Last September, Bitterroot Human Rights Alliance joined with several others in a formal request that the Montana Human Rights Bureau release the human rights complaints that were filed by Mahar against Ravalli County and Bill Fulbright. In our request, we told the Human Rights Bureau that we saw this case as a core open-government issue, that as a result of Mahar’s complaints, our commissioners–in a closed, secret meeting–agreed to settle for a quarter-million dollars while simultaneously announcing that due to “budget shortfalls” over twenty positions predominantly staffed by women would be cut from the county payrolls. We pointed out that without the information we were requesting, the public could not accurately ascertain what happened to such a large sum of money or why those jobs were lost. We pointed out that the public’s constitutional right-to-know clearly exceeded any claimed right to privacy. Finally, after three months of expensive legal maneuvering, on Dec. 15th the bureau released Mahar’s complaint, which turned out to be a sordid and bumbling tale of Bill Fulbright attempting to exact political payback from an employee, clearly illegal under Montana Code, with the full knowledge and demonstrable support of our five county commissioners.
Now, after three months of expensive waiting, citizens have at least a piece of critical information that, as members of a free, democratically-governed society, we should have gotten for free long ago. That this information should have been kept from us by elected officials sworn to provide citizens with an open, legal government is, in the case of our current county government, both unforgivable and, most unfortunately of all, commonplace. As B.H.R.A. has been sounding the alarm against for the last three years, this is what happens when a community hands over political power to self-styled far-right ideologues who speechify much about loving their freedom, but have very little to say about loving yours. The Mahar case is just the tip of the iceberg. More to come.