Opportunity to Review Local Governments Appears on Primary Ballot

By Beacon Staff

Voters throughout Flathead County will find an uncommon item on this year’s primary ballot.

Every 10 years, residents in Montana have the option of organizing a citizen-led study commission that examines the structure and function of their city and county governments.

On June 3, local voters will have the chance to decide whether the city of Kalispell and/or Flathead County should undergo separate reviews.

“The 10-year review gives your community a chance to stop and say, is (the local government) working for us? Or can we tweak it and make it better?” said Dan Clark, director of the Local Government Center at Montana State University.

“The study commission will talk with city officials and employees and ask what’s working? What’s not working? If you had a choice, what would you tweak? What are citizens’ thoughts? It creates a nice dialogue within the community to discuss how do we want to look in the future and what structure is going to get there.”

If approved in Kalispell, a local study commission of five members would be established in the general election and the review process would begin. Funding for the review would not exceed one mill, or roughly $39,000. The county review would similarly create a five-member commission and the review process would not exceed one mill — or roughly $240,000 — each year for two years.

City residents have the option of voting for both the Kalispell review and Flathead County review.

“I’m encouraging everyone to vote positive. An informed public is critical to having a properly functioning representative form of government,” Kalispell Mayor Mark Johnson said at last week’s council meeting.

The purpose of the study commission is to review the existing form and powers of a local government and the procedures for delivering services to the community.

Kalispell operates under a manager-council form of government. Eight city councilors from four wards, or districts, and a mayor are elected to four-year terms, and the council appoints a city manager as the chief administrative officer.

Flathead County operates under three commissioners who are elected to six-year terms. The commission is responsible for establishing policies and running the county.

If established, the study commissions would hold several public hearings and community forums to gather input on potential changes to the governments.

After the review period, the commissions could recommend amendments to the existing plan of government or larger changes, including the consolidation of the city and county governments. The commission could also recommend the drafting of a charter, or a guiding document that would outline a city’s desired powers and authorities as a self-governing entity.

Kalispell is currently the only major city among Montana’s seven largest that does not have an established charter; instead the city operates with general governing powers dictated by the Montana Legislature.

The opportunity to review the city and county governments will not be offered again until 2024

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