Broadwater County Officials Challenged On Open Meeting Laws
Broadwater County officials have been asked multiple times by local citizens for more transparency and accountability. Citizens have been seeking transparency but the county commissioners have made it very difficult for citizens to be informed.
Not long ago, one commissioner was forced to file action in court against the other two commissioners for violating open meeting laws and his constitutional rights. The judge in the case ruled against the two commissioners based on the form of government in Broadwater County.
According to the owner of the Broadwater Reporter, there have been multiple public meetings that fail to provide proper public notice. The ability of the Broadwater Reporter to provide the citizens of Broadwater County a summary of official county business has been strained.
Redoubt News is in place to provide the citizens an open perspective of what is happening behind the doors of the county courthouse. Working in Montana to help the citizens expose the truth within the local government prior to final decisions being made is essential to Liberty.
Title II of Montana law clearly codifies the rights of the people found under Article II Sections 8, and Section 9 of the Constitution of Montana. Without knowledge of what is on an agenda or when a meeting is held, the citizens rights are violated.
Due to the lack of transparency and accountability multiple citizens of Broadwater County have filed complaints with the county attorney. Montana law provides for a process to protect the constitutional rights of the people to participate in the government process.
Because there is a statute of limitations on certain crimes, it can be difficult to obtain relief in time. In this case, the county attorney has his hands tied to act on the complaints. Under the Montana Bar Association, attorney client privileges are protected, prohibiting the county attorney from filing action in court against his client. Montana law also places restraints on the county attorney to seek justice against the county or other elected officials.
Recently, due to an annual audit, the county was found to have problems that required correction. Because of the failure to operate within the required balanced budget, changes are being set to take place in the new fiscal year. The failure to provide transparency as required by law, has resulted in a lack of fiscal accountability in multiple departments within the county.
Last week the Commission denied to provide Redoubt News a copy of a financial public document. The Broadwater County Attorney questioned the commission on this complaint. All documents discussed at an open county commission meeting are public documents.
The county finance officer stated that the financial document was proprietary. The county attorney disagreed and advised the commissioners that in a public meeting all documents discussed are public.
Notifications of meetings with a clear agenda are also of concern with the citizens of Broadwater County. Scheduled meetings without a clear agenda are problematic and make it difficult for anyone to participate in the meeting.
According to Montana law, an item listed in the commission agenda for discussion, cannot be subject to a final decision at that meeting. When the commission rules on an issue not listed in the agenda, Montana law again presents a legal challenge to the decision made.
The accurate and timely news coverage of these meetings are vital to the community. Without transparency the ability to obtain the facts makes it problematic for Redoubt News, and others, to disseminate timely information to the public.
We will continue our coverage of meetings and events to enhance an open government across Montana. It is our duty to ensure the people are given a fair seat at the table in decisions that are made affecting their lives.
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