Police Funding, First and Second Amendments Discussed Again at Kalispell City Council

Mayor and council suggest people "get off Facebook" to mitigate misinformation spread in valley

By Maggie Dresser

Continuing a conversation from a June 15 Kalispell City Council meeting, community members again voiced their opinions at the council’s July 7 meeting about police defunding and First and Second amendment rights, which became a hot topic following a Black Lives Matter protest at Depot Park in Kalispell on June 6.

While those matters were already addressed at the June meeting, where Mayor Mark Johnson and councilors reassured the public that the police department would remain funded, more than a dozen people spoke during public comment on July 7, including some who returned to repeat themselves.

In response to false rumors circulating that Love Lives Here, a branch of the Montana Human Rights Network, made a petition to defund the Kalispell Police Department, Cherilyn DeVries spoke on behalf of the organization to emphasize how misinformation is spreading.

“The reason I’m here is because of misinformation,” DeVries said. “Love Lives Here never said anything about defunding the police. We never started a petition.” DeVries was specifically referring to the Facebook group, “Flathead 411,” which a number of people at the meeting criticized over the content spread by its users.

“On Flathead 411, I saw people giving out information.” DeVries said. “Model of vehicle, license plates and hotel that (people) were staying in because people suspected them of being, I don’t know, Antifa. It’s the misinformation, folks, that is what I’m extremely, extremely concerned about.”

Some residents mentioned an “intimidation problem” in the valley, referring to the armed counter protesters who appeared at the Black Lives Matter protest more than a month ago.

“Most of the people who wanted to come speak tonight did not come out of fear,” Kalispell resident Valeri McGarvey said. “That’s a problem … intimidation is not the way to run a community.”

While no one at the meeting supported defunding the police department, resident Kelly Tindall, who says she hosted a cookout near the Depot Park veterans’ memorial at the June 6 protest, spoke of her support for the police and assured McGarvey and others that she wasn’t aware of any intimidation factor.

“There was no intimidation … and I don’t know where you’re getting your information from because I have not seen it on Facebook,” Tindall said. “I have not seen it anywhere … but if you guys even thought of defunding the police, this will turn into the Wild West where people will protect themselves without police presence.”

At the council’s June 15 meeting, Mayor Johnson and councilors reassured the public that they would not defund the Kalispell Police Department. The proposed 2021 police department will remain at $5,659,635, a 6.85% increase from the 2020 fiscal year.

Johnson opened up a public hearing for comment at the July 7 meeting to discuss the city’s $82.5 million budget for the 2021 Preliminary Fiscal Year, which was on the agenda, and no comments were received.

Following agenda items and public comment, Mayor Johnson and councilors denounced the use of Facebook as a news source and encouraged residents to “get off Facebook.”

“Flathead 411 is not a news source for any business with the City of Kalispell,” Johnson said. “I’m very frustrated with Facebook and I’m very frustrated with Flathead 411.”

Councilor Tim Kluesner added that he finds “it fascinating that people are willing to use a tool that rips our damn communities apart.”

Additionally, Councilor Ryan Hunter asked the council to consider requiring masks in city council chambers during meetings, and he requested that the city issue a statement to encourage the use of masks in indoor public settings and outdoors in groups of 10 or more in response to the recent COVID-19 case spike in the state.

The council also approved a request from Chrysalis Group Home, which operates a therapeutic school for girls based in Eureka, at 1005 8th Ave. E. in Kalispell. Chrysalis’ Kalispell location would serve as a transitional group home for girls age 13 to 18.

Under federal and state laws, city officials said they can’t deny the conditional-use permit.

While no one at the meeting opposed the group home, councilors received some letters from concerned residents in June. Residents were generally concerned about parking, traffic and garbage.

Councilors unanimously approved a request from Colton Lee Communities, LLC for a growth policy amendment, annexation and initial zoning for a 3.27-acre parcel on 216 Hutton Ranch Road for a multifamily residential project.

Councilors also passed a resolution that would update school zone boundaries and speed limits around Hedges Elementary School.

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