Tuesday, April 23, 2024

SCN Editor Marlo Pronovost

More of the same lack of transparency

It had been my sincere hope that by now, less than two weeks away from a public hearing on the courthouse space options project, the tide would have turned on the Stillwater County Commissioners’ lack of transparency and willingness to share all the information available about the project.
But the last three months have not borne that out.
In early February it was discovered the state Fire Marshal found “safety and life” violations during an inspection of the old hospital.
The inspection occurred in November 2014. The commissioners received the Fire Marshal’s report in December 2014. The report should have been disclosed during the January 2015 public meetings on the courthouse project given the fact that the old hospital is a possible site for the project.
But that didn’t happened. Nor was it filed in the Clerk & Recorder’s Office, where all other public documents on the project are kept.
The next glitch came in late February when the News obtained a copy of the third party evaluation prepared on Spectrum Group Architects and the dissolution of its relationship with the Lame Deer School district midway through a multi-million project.
At some point after, Commissioner Jerry Dell himself asked Spectrum how to acquire the evaluation. At a regular Tuesday morning meeting, commissioners announced they had received a refusal letter from Spectrum citing a confidentiality clause.
On April 3, the commissioners filed a copy of that evaluation in the Clerk & Recorder’s Office. But they never let the public know they had obtained the evaluation and that it was available for public review.
The next clunk came last month when the commissioners announced that a May 5 hearing date had been set for the courthouse space options project.
The following week, when asked what the purpose for the May 5 hearing was, the commissioners referred the News to a legal ad, but offered no other information. It was the legal ad that revealed the purpose of that hearing was public comment.
The next logical question was what would happen after the May 5 hearing? Was there a timeline?
The response was stunning.
“Any decisions made would be on an agenda,” wrote Commissioner Maureen Davey in an email.
So we jump from public comment to potential decision making with no other explanation. This is simply unacceptable.
What specific decisions might be made?
Who is going to make them and based on what information?
What about all the details?
While the commissioners have tasked themselves with this enormous project, the money that has been spent and will be spent comes from the taxpayers. The decisions should be largely made by the taxpayers.