The Flathead County commissioners have yet to demonstrate that they want to responsibly, competently, and faithfully serve in the roles the office demands. I can’t help but wonder why they ever sought positions that require municipal management and governance when they reveal their disdain for the many agencies designated to improve the quality of life and safety of its citizens. In the past three years, the county commissioners destabilized the county health department and created an atmosphere hostile to evidence-backed public health measures, appointing individuals with conspiratorial and unfounded claims to dominate the board. The end result was a loss of credible and dedicated public servants and the proliferation of misinformation. Our award-winning county library system has suffered a similar fate, placed on the chopping block because a handful of trustees want control over constitutionally protected speech and, in an act of reckless fiscal responsibility, signed off on hiring an unqualified library director, in direct noncompliance with the state’s hiring standards. This action resulted in the loss of state funding. The latest move from the county commissioners is targeting members of our community who are in crisis, and instead of looking for ways their office can help confront the web of problems relating to housing insecurity, the letter the three commissioners offered the public is egregious and irresponsible.
Listen, many of us would agree that a small, limited government is ideal, but that doesn’t give permission to wipe out the government in its entirety. As elected officials, you are tasked with managing the government roles that make everyday life possible. We can push back against government overreach, but that doesn’t excuse the dismantling of public institutions because of incompetency. Many aspects of the government are designed to improve our lives, like municipal water supply, road maintenance, and public safety. We may overlook these seemingly benign services, but it’s all part of a functioning government and society.
In a county that’s experiencing explosive population growth, which has been trending upward for at least a decade, it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, especially the commissioners, that the county needs to have policies in place to meet current challenges and create a framework for future needs. Instead, these three elected officials are targeting the most vulnerable, and issuing false claims about homelessness and supportive services.
I think there’s a clue about what’s going to come next: a not-so-secret push to privatize what should remain public. In a recent article the commissioners maintain their misguided resolve against the “homeless lifestyle” but also reveal something even more suspect. There’s a potential six-figure contract with a private security firm to provide services at a county-owned office. It’s a curious move when we have an underfunded sheriff’s department.
Maggie Doherty is a writer and book reviewer who lives in Kalispell with her family.
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