Lincoln County Deserves Better

By Kellyn Brown

It’s unfortunate that such a beautiful area is also home to the region’s nastiest political skirmishes. So it goes in Lincoln County, where before one government dispute is resolved another one hits the front page.

Earlier this year, in the tiny town of Troy, the council decided that the mayor didn’t play well with others, was often working unilaterally and may have been breaking the law. A recall petition was launched, a judge approved it and Donald Banning is no longer at City Hall.

I’m not taking sides on whether the recall was justified, but how it played out is, even in the words of residents there, “embarrassing.” And it has only worsened since, at least in terms of real-world ramifications. Part of the reason for Banning’s dismissal was that he attempted to fire City Attorney Charles Evans without consent from the council. Evans was dismissed anyway. And the city council hasn’t replaced him, which is as crazy as it sounds.

Right now, since there is no one to prosecute a variety of crimes – from DUIs to assaults – charges filed against lawbreakers are being dropped. If this reminds you of anarchy, it should. Because it basically is. The next scheduled city council meeting is July 16, so if you’ve ever wanted to throw an epic party in Troy, this would be a great week for that. I doubt anyone is prosecuting people for violating the noise ordinance.

Then there’s the city council in Libby, which one member recently referred to as “East Troy” (to me, that’s a bit of a stretch). There, its mayor and a city council member are at odds and publicly criticizing and privately deriding each other – I’ve seen their email exchanges.

One source of contention is Councilor Allen Olsen’s claim that Mayor Doug Roll won’t put him on any committees. Roll says Olsen is difficult to work with and gamed the system to get elected to the council in the first place. Olsen acknowledged renting a house within city limits so he would qualify to run for office.

Olsen has called Roll a “dictator” and made a variety of accusations against the city, such as not disclosing public records and misappropriating tree funds. But the argument appears to be a lot more about petty differences than substantial policy.

Down the road in Cabinet View, an area just south of Libby, a longtime dispute between a nonprofit volunteer fire department and Lincoln County Board of Commissioners has resulted in a lawsuit and a variety of accusations.

The Cabinet View Fire Department, which already responded to structure fires, began self-dispatching to medical incidents and car accidents because it could get to them faster and believed it was their duty. Other first responders in the area disagreed, saying that the volunteer department is not qualified and doesn’t have a transport agreement with an ambulance service.

According to Cabinet View officials, the Libby Volunteer Ambulance has refused to partner with them. But Libby Ambulance counters, “they’ve never even had the courtesy to ask our board of directors.” At least one side is being less than truthful. But it may not matter, since Lincoln County commissioners voted to dissolve the fire service area.

Earlier this year, government officials and businesspeople met to brainstorm ways to draw more tourists to Lincoln County, which has the highest jobless rate in the state at 13.2 percent. The pristine area sells itself and there were several good ideas as how to lure more vacationers there. But it’s difficult to focus on relevant issues when the local governments border on dysfunctional.

And the citizens of Lincoln County deserve better.