To the Editor,
Ever since 2015, when a certain Granite County Commissioner took office, we have been denied a copy of the draft of their public meeting minutes until they are approved. Approval which could take anywhere from 1 to 3 months after the actual meeting.
In Sept 2015 the MT Attorney General Office answered a request by the Granite County Attorney, Blaine Bradshaw, for clarification as to whether drafts had to be provided upon public requests. In a Letter of Advice, a deputy Attorney General, Pat Risken, quoted the incorrect Montana Codes Annotated (MCA). Mr Risken had cited codes which had just been repealed and replaced with new codes, just passed by the 2015 MT Legislature. Easy to correct, no? No!
In Feb 2016, per my inquiry to an attorney for the Montana Freedom of Information Hotline, Inc., Mr. Mike Meloy, wrote a letter to Attorney General Tim Fox, regarding the error. Per Mr. Meloy, "...the new code, 2-6-1002(11) defines the scope of information covered by the public access provisions of 2-6-1003 to include "information prepared, used, owned,or retained by any public agency related to the transaction of official business, */regardless of form..." /*(emphasis supplied). Riskin, in his Letter of Advice, had incorrectly cited 2-6-101 and 2-6-202 which had been repealed and replaced.
At my insistence and with the reluctant approval of the Granite County Commission, Mr.Bradshaw, contacted Mr. Riskin in Oct 2017 regarding the error and requesting clarification. Getting no reply from Riskin, Mr. Bradshaw contacted the MT AG Tim Fox, on Jan 23, 2018 for a formal Opinion. Again at my request and again with the reluctant approval of the Commission. To date Mr. Bradshaw, nor the Commission, has received any reply. My four contacts to the AG office have all been ignored, but I'm not an elected official.
I also did a formal FOI request for the draft of minutes which was denied. Reason: waiting for an answer from the AG office. An answer that the Granite County Commissioners aren't too anxious in getting. About as anxious as the AG, by responding with an admission of error.
In the mean time, the Commission is apparently still having discussions and making decisions regarding public business without the public's knowledge, involvement or oversight. I understand they've been passing "verbal motions" regarding issues not noticed on the weekly Agenda, terminating county workers without following procedure, granting contracts and purchases over $80,000 without a formal motion or advertising for bids and closing meetings in violation of MCA, 2-3-203, (1) "All meetings of public or governmental bodies, boards, bureaus, commissions, agencies of the state, or any political subdivision of the state or organizations or agencies supported in whole or in part by public funds or expending public funds, including the supreme court, *must be open to the public.*" (emphasis supplied) Nor is the Commission correcting the "approved" minutes when errors are finally brought to their attention.
We all know that there is a pending case against one of the Commissioners for Official Misconduct and Theft by Embezzlement. Two Commissioners, placed an ad in the Sept 2017 Philipsburg Mail publicly admitting their guilt with an apology.In reality all three of the commissioners, one being the Chairman, all sitting next to each other at the same table, had to have been involved. By denying the draft of the minutes, in this case for 3 months, it leaves possible manipulation (editing, omitting, addition etc) of what actually was discussed and decided regarding issues not noted on the public Agendas, or decisions made in "poor judgment" without public oversight.
Just more examples of blatant, arrogant, intentional violations of both the Montana Constitution, Art II, sec 8: Right of participation, sec 9 :Right to know and the Montana Codes Annotated 2-6-1002 (11) and 2-6-1003.