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Standard view: Respect citizens, wait for real public comment on consent decree

Standard view: Respect citizens, wait for real public comment on consent decree

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How can an elaborate, detailed, sincere effort to inform citizens and seek their input be turned into the opposite — a dissatisfying dismissal of public concerns?

The Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners has given us a step-by-step primer on exactly how to accomplish that.

First was the ill-fated public meeting in February, when an overflow crowd was kept from commenting on the proposed Butte Hill consent decree on a supposed legal technicality. As we discussed before in this space, the county even indicated it would have been against public-meetings law for them to allow people to comment — an utterly ridiculous assertion.

The county hurriedly promised after that fiasco that it would hold a public meeting on the matter of the consent decree at which people could comment to their heart’s content.

But now that coronavirus has closed off normal public participation in a meeting, Council Chair John Morgan has suggested a meeting on April 15, at which comments sent in writing will be read into the record, and some comments may be taken by phone.

That is definitely a precursor to ramming this decree draft through the Council.

We believe that plan is unfortunate and premature. The biggest reason we feel that way is that people deserve to be heard on this in person. Period.

Why not wait until this crisis is over, as opposed to using it as cover to skimp on public comment and involvement?

Answer: Because many members of the council believe they’ve heard enough and have their minds made up. And, embarrassed at the travesty of the February meeting and cognizant of its potential electoral consequences, they view this little stratagem as an acceptable way out of the box they put themselves in.

This consent decree draft is more than three decades in the making. We know of not one good reason why this Council couldn’t wait another three months — or six months, if it comes to that — to act on this matter.

Others have decided — in wisdom born of their own biases or financial interests or expedience — that thousands of people in Butte-Silver Bow didn’t really mean they wanted a creek when they signed on to support Restore Our Creek’s efforts.

That is convenient but specious thinking.

This Council solution is similarly convenient, and similarly specious.

The April 15 “public meeting” is listed on tonight’s Consent Agenda with the proposed disposition “concur and place on file.”

We expect that is exactly what would happen to the comments the Council would receive at such a meeting.

We trust the Council will not adopt this comment plan. It is insulting and inadequate.

We understand the frustration with COVID-19 measures. But they are a simple reality. And this matter is too important to be treated so cavalierly.

Wait and do it right.


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