter how perilous things get.
Even while Megan was suffering from malaria, which she contracted four times (she also got shingles and chicken pox), she was working twelve-hour days, five days a week. She labored in a clinic run by Catholic Health Services where she could not openly give out condoms, even though condoms are included in the ABC's - abstinence, be faithful, and condom-ize. Megan hopes this will change as more pragmatic leadership begins to make decisions at clinics such as this one. Megan believes that condoms, while not 100% effective, are a vital means of helping to quell the AIDS epidemic and should be readily available. Megan did help to administer Depo birth control injections at the clinic, but she was fearful that this gave young girls the confidence that they would not become pregnant, which decreased the number of girls who sought condoms for protection. Megan felt that this possibly increased the number of girls having unprotected sex in a very dangerous setting. Two steps forward, one back.
When Megan wasn't avoiding hippos "that can bite your boat in two" or crocodiles that prevented her and the other inhabitants of Gove from visiting their only source of water, the Kavango River, for three days, she was organizing drama rehearsals with fifteen African volunteers. Their goal was to create educational and entertaining skits about AIDS. These performances stressed the importance of getting tested, being protected, and avoiding traditional healers, some of whom have been known to suggest that "someone with AIDS could get rid of the disease by sleeping with a virgin." Megan and her volunteers put on around fifty dramas and she says they were well-received and many questions were asked. She is unsure as to how effective these dramas actually were in changing lifestyles, but this is hard to measure on a short-term basis.
Megan's area included a whopping 12,050 people. One "shirumbu" (Rushambyu for "white girl," Megan's African name) Peace Corps worker for 12,050 people is a ratio that doesn't guarantee an automatic success rate. This didn't keep Megan from going 30 kilometers into the bush, a six-hour trip at 10-20 kilometers per hour on the bumpiest roads. If you're doing the math, don't forget to factor in four or five stops per trip to let the overheating vehicle rest. It's truly "Africa hot" in Namibia, where 115 degrees is pretty normal in the summer. In the bush, Megan was responsible for checking on the nutrition of the children, administering medicines, and reaching the sick or injured who can't make the six-hour journey to the clinic. Megan says although it's sad to see families who will intentionally keep one of their children in a state of malnutrition in order to receive supplemental food that will feed the entire family, these people do what they must to survive. Two steps forward, one back.
Then there is the hitching. One of Megan's primary sources of transportation in Africa was her thumb. There were good rides. She recalls a lawyer in a Mercedes, the kind of car where everyone has their own temperature controls, stopping to pick her and another volunteer up. He then took them to a fancy lodge for a well-deserved meal and ice cream for dessert before safely delivering them to their destination. And there were the less cushy mobile accommodations. After a three-hour wait in the hot sun, they were able to get a ride on top of a delivery truck full of porridge, hair dye and cookies. Megan said she and the volunteer she was traveling with took turns clutching each other to avoid falling off the load while the driver whipped around kudus (akin to our moose or elk) in the road.
As a parent, my heart skips a beat to think that someday my daughter will tell me she wants to embark on a similar mission. I hope if and when that time comes I'll say what Megan's mom said, "What can I do to help you? What do the people need?" Joyce Klingler, who Megan credits for her service-oriented outlook, visited Megan twice in Africa. She came bearing toothbrushes donated by Joyce and by Montana dentists. One of the sad realities is that Namibia's diet, predominantly consisting of maize-based porridge, is now being influenced by an influx of western-style junk food. With junk food comes cavities and one of Megan's missions was to teach the San people who live in the bush to use toothbrushes, which they had never seen before. It wasn't all roses while her mom was visiting, recalls Megan; Joyce was present when her daughter was mugged for her cell phone. But there were many more Africans who treated Megan with respect and love than those who did not.
Fortunately, Megan had two African mammas, and their large extended families, who watched out for her when Joyce was not around. Megan lived with the wealthiest family in her area. "In Africa, wealth is determined by the number of cows you have." Still, their nine-bedroom house had only one bathroom and no kitchen. Porridge was prepared outside on a fire and there were nights that they had nothing to eat. On those nights, Megan said, they went to bed early to help fend off the hunger. (The Peace Corps budget took a back seat to the war budget, according to Megan, and this meant their living stipends were greatly reduced. This left Megan reliant upon her host family for food, which they didn't always have.)
A lack of food is hard for most Americans to imagine. Americans spent $13.7 billion last year on Valentine's Day alone. It is this excess, that we are so used to, that is hardest to fathom upon return, says Megan. Just the amount of food available to us on a daily basis requires a total readjustment of her mindset. She has learned to abandon the super-sized mindset for a more globally responsible understanding of portions.
