Citizens Call Foul In Gallatin County Montana
Many citizens have been working hard to get facts from government officials across Montana regarding the “Pandemic.” In that quest most, if not all, traditional methods for the people to participate in government actions has been placed on hold or eliminated due to the Covid-19 Lock Down.
County officials have been scrambling to keep in tune with Governor Bullock’s directive on the perceived danger associated with the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Because no law can be found to completely comply with the executive orders issued by Governor Bullock, local health officials are working overtime in making recommendations and doing what they believe to be providing guidance.
In that effort some localities are creating policies and developing rules at the local level. The people of Montana continue to witness acts in response to Governor Bullock’s directive that are directly infringing on their God-given rights.
Last week a call was made to bring a call to action regarding the closure to Cooke City Montana. That closure of access through Yellowstone Park was initiated by Governor Bullock’s order and highly supported by guidelines issued by Park County Health Officials. That action resulted in an illegal arrest of a citizen of Montana wanting to travel on a Montana Highway to Cooke City.
Tyler Vance was traveling from Gardiner Montana on a public highway that goes through Yellowstone national park to a small town Cooke city Montana. Park rangers and sheriff deputy’s arrested and issued him federal charges for breaking the governors stay at home orders by driving through a closed national park. United States District Attorney Mark Klassen, after careful consideration, moved to have the “Petty Offense” dismissed without prejudice. The court granted the motion.
Over in Granite County, signs were erected stating that all those that enter that Montana county were subject to quarantine which included local threats of legal action for the failure to comply.
Currently, charges of disorderly conduct are pending against an elderly couple that were asking questions at a county commission meeting. It is alleged that a cough by the lady was taken as a threat towards one of the employees of the county. That case is set to go before the local justice of the peace on September 11th 2020.
There is an ongoing question on the ability to freely travel in Montana where the Indian Reservations are locked down using roadblocks and enforcement to control ingress and egress, including through traffic, on Montana highways.
The Lock Down of Montana initiated by Governor Bullock is set to move to phase 2 on the 1st of June. In that transition, local government officials are holding meetings where they discuss the best way to implement phase 2 under their authority. The phase 2 directive increases the limit of gatherings from 10 to 50 providing social distancing can be maintained. The recommendation of the use of masks remains in place.
In that process the meetings being held are often violating the rights of the citizens. Under Montana Constitution Article II Sections 8 & 9, the right to participate and the right to know are guaranteed in all government actions.
With the Lock Down, most meetings are working with technology to limit the number of people in any given meeting. “Social Distancing” being the primary reason that inhibits physical participation in most meetings. In Broadwater County, a complete lockdown of the meetings has been in place and the technology fails to provide appropriate remote participation for the public.
On May 28th 2020 Gallatin County Health Board held a meeting to consider a rule change to comply with Governor Bullock’s phase 2 Lock Down. That meeting was scheduled to begin at 7am and many citizens voiced concern as to why a government body would be holding a public meeting so early.
Many citizens in Gallatin County were unaware of a 4PM deadline the day before the meeting to submit written comments. That opportunity closed leaving the citizens that wished to participate to be at the Gallatin County Courthouse at 7am.
The appointed officials of the Gallatin County Health Board attempted to get their technology system working for remote participation for nearly 45 minutes leaving many citizens left on hold. Many of the citizens that attempted to attend the meeting in person were forced to make the choice to stay and wait or get to work.
7 of the members of the County Health Board were present while 3 were tuned into the remote participation program. One member of the public asked if the 10 person maximum rule included the 7 members of the board. The speaker Matt Kelley answered that the board is not considered in the 10 person rule and that the citizens were.
Volatility reached a boiling point in Gallatin County when the citizens were told that a policy adopted by the board prohibited more than 10 members of the public to attend any meeting. In an attempt to fill the room with respect to the social distancing order the citizens were met by law enforcement and forced to leave the meeting.
Under the 10 person maximum for safety under the Covid-19 Lock Down the room that has a 141 person capacity was cleared of all but 10 citizens. The remainder of the citizens were held out in the entryway of the meeting room without any room for social distancing.
The proposed rule presented to the public by the county health board speaks of a mandatory use of masks. The order continues to regulate weddings and other gatherings of over 50 people even if social distancing can be maintained.
After hearing the testimony from the citizens, discussion was held between the board members before calling for a vote on the proposed new rule. No amendments were offered to the rule leaving many citizens standing with questions on the legal status. A majority of the members voted Yes to the new rule.
Board Member Joe Skinner was the only member that brought concerns regarding the process. Mr Skinner advised the rest of the board that the rights of the citizens would likely bring a legal challenge to the county. With no defined termination of the adopted rule, the emergency order has no sunset that was originally slated to be reconsidered after 90 days.
Mr. Kelley, speaking on behalf of the board, advised the citizens that even though it includes penalties for violating the new rule, there is no enforcement provisions. He further clarified that the language in the rule is only a suggestion and not a mandate.
The deputy county attorney, that participated in the meeting through the technology distant participation program, made little effort to clarify the legal language or standing of the new rule.
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