This letter will look at how well our governments are working in Ravalli County, without the party spin, but with hard facts, and hard truths. Some might remember the documentary commissioned and filmed in the Bitterroot Valley in 2009 named “Beneath the Beauty”. Within that 2 hr. production the Mayor of Hamilton, Jerry Steele is asked about incorporation documents for his city, required for public inspection in Montana under MCA 7-2-4100 and following.
The public inspection issue is a problem for our local governments. As many people work for these governments, all of a sudden it has become “all of them” against an individual, or smaller group of people. This newspaper has bravely entered the courts to attempt to warm the heart of Honorable Langton, personally I tried with Honorable Haynes to plead public disclosure of police reports which outweigh personal privacy of an individual, even if they work for a local government. The constitutional right to know is a powerful one in Montana, and our local governments don’t have a terribly good track record if you look at the filing history in the Montana Supreme Court.
In 2006 a person named Prindel sued Ravalli County for not releasing documents, and records the failure to release public information. In 1992 it appeared that the Hamilton City Judge was sexually harassed by the sitting Mayor Whitlock, and a group called Citizens to recall Whitlock sued the Mayor to release the investigation due to public concern of the document. The Bitterroot Star, and others sued the County for the release of Geoff Mahar’s complaint against the Ravalli County for similar reasons.
Why do our local governments behave so badly? It’s due to the “all of us” against the individual mindset. The interesting part is the admission in official meeting of Mayor Steele in August 2009 of no incorporation public documents for the City of Hamilton. The official plat map indicates the City of Hamilton was annexed to Missoula Co. on September 4, 1890, with no record of incorporation since. Ravalli County was created by the Montana Legislature on March 3, 1893 except that Hamilton relies upon a newspaper article from July 21, 1894 as proof of “incorporation”. Neither the current city clerk nor county clerk can find required public documents for Hamilton’s lawful incorporation. How can these local governments lawfully collect taxes or have employees, elections or any function of a government such as courts, law enforcement?
Official Hamilton Plat Map
Feb. 25, 2010 certification from Ravalli County Clerk & Recorder
Montana law MCA 7-2-2103 says that a county seat such as Hamilton must be incorporated for a county to lawfully exist. Seeing how the chicken came before the egg for Ravalli County (county created 1893 prior to “incorporation” in 1894 or Marcus Daly founding in 1895) do we wonder why our local governments are behaving so badly? It’s because they don’t lawfully exist, and they don’t need to behave or follow the rules.
Open meeting laws, public disclosure of information, partisan infighting, potential issues with civil rights; all due to no desire to be lawful. If we want less government intrusion, public officials can decide to put their pencils down, and stop collecting our taxes. Seeley Lake is a wonderful place to live, because Missoula Co. leaves them alone. With proof that Missoula Co. owns Hamilton, and Ravalli County cannot exist without a legitimate county seat, it’s time to get out the drawing board and chalk out some lawful solutions for our local governments to exist in the Bitterroot Valley.