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Inflexible commissioners a liability for citizenry

By Doris Adam, Hamilton

Perfection: Fine to strive for, but not to be chained to.

Our Ravalli County Commissioners know what they want in their singularly unique, perfect world. And if it’s a hair less than 100% of their vision – if there’s a single “string attached” – then by golly, they’ll torpedo any vital program or project, no matter how much good the program does, or how many jobs the project would create.

There’s many examples of their “my way, or the highway” inflexible governing style, but I’d like to highlight two, one headliner and one sideliner.
The headline disaster, for some 400 patients and their families, is the unthinkable, shortsighted rejection of federal funds for the county family planning clinic. The majority of commissioners voted the anti-life, anti-family values position. They’re worried about a diminution of “parental rights,” even though the US Supreme Court has upheld a minor’s right to access healthcare, with or without parental notification. So, because of this “string” attached to the federal funds, the commissioners were willing to close the clinic, which will unmistakably result in more illness, disease, heartache, financial ruin, unwanted children, abortions and, ironically, more government aid to more folks.

The commissioners talked glowingly about an alternate program – a “perfect” program – with no “strings” attached. (Of course, their program would contain many “strings.”) They say it could be funded by charitable contributions or maybe a bond measure (tax!). My question is: Why couldn’t they have done the moral, humane thing and kept the clinic open until this “alternate” clinic was up and running? That begs an answer from our “family-valued” Commissioners Foss, Burrows, and Stoltz.

The other recent example of the commissioners’ anti-jobs and anti-public welfare, extremist position is in regards to their unanimous resolution vote to oppose the Bitterroot National Forest (BNF) Three Saddle Vegetation Management Project. This 6300-acre project would create many jobs, restore degraded BNF lands, reduce community fire risk, and improve hunting and fishing habitat. What’s not to like? Well… it’s not “perfect” in the commissioners’ eyes. Better to gut the project based on the 1% you disagree with, rather than to support the project for the 99% you like.

So what on earth is the unacceptable 1%? It’s a couple miles of road decommissioning of forest roads that are deteriorated and in such bad shape, that the fish and logging experts agree they should be “restored” by decommissioning them, thus allowing improved fishing and hunting habitat to result. Mind you, nearly every large BNF project contains some road restoration or mitigation. But to the commissioners, it’s better to reject any large BNF project that creates logging jobs and more fire safe communities, so long as there’s a single “string attached” mile of road restoration. Come hell or high water, these commissioners are determined to throw as many babies out with the bathwater as they can.

As to the indefinite delay of the Three Saddle project, the commissioners aren’t fully to blame, for they only opposed the project after a valued special interest group came forward to complain. Who’s the organization that officially appealed the Three Saddle forest jobs and fire safety project? No, not some environmental group. Oh no, it was the Ravalli County Off-Road User Association (RCORUA), the group that advocates for unlimited ATV and dirt bike travel on the BNF.

Ultimately, two miles of decommissioned roads, out of many thousands on the BNF, was simply too much for the self-serving RCORUA to support the 6300 acre project.

Here’s the kicker, folks: Because, and only because of, the off-roaders’ appeal of Three Saddle, the project was delayed so long that bids couldn’t go out, no contract was awarded, no sale happened. No good paying jobs created. It was all to start this autumn. Now it’s indefinitely delayed. Maybe next summer, maybe later. Meanwhile, trees rot, roads erode, fish die, hazardous fuels build up, people go without work. All because of a “string attached.” It simply wasn’t perfect to the off-roaders and commissioners.

This willingness to obstruct and gut worthy programs and projects, because the commissioners are unwilling to compromise even 1%, results not only in nothing getting done, but that things get worse. And make no mistake, this behavior and lack of leadership is nihilistic and dangerous to our public lands and to Valley citizens.

If only we could all live in our own perfect world, never needing to compromise, never having to accept any “strings.” But that’s not reality. In the meantime we Bitterrooters will all have to live with our “principled,” inflexible county commissioners who refuse to compromise 1%.

For the sake of our community health and welfare, I beg Ravalli County citizens of all political stripes to vote out the three intransigent commissioners and give our county government a chance to function competently and allow our Valley, as a whole, to prosper and be safe.

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