Choose Wisely, Whitefish

By Beacon Staff

It’s an off election year, meaning it’s time for city council elections. After a slow filing start, Kalispell has contests in three of four wards, and Columbia Falls wound up with six candidates for its three slots. These will be “nonpartisan” elections to select folks who will find the best way to fix our potholes, plow our roads, arrest bad guys and balance the budget – boring.

But, as the Beacon’s intrepid Myers Reece reported last week, the council election in Whitefish is cranking up, with “discourse not typically found” in small towns with volunteer councils. Why not? Whitefish politics aren’t about typical city issues, of course.

While the trash talk in Whitefish will be about the candidates, the Critical Areas Ordinance, the doughnut, the referendum, Texans, Californians, dirty money, blah blah, the real fight in Whitefish is over a fundamental principle of democracy: consent of the governed.

In case you’ve forgotten, America had a revolution over consent of the governed.

The colonists (a relative few) split into factions, based on whether they believed (or not) that government has a duty to seek and keep consent of the governed. Then they had a death match, for real.

Does the city of Whitefish have any duty to seek and keep the consent and support of those under its jurisdiction? If so, is there any way to ensure that obligation is upheld?

Clearly, the city, like any government, should be accountable – first through elections, and barring that, through the court system.

But the current doughnut situation leaves residents who have issues with Whitefish’s mandates no recourse except the court system – it’s regulation without representation, period.

Some of the existing council, thankfully former council members, and aspiring candidates are cool with that – even proud, calling it the “Whitefish way.” The others are not.

The matter of consent could be settled once and for all if Whitefish annexed the doughnut and held council elections – but the result probably wouldn’t go the, um, er, “Whitefish Way.” How might we guess that?

Well, besides electing a new mayor and council, there’s a referendum on the city ballot asking if the city should reject the second doughnut agreement. Referendum supporters collected more than the required 15 percent of “registered Whitefish city voters” (emphatically not doughnut voters). The city referendum was spearheaded, and signatures delivered, by council candidate Richard Hildner, who just happens to teach government (yes, really) at Glacier (not Whitefish) High School.

But – parallel to the city referendum was another county referendum petition, seeking a vote on establishing a “community council” in the doughnut – one which would advise the city council but lack any real power. It also needed 15 percent of registered doughnut voters (not city voters) to make the ballot, but flopped dead.

The failure of the doughnut petition makes it pretty darn clear what doughnut voters would do to the Whitefish City Council if they ever got a chance to vote – and why the backers of the so-called “Whitefish Way” have tried so hard for so long to make sure those folks never, ever get that vote.

In response to Hildner’s referendum, the county commissioners unanimously served notice that Flathead County is withdrawing from the interlocal agreement.

Now, for better or worse, the whole shebang is in the hands of the citizens of Whitefish. Their vote on the referendum will determine whether or not Whitefish Political Death Match 2011 will be the last death match, or lasts until 2021.

Their choices for council will determine whether or not city government focuses on city government issues. They will choose whether or not pressing issues (the city hall, the high school, the budget, the economy) will be set aside, sacrificed to ideological power politics.

The choice is pretty simple … Whitefish voters will either choose the “Whitefish Way,” or the American way. For everyone’s sake, they need to choose wisely.

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