Recently, I attended a public forum sponsored by the Ravalli County GOP where citizens were encouraged to meet candidates and speak with them directly about issues of concern. One of the candidates I spoke with was Fred Thomas, who’s running for Senate District 45. Fred is on record as supporting private property rights and reducing bureaucracy. In fact, he is quoted in a recent Ravalli Republic election tab as wanting to “change the attitude coming from some of our bureaucracy from being an impediment to securing permits and approvals to an attitude of we are here to help you get through this process and get you on your way …”
An experience I had involving Fred and his neighbor was not consistent with this stance, and since he is running to represent me in the Montana Senate, I thought it was fair for me to discuss with him what I perceived as an inconsistency between his words and his actions. I am a sanitarian with the Ravalli County Environmental Health Department and, presumably, am part of the bureaucracy whose attitude Fred would like to change.
A couple of years ago Fred’s neighbor applied for a septic permit from our department and Fred put considerable effort toward trying to prevent her from getting the permit — including hiring an attorney and an environmental consultant to prevent us from issuing the permit. After a very thorough review, including poring over previous years’ groundwater monitoring records and site evaluations, visiting the site three times, consulting the county’s Floodplain Manager, and conducting our own site evaluation, I issued a permit for her septic system.
The unusual effort Fred and his hired consultants put into scrutinizing our work added about two months to a process that normally would have taken about a week.
Let me be clear – It is not unusual in our job to encounter opposition from a neighboring property owner when someone wants to build their home. It is unusual for them to hire an attorney and consultant to prevent a permit from being issued.
So, since Fred is now running for office (and since he never spoke to me directly about this issue), I thought it was perfectly reasonable to ask him about it at the recent public forum. His response disappointed me.
Fred angrily accused me and our department of “illegally issuing a permit in the floodplain,” and, specifically, of “removing a letter from (our) files that said the property was in the floodplain.” He went on to say, “I know how you people operate.”
I am writing this to say that no one in our department removed any such letter from our files. No such letter ever existed because the Burnt Fork drainage east of Stevensville is not part of the regulatory floodplain.
As a county government employee, I believe, as does our department’s director, that our job is to help citizens accomplish what they want on their property within the bounds of the law. We work very hard to help citizens navigate the sometimes complex rules and regulations that we all are bound to follow. And I believe the people with whom we work will attest to the fact that we are truly here to help them through this process and get them on their way! I encourage anyone (Fred Thomas included!) to come and talk with me personally if you have an issue with the way I do my job. My door is always open.