The Ravalli County Commissioners have been slapped with two lawsuits recently over alleged violations of the state’s open meeting laws. It is entirely appropriate and expected that they should not comment directly on the real issues involved in that litigation now that they are in court.
What is not expected and is really unacceptable is the vicious character assassination that a few of them have undertaken, both privately and publicly, against one person involved in the litigation. It is obviously meant to prejudice the public about the validity of the litigation by discrediting one of the litigants publicly. The fact that they are mounting this assault publicly and that the most serious allegations against this person are false, simply opens them up to more potential litigation.
Hand in hand with this assault on one person’s character they have also mounted an aggressive campaign, both privately and publicly, to paint the litigation as nothing but a partisan political attack on an all-Republican board. We will not presume to speak for all the litigants involved in this case, but as far as the Bitterroot Star’s involvement goes, this is absolute hogwash. The Bitterroot Star is one entity among others that has asked the District Court to review two cases in which we believe the County Commissioners acted without proper public notice. Period.
Certainly there may be political fallout from any lawsuit involving a bunch of politicians, but that doesn’t make all litigation a political tactic. The commissioners can paint themselves red if they want, after all, they are politicians. True or not, they can paint the Bitterroot Star blue if they want. That’s politics too, unfortunately. But when they try to paint this litigation as a partisan political attack they are absolutely wrong. The real issues in both court cases are neither red nor blue – they are red, white and blue. They are about the state’s open meeting laws. They are about the public’s guaranteed right to observe and participate in our government’s decision making process. Especially when those decisions involve spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.
The total in these two cases is over $300,000 in expenditures that the commissioners tried to slip by unnoticed and without public input. We, along with some other organizations and individuals, have called them on it. If they don’t want to talk publicly about the real issues involved that’s OK, but to launch a campaign of personal attacks and to try and misrepresent the issues involved as a politically motivated attack is stooping lower than any public official should go.
This is not about politics. This is about the law. Unfortunately, some of our commissioners seem willing to place politics above the law.