Whitefish has disregard for public’s right to know

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In June, Whitefish complained to Flathead County commissioners that county planning board members made “strident comments” about the city’s treatment of doughnut property owners. The comments followed a hearing on the South 93 corridor, which used to be in the doughnut.

The Whitefish mayor and all city councilors signed the letter on official letterhead.

Whitefish now admits that it failed to disclose consideration of this letter on any City Council agenda. Nor did councilors vote in public to send it. Instead, Whitefish drafted and approved the letter in secret.

As such, the letter violated our constitutional right to know about and participate in government decisions.

After our office objected, Whitefish agreed to put the letter on the July 17 City Council agenda where it was subject to public comment and an after-the-fact public vote by councilors.

While we appreciate Whitefish’s belated willingness to comply with the law, the city’s illegal letter follows Whitefish’s historical disregard for the public’s right to know when it comes to doughnut decisions. Consider:

In March 2008, Whitefish sued Flathead County, starting years of contentious doughnut litigation. Whitefish never put this lawsuit on any agenda, nor did the councilors vote in public to file this complaint.

In January 2012, Whitefish again sued the Flathead County, filing a third party complaint on doughnut issues. Whitefish again made this decision to sue in secret.

In July 2013, Whitefish sought an injunction against Flathead County to prohibit it from assuming doughnut jurisdiction. Once again, Whitefish never held a public vote or allowed public comment on this significant decision.

Around the valley, we never hear folks comparing, say, Kalispell, Bigfork or Columbia Falls, to dictatorships. That comparison is reserved solely for Whitefish.

In the public arena, we lament that ad hominem attacks and name calling now substitutes for serious, respectful discussions about policy and principals. But Whitefish must learn that if it was more respectful of people’s rights and complied with the law, it probably would face less “strident” criticism.

Duncan Scott, Kalispell

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