Granite County Officials Discuss The Rights Of The People
We covered a recent meeting in Gallatin County Montana where a new rule/policy was adopted by a majority of the members of the County Health Board. A single member dissented on the decision citing the fear that there is no sunset on the rule or limits on potential violations of the citizens rights.
Many citizens across Montana have made claims against government holding meetings that violate the rights of the people. Under the Constitution of Montana, Article II Sections 8 & 9 provide for the right to participate and the right to know what decisions are being made. The provisions of the Constitution are further codified at Title 2, Chapter 3, parts 1 and 2 Montana Code Annotated.
Citizens often are unable to attend meetings where decisions are made. On Tuesday June 2nd, Granite County Commissioners held their first public meeting where it was not restricted to remote internet participation. The agenda of that meeting was focused in part on the Covid-19 phase II process instituted by Governor Bullock on the 1st of June.
The county commissioners in Granite County like other small counties in Montana are also serving as members of the County Health Board. The commissioners making up a majority of the health board were advised by County Attorney Blaine Bradshaw that they have a quorum as the health board and can make decisions regarding implementation of phase II.
Phase II of the emergency order lessons the restrictions on the citizens of Montana. The Granite County Commissioners were provided an Epidemic updated report from the incident management team leader Dustin Muhly.
The incident management team is part of the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Department. The team is charged with monitoring and control of the Lock Down in the county. Mr. Muhly advised the commissioners that he will be attending more meetings and give them an update regarding the phase II directive.
An additional layer of confusion presents itself when decisions at a meeting of the county commissioners, are often dependent upon decisions made by another board, by a different local official, at a different time and in a different location. Under the directive issued by the executive order from Governor Steve Bullock, the local government health department is given unilateral control of the situation.
As the Granite County Commission Meeting proceeded it was a challenge to determine if the commissioners were operating under the duty of the commission, the county health board or the incident management team or a separate duty to the people of Granite County.
The Granite County Health Department and the health board lists Dr. Ransford as the local medical professional. Mr. Ransford is a retired Veterinarian in Granite County. The county also utilizes a medical professional William Reiter, M.D. from neighboring Anaconda-Deer Lodge County. None of the medical professionals attended the meeting or were available for comment.
In Granite County at every public road that enters the county there are signs erected that provided for the “Mandatory 14 Day Quarantine.” Commissioners were asked if the signs will be pulled down. Commissioner Slaughter said the signs will be pulled down but the county is short on staff to get it done.
The county commissioners reached consensus on moving forward with phase II. They unanimously agreed that phase II is fully dependent upon Granite County Sheriff Scott Dunkerson for enforcement.
Granite County Sheriff Scott Dunkerson was not present at the meeting, so the commissioners were unable to obtain his input on the decision process. Chairman Slaughter attempted to call the Sheriff but was unable to make contact.
Non Pharmaceutical Intervention is is new key phrase used to discuss mental health and the standard operating procedures to provide that service within the county. The process includes funding from the federal government founded in the emergency declaration. This service has a direct impact on public safety and the office of the Sheriff.
The Covid-19 Lock Down added additional stress to the local hospital financial status. The Granite County Hospital District CEO/DON Maria Stoppler provided the commission a report where funding shortages are higher than normal. The district is highly dependent upon the funding that is pending under the Covid-19 emergency declaration in Montana.
The Granite County Disaster & Emergency Management coordinator Jackie Bolster is directly connected with Montana Department of Emergency Services. That Department deals directly with the state and federal programs that provide funding to local government. Jackie was not at the meeting or available for comment.
Sheriff Dunkerson did not attend the meeting to weigh in on the current status of the Covid-19 impacts in Granite County. Because the decision by the county commissioners directly impacts the public safety department we asked if the sheriff has been involved. We attempted to contact Sheriff Dunkerson after the meeting but he was unavailable. As of press time we did not receive a response from Mr. Dunkerson.
County government officials across Montana are working to adapt to the changes instituted by the Covid-19 Lock Down. With the rights of the people on one side of the coin and public safety on the other, this evolving situation will continue.
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