Flathead Governments’ Looming Litigation

By Kellyn Brown

In the litigious Flathead Valley, there are myriad reasons – good and bad – to sue local municipalities. In recent months complaints have been filed over whether politicians live in the jurisdictions they serve; whether public meetings were, in fact, public; and the degree of slope upon which a landowner can build a mansion.

Some battles were fought for naught, others won, but what’s clear is that the number of complaints filed against our governments is bound to persist. Valley residents seem eager to take “the man” to court, which makes me wonder what the next round will bring. Many predictable suits will be filed. But I’m far more interested in the cockamamie ones that have appeared in my cloudy crystal ball.

Residency: Extreme Edition

Suing over where public officials live will continue to be en vogue. After an unsuccessful complaint was filed against one Whitefish councilor and another was asked to step down, along with questions raised about a county commissioner’s home address – government officials and citizens alike are combing through city maps looking for any wrongdoing. Disclosing residency before an election, apparently, isn’t a prerequisite. If it is, no one looked at it closely. Soon we will find out that one of the valley’s mayors actually lives in Butte, when incriminating St. Patrick’s Day photos surface. A lawsuit will promptly ensue.

Roads and Gravel Collide

Complaints involving gravel pits and their locations will remain popular. So will suits over who should pave roads – the county or developers. A thorny situation will soon arise, though, when the same person who sues the county for not paving their road also sues for allowing a gravel pit to be built near their neighborhood. For once, the county may have the upper hand, telling this person that if they want a paved road then they must simmer down regarding the residential pit. The result will be another lawsuit against the county for such an audacious suggestion. Savvy real estate agents will begin marketing homes adjacent to gravel pits as “industrial chic.”

On Slopes and Helipads

More landowners surrounding Whitefish Lake will sue once the council there approves the critical areas ordinance. A judge has already ruled that the city unfairly denied one couple a permit to build a house overlooking the lake, despite the contention that their proposal violated the 30-degree slope specification in the ordinance. Slopes will matter little once a lakefront homeowner opts to build a floating helipad on the water in front of their home. With municipalities distracted by the uproar, waterfront landowners will defy other regulations using the “at-least-I-don’t-own-a-helicopter” argument. And a homeowner who constructs an enormous and elaborate system of public waterslides from their mountain home into Whitefish Lake will be lauded as a hero.

Roundabout Dilemma

As Bucky Wolford begins installing stoplights at the entrances to his “lifestyle center” in north Kalispell, detractors will file a complaint arguing that he should build more appealing roundabouts instead. Meanwhile, a driver who launched off the existing roundabout near Costco and landed in the McDonald’s lobby will have also filed suit. Roundabouts, the driver will argue, belong only in Europe. Hard-driving Americans’ instincts naturally tell them to jump large sloped objects in the middle of intersections. Thus, the roundabout will be removed and Bucky’s stoplights will look selfless. Roundabout ramp jumping will become the most popular event at Raceway Park.

I’m missing a few other unobvious, upcoming complaints, such as a suit over the size of signs or the amount of goose excrement in Woodland Park, but this should ready government officials for imminent litigation. Consider yourself warned.

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