Local Government Review Awareness

By John Beach,

Local Government Review member

   Please let it be known that the recent discussions involving our local government officials and the departments on hiring a manager have nothing to do with the Local Government Review that was established a year ago and is ongoing.

   One of the alternative forms of government available and allowed under our state constitution is a county manager form of government, which would have to be presented to our local voters and ratified before materializing. It could involve many differing scenarios regarding our local government structure depending on what we as citizens vote to adopt. We could, for example, elect three to five commissioners who meet much like a city council, weekly or monthly, and set policy and who themselves hire an administrator who is responsible for day to day administration of county business and who can be removed at the discretion of the commission based on performance. They would possibly have greater jurisdiction and powers in our local elected officials’ departments, for example, clerk and recorder, treasurer, attorneys, to name a few, but only with a change of government structure that would again be voted on by the citizens.

   The commission could, in turn, be paid more on a per meeting basis rather than annual salary, freeing up funds for paying the salary of the administrator, as an example.

   My present understanding of the proposed hiring of a county manager being discussed is mainly an extension of the powers that the present county commission has and he/she will function mainly in an advisory capacity with limited jurisdiction. I am somewhat concerned in the timing and frank conversations that have arisen because of the proposed manager hiring, but I reiterate that our government review process is not associated with this hiring.

   We will continue the process and welcome as much input as we can illicit from the public to help us determine if a change in local government structure is warranted, and to what extent. It is a complicated and time consuming process, but hopefully, it is viewed as important and beneficial. It is a review allowed by our State Constitution to determine whether our present system of local government is adequate, could use some tweaking, or major changes. Hopefully, we can work together to come up with a few changes that will improve our local government system, today and in the future.

   Please take the time to do a little homework on our local government process, ask questions, and provide some input. We are presently conducting surveys, doing small group meetings, and will hold public input meetings in the future to decide if we want any proposed changes to appear on the General Election ballots in 2016. We have not changed our local government structure since, I believe 1917, so it is at least important to take the time to do an adequate review. A large number of counties and cities in Montana are currently undertaking the same review process.

   I think the present discussions and controversies arising from the recent proposed manager hiring should be viewed as beneficial. There are many pros and cons associated with a county manager-type government depending on where you fall in the stakeholder category. These discussions elicit more community involvement and communication.

  The change in structure manager is different than what is being proposed by the commission and could be very beneficial or detrimental depending on how it is finalized.

   We can also look at consolidating county and city government and going to a board of five commissioners, replacing mayor and city council that meets monthly or periodically and set policy for a combined local government. I do not see the present proposal put forth by the commission as detrimental as it is only an extension of the powers they presently possess, it should not undermine elected officials’ departments, and should be, therefore, presented as a tool to improve our local government.

   I would hope that if the commission is using an advisor or administrator to help with our local government function, we would see a cost savings on their salary, possibly part-time, or improved efficiency to justify the cost. If the manager position doesn’t work, they can eliminate it. Use it as a learning tool. If we learn something from the process, but it doesn’t work out, so be it – eliminate the position

   Please contact Sandy Kinsey (406-971-5815) or John Beach (406-978-5646) with questions, concerns, and input into our local government review. We could use another study commission member, call us or the county commission if you would be interested in serving. Thank you!

   Public meeting every third Monday at 5 p.m. in the courthouse basement meeting room. Please attend.