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Commission has taken county down dangerous path

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2012-10-04T00:00:00Z Commission has taken county down dangerous pathBy Anita L. Varone Helena Independent Record
October 04, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Recent articles discussing county government prompted me to write. I was honored to represent Lewis & Clark County as a commissioner from 2001-2006. The last four years of my tenure I witnessed commissioners enacting many illegal requirements; a water quality emergency declaration using fabricated data, forced emergency zoning attempts, public road building regulations.

I questioned the validity of the valley water quality data. The Environmental Health director privately told me there was no emergency; there were three small areas requiring immediate attention. She said she would publically share the information but, when the time came, she reported the opposite. Prior to the meeting, the commissioners discovered she was going to provide truthful information. She was directed to falsify the figures. A subsequent lawsuit revealed the deputy county attorney told her he could make her department go away if she did not falsify the facts.

Commissioner Hunthausen supported Commissioners Tinsley and Murray as they threw the law to the wind and supported using fictitious water quality information. All three passed emergency zoning and were almost successful in conning the public. The IR exposed their dishonesty in 2008, reporting there never was an emergency. The commissioners never offered a truthful explanation.

Attempts to provide statutory information to the commission repeatedly fell on deaf ears and several lawsuits were filed. For example, the Christisons’ subdivision was one of many illegal decisions. Having lost the lawsuit, at least seven similar lawsuits are on hold until the Christison case is completed. Other past litigants are now asking for reconsideration of their suits.

The county attorney’s office is also to blame for what is still happening. The deputy county attorney told me the commission could make any decision it wants, and unless the county is sued, it is law. He said all the commission had to do was say their decision was based on public “health, safety and welfare” and he could defend it. He said that even if the county lost in court, it would win in the end because he would bankrupt the plaintiff with their attorney fees.

The county now must pay the Christisons’ attorney fees. When the cost of private attorneys, county staff and county attorney fees is added to the current $673,000, it’s not a stretch to assume we’ll be paying at least $1 million. Misleading legal advice will cost us millions in future lawsuit decisions.

This year’s budget has roughly $440,000 to settle lawsuits or prepare for court. That’s not enough. If a recent estimate of $16 million in lost lawsuits is accurate, one of two things must happen: our taxes will dramatically increase or services will be drastically reduced, meaning massive layoffs. Both could happen. Don’t forget, there’s no plan for road improvements.

We all should be offended when Commissioner Hunthausen said, “It’s our responsibility to follow the law”; he’s frustrated that some are portraying the commission as anti-development. Commissioners Hunthausen and Murray have always been anti-development. The resulting lawsuits are proving it. They break the law to serve their purpose, and you and I are paying for it. It’s not about subdivisions, it’s about anything they want to do. Words are meaningless; it’s their voting record that’s important.

Commissioner Hunthausen took credit for being the instrumental supporter on a cornucopia of county projects. His claims are inaccurate. In at least one instance he takes credit for a project that he resigned from before completion.

When I was a commissioner, I told folks they should become involved and run for office so they could change laws they disagreed with. My fellow commissioners said if they didn’t like what the commission did, they could sue; the county had staff attorneys and the public had to pay theirs by the hour.

Mike Fasbender took both suggestions seriously. He filed several lawsuits and won because the other commissioners illegally manipulated the law. He also filed for county commissioner. Mike’s a brave man: bright, honorable, honest and more than anything else, he’ll follow the law. I think our county deserves it.

Anita L. Varone is a former Lewis & Clark County Commissioner.

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(9) Comments

  1. Builder
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    Builder - October 06, 2012 8:10 am
    Prattler says there are overcrowded schools in the Valley, a traffic nightmare, failing water systems, flooded developments, and wildfire-prone communities. Well, the taxpayers need to step up and fund some solutions. The community WILL be growing, and it’s not up to the developers to fund infrastructure improvements or slow down our legal right to build.
    Mike Fasbender is on our side, and as he has stated so many times, if there is a legal way to do it, “No” and “I can’t” will be unacceptable responses.

    As Verone rightly pointed out, the water quality emergency declaration used fabricated data. The ground has been a great filter for our toilets for the last hundred years, and nothing has changed. We don’t need the costs associated with higher standards for septic drain fields.
    The people are coming, and we need to BUILD. The valley water is fine, there is ample drinking water, and plenty of room for more septic drain fields that meet existing standards, and not the more costly ones the current commission wanted.

    Our LEGAL right to develop must be protected! Fasbender is our man, and we need to get him elected.
  2. Bean12
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    Bean12 - October 04, 2012 9:03 pm
    I think Prattler has lost his mind! Obviously he has never seen the county regulations nor has he ever tried to do anything in this county. His bias and ignorance of the regulations is very apparent even to a casuall observer. Contrary to what he preaches no doubt lives in a subdivision created by former bad word developers! Why is it that everyone who has theirs doesn't want anyone new to come here and get theirs? I believe this is called "not in my backyard" syndrome.