Other young women at the age of twenty-six might come home from such a trip, enjoy a few pats on their backs for their stamina and wherewithal in the face of incredible odds, and go to work in the private sector. Not Megan Klingler. Even though her health has been adversely affected by her two and a half years in Africa, Megan is embarking on a new stateside mission. She has taken a job in a neonatal ICU on the Texas/Mexico border and is hoping to return to Africa with the organization Doctors Without Borders in a year's time.
By Michael Howell
In a ruling last Tuesday, February 6, Missoula District Court Judge John Larson dissolved, in part, the temporary restraining order he had placed on the Ravalli County Clerk and Recorder prohibiting her from going forward with the primary election process for five commissioner seats which was scheduled for April 3, 2007. Larson did, however, limit the primary ballot to only three of the five commissioner seats. He imposed an injunction suspending the election for the seats of the "two holdover Commissioners, Greg Chilcott and Alan Thompson."
The lawsuit, brought by Fred Thomas and nine other co-signers, alleges that the recent ballot initiatives to increase the number of commissioners from three to five and decrease term lengths from 6 to 4 years are invalid because Ravalli County never officially adopted the "Commission Form of Government" in 1976 as the county claims. They argue that Ravalli County is still an "elected county official form of government" and therefore cannot have more than three commissioners or terms of less than six years. The plaintiffs state that they are not trying to nullify the 1976 election, but they do wish to invalidate the two government study ballot issues approved in the recent election of November, 2006 based on that claim.
"While they assert they do not seek to invalidate the 1976 election," writes Judge Larson in his order, "their arguments against the validity of the November 2006, election are based on events that transpired over thirty years ago."
Basically, Larson ruled that it was too late to try to invalidate the form of government adopted and assumed for thirty years on several grounds, including statutory requirements for a timely challenge to governmental actions.
Citing the legal flaws in the plaintiffs' main claims against the validity of the ballot issues, Larson called it "less than doubtful" that their arguments would prevail and since they "fail to establish a prima facie case on this issue," he lifts the previous restraining order, allowing the elections to go forward subject to a few restrictions.
Those restrictions, it turns out, are to impose an injunction on the election of the two holdover commissioners' seats, leaving only three seats up for election. The question of whether Chilcott and Thompson need to run for election will be decided at trial. But in the meantime, Larson ruled, the least harm to both parties in the case and to the voters, while the issue is being decided, would be to postpone any election for those two seats until after that decision is made.
The plaintiffs allege that the voters were not adequately informed that approving an increase in the number of commissioners to five would mean forcing all commissioners to run for office in the upcoming election. Larson's reasoning on the issue involved considering not only the two ballot issues approved by voters in November, but one ballot issue that was soundly defeated. That was the issue of instating concurrent terms, meaning all commissioners would be elected at the same time. Larson notes that it was defeated by a vote of 10,179 to 6,598, indicating that Ravalli County voters were strongly in favor of staggered terms ensuring some continuity in government.
Larson states in his order that, "The Advisory Plan (of the government study commission) does not explain how voter approval of staggered terms is retained or will remain unchanged if voters simultaneously approve an increase in the number of commissioners from three to five and trigger a special election to 'fill all seats'."
"If the two holdover commissioners run in two years there will be some level of experience available to implement the new form of government," wrote Larson. "And if only the three new commissioners run for election it focuses the election on the new form of government instead of personalities and other political issues of current office holders."
Larson states that the voters will be best served by letting the election of the two newly created seats go forward.
"As the newly elected commissioner, Howard Lyons, District Number 5, is running unopposed," wrote Larson, "election on that seat will also not be enjoined. This will not adversely impact on the form of government and permits the voter's voice to be heard regarding the decrease in term length from six to four years as well as increasing the number of commissioners to five members."
Larson concludes that this is the best way to proceed as it "will permit full litigation of this case regarding whether or not election of the two holdover seats should proceed or wait until the incumbent commissioners finish out their current six year terms."
The plaintiffs also contested the validity of the primary elections because the election was not ordered by the County Commissioners as state law requires, but was instead set by the Local Government Study Commission. This was an issue of conflicting laws that was addressed by an Attorney General's opinion that concluded the Local government Study Commission had the authority to set the election.
Without reaching a final determination on the issue, but based upon the AG Opinion and the fact that the Local Government Study Commission set the election date, the Court found it "less than doubtful they would prevail on the issue, thus the injunction against the special elections in toto is dissolved in favor of a partial preliminary injunction against a special election for the two holdover commissioners," wrote Larson.
