© 2013 Concerned Citizens of Western Montana

Over the weekend, irrigators from the Jocko and Mission Districts of the Flathead Irrigation Project received a letter from the four rogue commissioners in these districts explaining why November tax bills would reflect a significant increase in project administrative costs for the irrigation project from $2.65 to a whopping $9.00 per acre.  Here is a copy of their letter.

What followed in the letter was not any effort to take responsibility for their role in this situation, but instead they attempted to deflect away from their actions by blaming others who merely are trying to protect their own and other irrigator water rights from being relinquished to the tribe.

It is these four men who unilaterally decided to pull their two districts out of the Flathead Joint Board of Control in an effort to try to endorse the Flathead Irrigation Project Water Use Agreement, a document that will force irrigators to forever relinquish their project water rights to the tribe in exchange for an unguaranteed amount of water that many say will likely put them out of business.  This document has already been ruled an unconstitutional taking without compensation by Judge CB McNeil.  See his ruling at this link.

After reading the letter, it is clear that these men believe the FJBC should sit on its hands and not defend project irrigators against their obvious attempts to advance the water use agreement and the water compact, documents that will do significant harm to the businesses and property values of the people they have a trust responsibility to.  But instead of discussing their rationalizations for their actions, let’s focus on what they didn’t discuss in that letter:

THE RECENT ACTIONS THESE FOUR COMMISSIONERS HAVE TAKEN TO THWART A REFERENDUM OF THEIR CONSITUTENTS CONCERNING THEIR ACTIONS TO PULL OUT OF THE FLATHEAD JOINT BOARD OF CONTROL.

BACKGROUND

06/06/13 – The Jocko and Mission districts call separate special meetings to approve the hiring of an attorney just in case it was necessary for a second opinion, an hour here, an hour there.

At the Mission meeting Jerry Johnson said, “it’s not that we have to have one, but in case something comes up, we would like to have one on staff.”  Someone asked, what kind of budget are we anticipating to pay them? Johnson answered “well it’s 200 bucks per hour, the first month maybe $400-$600 to kinda go through the compact and all the stuff that’s went on the last two or three months.  After that it will just be on a per call basis ….that’s my anticipation, and after that it might be one hour at once, two hours at once, depending on where it all goes to, you know what I mean?” 

A member of the public asked if their per hour charges would be going up and they answered “NO, NO…..

The statements made by two of the commissioners in the meeting were intended to give the public the impression that retaining these attorneys was merely common sense, a back up plan just in case the Joint Board attorney resigned in an upcoming meeting.

06/14/13 – the two districts called “special meetings” and voted to give 90 day notice to withdraw out of the Flathead Joint Board.  At the same meeting, Paul Wadsworth of the Mission district also attempted to “endorse” the Water Use Agreement, but was prevented from doing so because of an injunction filed by the Western Montana Water Users Association.  It quickly became apparent that the districts did not follow Montana open meeting laws and that this meeting was illegally held.  These commissioners were ultimately forced to rescind their withdrawal from the FJBC.

09/05/13 – The FJBC voted to urge the districts to remain united, but short of that, passed a resolution that said the FJBC would sponsor an irrigator referendum IF the districts were unwilling to do it themselves.  Since the districts clearly did not want to hold a referendum, the FBJB moved forward on a non-binding referendum by all project irrigators concerning the withdrawal of these two districts.  The JBC then contacted Lake County to start the wheels in motion for a referendum.  Here’s a copy of the resolution.

I think it’s important to note that the September the 5th resolution said the FJBC would sponsor an referendum IF the districts did not do that themselves. Clearly they did not want to have a referendum.

09/14/13 – The Mission and Jocko districts held public meetings to rescind their June withdrawal and to withdraw for a second time.  This time their meetings complied with the Montana open meeting law.  By this time, the two districts had already been racking up significant legal bills.

09/23/13-  The attorneys for these two districts sent a letter to Lake County in an attempt to stop the referendum from occurring.  Here is a copy of that letter.  After reviewing the document, Lake County decided to move forward with the referendum.

10/16/13-  The Jocko and Mission districts filed a complaint and injunction against Lake County in an attempt to stop the referendum from occurring.  Here is a copy of that complaint.  Remember that the ballots were supposed to be mailed out on the 25th of October and returned to the county by November 19th.

10/22/13 – District Court Judge Christopher issued an order of abeyance to prevent both parties from acting until an appointment to replace Judge CB McNeil was made.

10/25/13 – Governor Bullock appointed James Manley as new district court judge replacing retired Judge CB McNeil.

SO NOW WHAT?

Here we are at the 11th hour concerning the irrigator referendum.  The referendum ballots that were being printed at the time the injunction was filed have been placed on hold.  As of the timing of this post, we are unsure what will happen next.

For now we would just like to remind you that all of the FJBC commissioners except for the member at large are elected by irrigators.  On an issue as important as the dismantling of the Flathead Joint Board, a reasonable person would think that these men would be interested in knowing what their constituents want.  Sadly this does not appear to be the case.

So we leave you with a couple of questions.

Why would these men not want to know what irrigators think about their withdrawal from the Flathead Joint Board?

Is it because they fear the result of the referendum and the disapproval of their constituents?

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