Did we really hear on KPAX last week Commissioner Suzy Foss plead for some compassion for Valerie Scott Addis Stamey? Did she really say, “This is a life we’re talking about.”?
Foss’s hypocrisy and utter lack of self-awareness are stunning. I don’t recall her pleading with her colleagues to consider with compassion the life of David Ohnstad, who she voted to fire for no reason at all in January 2012.
Ohnstad had been an extremely competent county road supervisor for seven years before Foss and her fellow travelers Ron Stoltz and Matt Kanenwisher got hold of him. The official reason for Ohnstad’s unnecessary termination is – no surprise to anyone who has been watching this disastrous county commission these past three-and-a-half years – a lie. Foss, Stoltz and Kanenwisher had tried to fire Ohnstad several months earlier over a relatively minor incident that turned out to be someone else’s fault. When they found they couldn’t fire Ohnstad for something he didn’t do, they cast around for another concocted reason and settled on some non-existent culverts on the least-used road in Ravalli County, Upper Woodchuck. Foss, Stoltz and Kanenwisher accused Ohnstad of lying about these culverts, saying they went missing in the course of some roadwork there. The claim came from two affected landowners who benefited more than anyone from the roadwork: Aldo Sardot and his wife Niki Sardot who, coincidentally, is Foss’s former high school classmate from southern California.
After the Sardots wrote a nice thank-you letter to the county for a job well done on Upper Woodchuck Road, they apparently had second thoughts and lodged a complaint with the commissioners about missing culverts, with county attorney Bill Fulbright and his deputy Howard Recht ultimately doing the heavy legal lifting for the Sardots.
The commission notified Ohnstad by registered letter while he was visiting family out-of-state that his job was on the line and he had a day or two to respond. Since he could not be back in Hamilton in time for his own firing, he hired a lawyer to buy him some time.
Several months later, and following a day-long hearing at which no evidence was presented to back up the ludicrous and meritless claim of missing culverts (hardly a fireable offense even if true, as Commissioner J.R. Iman correctly pointed out) they voted 3-2 to fire him.
Where was the compassion for the life of this valuable civil servant who, unlike the spectacularly incompetent Scott-Addis-Stamey, actually knew what he was doing? I was present at the star chamber when Ohnstad was fired and I don’t recall Foss pleading for some compassion for “someone’s life” that was about to be thrown into personal, professional and financial turmoil.
Nor were Stoltz, Foss and Kanenwisher honest enough or smart enough to discuss with the taxpayers what I believe to be the actual reason for Ohnstad’s termination, which, of course, had nothing to do with any bogus culverts, but had everything to do with privatizing the road department. There’s probably a way to achieve that goal, but firing the road supervisor on made-up charges as the first step is not a good start.
Ohnstad was a professional, experienced, meticulous road supervisor who had carefully and methodically prepared a county-wide seven-year road improvement plan, had won for his department a state safety award for two years running – thereby keeping our insurance rates low – had earned the respect of his crew, and had brought in between $15 million and $17 million in federal, state and forest grants to perform an unprecedented amount of road repair in Ravalli County. Then they hired two people to replace him and paid him $125,000 in an out-of-court settlement as a tacit acknowledgment of their poor management skills and inability to govern.
Then there are the lives of the 20 or so $9 and $10 an hour clerks who were summarily fired. Again, we didn’t hear any concern voiced for the lives of good, working people cavalierly thrown out like so much trash. Or for the lives of the 450 mostly-female patients of the family planning clinic who lost their health care when commissioners Foss, Stoltz and Jeff Burrows foisted their personal religious beliefs on everyone else.
No, what we heard was a plea to consider Stamey’s “life.” How ironic that Foss pleads with her colleagues to consider the life of the one employee who was certifiably inept. All the other fired employees – the ones she did not plead for – were fine civil servants who were not only perfectly competent, but in Ohnstad’s case, exemplary, and much more deserving of the compassion they didn’t receive.
If we can request anything of Foss before she leaves office this year, it would be a sincere and heartfelt “I’m sorry” to the people whose lives Foss did not plead for.