"I am relieved," said County Commission Chairman Greg Chilcott, about not having to mount a re-election campaign at the present. Chilcott said he believed the plaintiffs are not trying to undo the public will or nullify the elections.
"They are trying to clarify some confusing laws and an AG Opinion," he said.
Commissioner Howard Lyons, who was recently elected in the same elections in which the ballot measures were approved, said that Larson's opinion that the election for his seat should be not be enjoined along with the other holdovers was because his candidacy was unopposed. This may be true for the primary, according to Lyons, but he does believe that he will be facing opposition from an independent candidate in the June elections.
Attorney for the plaintiffs, William Ballew, hails Larson's ruling as a victory. Ballew called it a "practical" decision on the judge's part, saying that he believed the judge was reluctant to overturn the results of an election. But Ballew also still believes that the plaintiffs are legally correct on that point. When it comes to what he calls the "guts of the case," the question of whether the voters were adequately informed about the effects of their vote, he says that Larson has ruled in their favor.
"The voters had no idea that they were voting to unseat existing commissioners if they voted for an increase to five," said Ballew. He said that there is not a Local Government Study Commission on record ever abolishing existing offices.
"On the gut issues of justice and fair play, he ruled for us," said Ballew.
Charges against individual members of the Local Government Study Commission have been dropped, according to County Attorney George Corn, who is defending the Local Government Study Commission in court. Corn called Larson's ruling over the injunction request very important.
"It affirms the people's ability to change their form of government," said Corn. "If the plaintiffs had been successful in all of their claims, we would be back to three commissioners serving six year terms."
Larson's decision affects two Republican candidates, Albert Blair and Tracey Turek, and one Democratic candidate, John Meakin, who were set to run in the primary elections in District #2 against Chilcott. It affects four Republicans in the District #3 primary, Alexander Victor Ivanoff, Jim Knapp, James Webb and Chuck Stranahan, as well as Democratic candidate Phyllis Bookbinder. Neither District #2 nor District #3 primary elections will be slated for the April ballot under Larson's ruling. Clerk and Recorder Regina Petterson said that candidates in the enjoined districts can get their filing fees refunded immediately or wait until after the judge makes a final ruling. She said that as of Monday, no independent candidates had filed in any of the open district seats. Independent candidates have until March 27 to file for the June election.
Candidates who will be on the primary ballot for a seat from District #1 at the north end of the valley include Republicans Dave Hurtt, and Steve Hall, and Democrats Richard Marcus, Vicky Varichak, and James Rokosch. In the primary race for the District #4 seat in the central valley, Republicans Carolyn Weisbecker, Gary Zebrowski, and Richard (Rick) O'Brien have filed. On the Democratic side Kathleen Driscoll and DeAnne Harbaugh will vie for a spot in the June election. Howard Lyons, a Republican, is the lone candidate on the District #5 primary ballot.
By Michael Howell
The Ravalli County Commissioners created a Board of Adjustment last Thursday, February 1, and last Friday, February 9, appointed the five board members who will serve staggered terms.
Establishment of the Board of Adjustment is mandated by the Interim Zoning Regulations, the so-called "one for two" zoning that limits development to one dwelling per two acres, passed by the voters last November. The Interim Zoning Regulations provide for the appointment of such a board and provide that it "may, in appropriate cases and subject to appropriate conditions and safeguards, make special exceptions to the terms of the zoning regulation in harmony with its general purpose and intent and in accordance with the specific rules" of applicable state law.
Zoning variances may be applied for when, due to special circumstances or conditions such as exceptional topographic conditions, narrowness, shallowness, or the shape of a specific piece of property, the literal enforcement of the provisions of this Interim Zoning Regulation would result in peculiar and exceptional practical difficulties to, or exceptional and undue hardship upon, the owners of the property.
The Interim zoning Regulation also sets out some specific criteria or standards for granting a variance.
It prohibits the Board of Adjustment from approving a variance unless it makes a finding based upon the evidence in each specific case that the variance is consistent with the general purposes of the Interim zoning regulation. It must be determined that strict application of the zoning would result in great practical difficulties and hardship to the applicant. The variance must be the minimum deviation to provide remedy for the difficulties and hardship and allow a reasonable return on the property. The plight of the applicant must not be due to his or her own making and the circumstances generating the request must be peculiar to the property and not applicable to other properties within the district. The variance also will not alter the essential character of the area nor adversely affect public health, safety and welfare. The variance must not contribute to the emergency situation that exists in Ravalli County as defined in the Interim Zoning Regulations. And, lastly, the variance must be in the public interest.