    Take a deep breath Prattler and realize how lucky you are that these kind of a abuses are by our local County attorney office and current and past commissioners have been exposed!
    I, for one County resident, am tired of paying for these unnecessary needless lawsuits and I will vote for Mike Fasbender to try to get things changed
  3. poncho
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    poncho - October 04, 2012 6:11 pm
    Sounds familiar. In Park County, Montana, in a zoning dispute with the county over not following the correct procedures, the county attorney responded " we don't care what state law is, this is the way we do it in Park County. If you don't like it, sue us.
  4. forthekids
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    forthekids - October 04, 2012 5:12 pm
    I just heard that Mike Fasbender presented a letter this morning at Hometown Helena that he had written to L&C County 6 or 7 years ago ... before all of the lawsuits started. In the letter he cautioned the County that their road requirements were violating the law and exposing the taxpayers to needless liability. How prophetic. I sure wish he had been on the Commission 8 years ago ... think of how many millions of dollars the taxpayers would have saved. Former Commissioner Varone is spot on ... we need to get Mike Fasbender on the Commission and stop hemorrhaging taxpayer money ASAP.
  5. forthekids
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    forthekids - October 04, 2012 2:53 pm
    I just heard that Mike Fasbender presented a letter this morning at Hometown Helena that he had written to L&C County 6 or 7 years ago ... before all of the lawsuits started. In the letter he cautioned the County that their road requirements were violating the law and exposing the taxpayers to needless liability. How prophetic. I sure wish he had been on the Commission 8 years ago ... think of how many millions of dollars the taxpayers would have saved. Former Commissioner Varone is spot on ... we need to get Mike Fasbender on the Commission and stop hemorrhaging taxpayer money ASAP.
  6. forthekids
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    forthekids - October 04, 2012 2:39 pm
    What a ridiculous argument. It's ok for the Commission to break the law, because the ones who are trying to get them to follow the law are "greed mavens"???

    Further, you reveal your complete lack of understanding of the process by stating that "uncontrolled development continues to burden taxpayers". I would love to hear your example of "uncontrolled development". Subdivisions are required statutorily to go through both local and state review. Even family transfers of property have to be reviewed and approved.

    In re-reading your post, I don't think I can hardly find a sentence in it that has any basis in fact.
  7. redstar10
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    redstar10 - October 04, 2012 11:22 am
    The news is finally getting out! Lewis & Clark residents need to pay attention to this former County Commissioner. She was a great Commissioner, she had "common sense', and she had the residents of Lewis & Clark County foremost in mind when she was a Commissioner. However, she got absolutely no help from Commissioners Murray and Tinsley who constantly voted her down 2-1 during her tenure. Her admonitions to them to follow the law fell on "deaf ears" and that is why we see all of the lawsuits! Thank God we have people like Anita Verone who aren't afraid to stand up and tell the truth! We need more people like her who understand that good, well planned growth can occur in this County without negatively affecting the health, safety and welfare of County residents. These needless lawsuits must end and that is why I am voting for Mike Fasbender!
  8. steeline
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    steeline - October 04, 2012 9:29 am
    For those of you who believe that if there are no more subdivisions in the Valley there will be no more costs to the tax payers, I have news for you. I ask you, what is your alternate plan to accomodate the POPULATION GROWTH in the area? It makes me believe we have some self serving folks in Helena that want to keep Helena and vicinity just the way it was 150 years ago. Fighting land use changes is an old worn out scare tactic that has no validity today. People we have a situation that has to be delt with and that is POPULATION GROWTH. To date not many people are complaining about TOO MANY PEOPLE on earth, they complain about to much developement. That is the challenge. Short sited and self serving groups will continue to resist land developement and demonize those who can see the future more clearly and move to advance an accomodation vision for those residents that are here now and for the new people who are coming here with their families. When there is a way to stop population growth then land use changes would follow suit. So when you hear a person rant about land developement, ask them, how many children did they bring into the world? There in lies the real problem. It is not about if you build it they will come, it is about you better build it because they are coming. We have to get Helena and L&C County Right.
  9. Prattler
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    Prattler - October 04, 2012 7:07 am
    No surprise here! Verone has been development shill for over 20 years while the County has attempted to implement zoning and development standards. Standards needed to govern growth and assure that public health and safety issues are not neglected. During this time a well-funded and vocal minority of developers, contractors and real estate agents who have a significant financial interest in the status quo have consistently decried the lack of consistency while delaying the process indefinitely through endless “working groups”, committees, hearings, and lawsuits.

    Under the guise of These proffer feigned outrage while uncontrolled development continues to burden taxpayers with demand for additional unfunded public services. The fact is that the Commissioners and staff have had their hands tied by the lack of a legal basis for controlling development. A legal defense can only be created by enacting the same comprehensive zoning and development standards that have been consistently thwarted by the very people who are once again whining about lack of standards. Commissioner Brown, former Commissioner Verone, and wannabe Commissioner Fasbender are among the champions of growth at any price.

    Look around and see the results: overcrowded schools in the North Valley, a constant traffic nightmare in the City, failing community water systems, flooded developments, and wildfire-prone communities. The only success story is the enactment of minimal fire standards for new developments which were vehemently contested by the development and real estate interests.

    Skeptical? Use the search function on this site with the names cited above or terms such as “comprehensive growth plan” or “zoning”. The results are enlightening and present a history that the greed mavens would prefer you forget

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