City leaders call for removal of county planning board members for ‘Nazi’ reference

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Whitefish City Hall at the corner of East Second Street and Baker Avenue. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

Whitefish city officials are asking for the dismissal of two county planning board members following a May 10 meeting where the board members made comments using “foul language” and made references to “Whitefish Nazis.”

Mayor John Mulhfeld and all six members of Council in a letter dated June 6, request that the Flathead County Commissioners censure the planning board members for their “strident comments with foul language” and ask that the members either be removed from the board or be required to recuse themselves from decisions that impact the city of Whitefish.

City officials denounced the comments noting that the city this winter became the target of online attacks by a neo-Nazi website.

“To refer to any of our citizens, elected or otherwise, as Nazis is unconscionable, especially given the turmoil over the actions of self-styled Nazis/white supremacists recently focused on Whitefish, its businesses and many of our citizens,” the letter says.

The letter was prompted by a public hearing on the proposed Highway 93 South Whitefish Corridor Plan, which includes the area south of Montana 40 outside of city limits. The city previously offered to work with the county on the corridor plan, but the county commissioners rejected the offer to work together in the area where Whitefish once had planning control.

The May 10 planning board meeting became heated when discussion began about whether the proposed zoning changes were in keeping with Whitefish’s standards.

Board member Rita Hall said the situation is a “quagmire.”

“We have the Whitefish Nazis overseeing what we’re doing right here,” she said. “The Whitefish Nazis are watching us very, very closely. The Montana Supreme Court said the county has jurisdiction of the doughnut and yet we are submitting to Whitefish in so many ways.”

Board member Greg Stevens said deciding whether the regulations are the same is “insane” because the “wording of the regulations are almost dam identical.”

“The people in the city are trying to foist their future land maps [on county residents] it’s obvious what they are doing, they are protecting those businesses inside the city limits of Whitefish,” he said. “They are stifling every kind of business outside the city limits for the benefit of what’s going on Central Avenue and Second Avenue and Baker Avenue.”

City officials said in the letter that they believe the “mere presence” of the two members will taint any decision of the board as a whole and the members have clearly articulated their prejudice toward the city.

“We need not remind you that the citizens of Whitefish are also residents and tax payers of Flathead County,” the letter says. “As such, they should be afforded the same respect and consideration that any County resident, regardless of their address or position on an issue before the Planning Board.”

The Whitefish letter goes on to say that it is “little wonder that citizens are reluctant to participate in the planning process, knowing they may be subjected to such outbursts by appointed officials.”

“Two members of the board made remarks clearly antithetical to the healthy and respectful exchange of ideas between citizens, municipalities, the Planning Board and by, extension, the Commissioners,” the letter notes.

The county commissioners appoint residents to serve on the planning board.

County Commissioner Phil Mitchell, who represents the northern part of the county including Whitefish, could not be reached for comment on the matter.

The planning board ultimately voted to recommend the corridor plan to the commissioners.

The citizen-initiated corridor plan came about as a way to establish more zoning flexibility in how property owners can use or develop their property in the area that stretches about 1.5 miles south on 93 from the Montana 40 intersection. Whitefish controlled land planning in the area until a legal battle with the state that ended in a decision by the Montana Supreme Court giving planning control to the county.

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