Author of the Interim Zoning Regulations, Phil Taylor, and Bitterrooters for Planning have expressed publicly that they are ready to go to court if this board tries granting any variance to the one dwelling per two acre density restriction. They see the board's role and authority beginning when the required comprehensive zoning ordinance is adopted, not before. They do not believe that the board has the authority to deviate from the emergency density restriction of one dwelling per two acres.
County Attorney George Corn said that he believed that the Board of Adjustment would have a role to play under the current Interim Zoning Regulation in effect. He said that some appeals may arise, but they would have to be legitimate appeals and meet the criteria outlined in the regulations.
"The process cannot be used simply as a way to evade the one for two density restriction," said Corn.
Members of the newly appointed Board of Adjustment include Penny Howe, Phil Connelly, Will Zeiler, Bill Hester, and Alfred Simmons. Commissioners selected Connelly to serve as interim chairperson at the first meeting until the board can make a selection of its own.
By Michael Howell
It was not until the County Commissioners had made their final selection to fill the 14-person Open Lands Board last Friday that it suddenly became evident that the resolution establishing the board suffered from a serious omission. When it came time to figure out how the terms would be staggered, the fact emerged that state law requires that the resolution establishing such boards must also set the term lengths. The resolution creating the board, passed on February 1, 2007, did not set the term lengths.
Deputy County Attorney Alex Beal cautioned the Commissioners about moving forward without first going back and amending the resolution creating the board to include set term limits. Otherwise, he said, if the board, as it is established, took any action, it could possibly be invalidated by the courts. He recommended that the Commissioners hold a public meeting and amend the resolution and at that point make appointments to the board.
Commissioner Alan Thompson made a motion to reconsider appointments to the board after a public meeting is held and the new board is officially established with term lengths of four years for seven of the appointees and three-year terms for the remaining six. The motion passed unanimously.
Make-up of the unofficial appointments, which Commissioner Thompson said would probably not change, once the board is re-established, includes, Phil Connelly, Ravalli County Planning Board; Tim Tackes, Weed Board; Gary Leese, Park Board; Kent Meyer, Bitterroot Conservation District; John Ormiston, ex-officio, Bitterroot Land Trust; Rob Johnson, ex-officio, County Extension Office; Mike Pfliger and Jim Ellingson, Right to Farm and Ranch Board; John Vore, wildlife biologist, MFWP; Alan Maki, hydrologist; Dan Kraft and Dan Dunagan, Ag producers; Craig Siphers, Dan Walker, and Paul Wilson, county-at-large.
By Michael Howell
Newly elected Senator John Tester plans to keep in touch with Montanans while he is at work for them in Washington D.C. As part of that effort, Tester recently sponsored a telephone conference interview with reporters working for small newspapers from around the state.
Tester introduced himself by saying that he comes from a small community in Montana and understands that small newspapers don't always have the same advantages of access to their representatives at the nation's capitol, that larger ones do, so he was implementing an effort to keep in touch. He hoped and planned for the effort to be on-going.
Tester made a strong statement against the President's conduct of the war in Iraq. He expressed disappointment that the Republicans had succeeded in stifling debate in the Senate about the war.
"Montanans deserve a debate," said Tester. "It's time to stand up about Congress disagreeing with how the President has conducted this war."
A member of the Veteran's Committee, Tester said that more and more veterans need care and access to better health care.
The current session of Congress began with Democrats moving quickly to address ethics issues and raising the minimum wage, according to Tester. But the two biggest issues that have come to dominate the Congress at this time, he said, were the war in Iraq and global warming.
Tester serves on the energy committee and he sees the concerns being raised about global warming as presenting great opportunities for the state of Montana in terms of producing alternative fuels, such as ethanol and bio-diesel, and in developing renewable resources such as solar and wind energy.
He met recently, he said, with the Secretary of the Air Force and discussed using Montana coal to produce aviation fuel. He said that they both agreed that the technology for clean production of aviation fuel from coal needs more development, but that it is an option worth considering.
He said that many options are being discussed, such as placing a cap on auto emissions, limiting carbon emissions generally, selling 'carbon credits,' but, he said, all these efforts are in their infancy and will need to be worked out.
"But there is more opportunity now for Montana than there ever was in my lifetime," said Tester.
If our readers have any pressing questions to ask Senator Tester, we invite you to submit them by mail to Bitterroot Star, P.O. Box 8, Stevensville MT 59870, or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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