There were two county-budget pieces published in the Ravalli Republic Monday, Sept. 26 that need real-world clarifications. In the interest of good journalism—to provide enough information to the public so they can make informed decisions about their government—and also in the interest of the working folks who have to put up with the results of an uninformed public and (surprise!) bad government, Bitterroot Human Rights Alliance would like to give it a shot.
In the first article, Chief Financial Officer, Klarryse Murphy, is quoted as saying that “this commission’s vision goes beyond next year. We should have taken this step…20 years ago.” The “step” she’s referring to includes the firing of a raft of women on the low-end of the county payroll to fund a secret settlement with a high-end male county employee caused by a screw-up by the county attorney, the commissioners or both. The second, a letter-to-the-editor by Lilya McAlister, claims that taxpayers should be outraged because “our district judges…who are supposed to be non partisan…are suing our commissioners” and that “a handful of people” are keeping the commissioners from doing the “jobs we elected them to do”.
Let’s start with Ms. McAlister. She is Vice-Chair of the Ravalli County Republican Central Committee and is closely associated with the Ravalli County Tea Party Patriots and is also closely associated with Mona Docteur of the now-defunct Celebrating Conservatism. Her published letter in fact closely mimics an inflammatory email that was blanket-forwarded around the valley just before the Justices’ hearing last week–by Mona–which claimed, among several other borderline-delusional assertions, that “the progressive left will be protesting outside of the courthouse” and that “there will be at least 40 from the far-left there”. Neither happened, of course, unless Lilya’s and Mona’s definition of “far-left” includes Gene Williams, who did make up one of the forty or so total people who sat politely through some or all of the proceedings. But here’s something real to think about: For all the mouth service people like Lilya and Mona (and our commissioners and county attorney) give to their “sacred” constitution, it’s obvious they know very little about one of its foundation tenets: the separation of powers. The executive branch (the county commission in this case) can’t unilaterally undermine the judiciary. That core constitutional principle is clearly written into our statutes, which our commissioners chose, out of apparent vindictiveness and ideological disdain for the judiciary in general, to ignore. They broke the law and got called out on it. Yes, these commissioners’ weird, anti-government bent cost the taxpayers money, and they will again. But chalk one up for the system. It worked for us in this case.
The other point to ponder is that Ms. McAlister and Ms. Docteur demonstrably reside on the extreme right-wing edge of political reality. That’s a dangerous place for our currently-elected officials to be relying on for allies in their attempts to unravel a working local government, which they do and are.
As far as the real budget goes, let’s look at some real numbers. 81% of the county workers fired (or Reduced In Force in the vernacular) were the lowest-paid women in their departments, indeed on the county payroll. The “savings” generated by firing these women (and two men) adds up to roughly $180,000, almost exactly the same amount the county secretly settled with high-end male county worker, Geoff Mahar, for a currently-secret screw-up by Fulbright and the commissioners. What a coincidence! Better yet, immediately upon giving these workers notice, Fulbright and the commissioners hired a personal male friend, Howard Recht, as their new deputy county attorney. In a rare case of beautiful bureaucratic symmetry, one of the first duties of this new high-end male employee ($64,000/yr.) was to argue the commissioners’ case in front of District Court for the firing of two women who were working for the county long before him and whose combined salaries didn’t add up to 2/3 of Mr. Recht’s salary.
The commissioners have not been forthcoming with information regarding the budget so the public cannot accurately ascertain if there really is a shortfall that warrants such unprecedented theater. But if the county can ultimately prove there IS a real deficit, BHRA proposes a simple and equitable solution: Fire Terry Nelson, who is a new hire and by their own rules should be the first to be fired in such a case. Lay off Howard Recht for the same reasons. Reduce their own salaries by half, which, notwithstanding untrue statements to the contrary by commissioners Chilcott and Foss, they are empowered by statute to do. The total savings would be about $240,000 in salary alone, they’d be more equitable and to-the-point, and they’d have the huge added benefit of affecting 85% high-paid men, rather than 81% low-paid women.
In closing, Ms. McAlister admonishes us all to be outraged and BHRA agrees, but for different reasons. As far as we can tell, when Ms. McAlister says that we should let our officials do “the jobs they are elected to do”, she’s obviously advocating for the return of the incompetent county treasurer, who was also elected in with these others. After all–according to her logic–we voted for total incompetence and we should have it. BHRA, however, believes we should try to do a little better, including paying more attention next election cycle.
Bill LaCroix, Coordinator
Bitterroot Human Rights Alliance