Public information concerns fill watershed meeting

By: 
JENNY GESSAMAN
Reporter

The agenda read “Soccer Field – Status discussion,” but the topic led Big Spring Creek Watershed Council’s January meeting to a broader concern: access to public information.

Acting Chairman Mike Chapman started the conversation by summarizing the Lewistown City Commission’s early January meeting. Although soccer fields were discussed, he said, there had been no formal mention in the City’s meeting agenda. Teri Pepper-Daniels added to his summary.

 “At the meeting, there wasn’t a lot direct towards the progress of denying or approving a proposal, etc.,” she said. “But there were things discussed. It did tie into another issue that had been brought up at previous meetings . . . the open meeting violation possibilities.”

The comment shifted discussion to public access. Pepper-Daniel’s concern, based in getting information on the City and soccer, focused on the monthly Parks and Recreation Board meetings. She claimed the body did not always follow the requirement that meeting agendas should be posted 48 hours ahead of time.

“The other issue that correlates with that is the access to meeting minutes,” she said.

Pepper-Daniels had tried to access the body’s minutes in November.

“I was told that they do not need to file their minutes, they just need to keep them,” she said.

She detailed how she requested the Parks and Recreation Board meeting minutes, and stated she received redacted minutes that included only soccer-related notes.

Chapman acknowledged her struggles, and encouraged her to continue pushing for access.

“I understand your frustration,” he said. “I think you’re going about it the right way.”

He also encouraged everyone attending to continue being involved in the public process.

“What I have always been saying to people is if you’re concerned about soccer fields at Brewery Flats, you need to go to the Parks and Recreation Board Meetings and the City Commission meetings and express these concerns,” he said.

Ron Moody, another attendee, also chimed in.

“The problem is the way our open meeting statute is written, it’s adversarially enforced,” he said. “There’s no state institution or agency enforcing that law. It is enforced by a harmed person that is physically filing suit.”

 

In other business

• Acting Chairman Mike Chapman reported the Big Spring Creek Watershed Council finances remained the same. The group has a balance of $3,906.75, $1,495 of which is designated for the Karl Gies memorial. Duane Ferdinand added he was still owed $35 for filing the annual corporation report with the Montana Secretary of State.

• Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Fisheries Biologist Clint Smith reported the Machler Stream restoration was done. He said the project’s finishing touches, including revegetation and fencing, would be done when the ground thawed.

• Smith updated the council on the status of this year’s Community Pond Program grant applications. The FWP had not received any applications from Central Montana, and Smith had heard of only one potential project in the area, a pavilion for the Frog Ponds.

“That’s the only one I’m aware of that might go from this community,” he said.

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