Whitefish, Columbia Falls to Undergo Local Government Audit 

Following voters’ approval on Tuesday, the two municipalities will move forward with a once-in-a-decade review of their local government structures 

By Denali Sagner
Eastern view of Columbia Falls, Bad Rock Canyon, Teakettle Mountain and Columbia Mountain on Feb. 9, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Voters in Whitefish and Columbia Falls on Tuesday approved a decennial audit that allows local municipalities to review the structure and function of their governments. 

Whitefish voters approved the review 62% (1,127) to 38% (703). Columbia Falls voters approved it 52% (481) to 48% (444). 

The audit was rejected in Kalispell by 6% of votes (306) and in Flathead County by 10% (2,362). 

The local government review process allows municipalities to evaluate their charters, county commission structures and other functions of their governments. Governmental powers available for review include whether or not municipal elections are partisan; the number of commissioners in a county; whether an executive may appoint or remove employees without consent of the council; and if elections are held by ward or at-large.

This will be the second local government review in three decades for Columbia Falls and the third for Whitefish. Kalispell and Flathead County voters rejected the review in 2004, 2014 and 2024. 

Individuals in Whitefish and Columbia Falls interested in serving on their city’s local government commission can now file to run for the commission and will be elected during the November general election. Any proposed changes that the commission develops will be placed on the ballot in November 2026 for voters to approve or deny.

Rebecca Norton, current Whitefish city councilor who served on the 2014 Whitefish local government commission, told the Beacon last month that the review was important for facilitating “an open, constant dialogue” in the resort community. 

Voters in Libby, Eureka, Troy, Polson, Ronan and Lincoln and Glacier counties also approved a local government review. 

For a full list of election results, visit the Montana secretary of state’s website. 

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