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City votes to ensure open info

| May 7, 2004 12:00 AM

By Brent Shrum, Western News Reporter

The Libby City Council on Monday adopted a policy intended to ensure that entities receiving funding from the city¹s $8 million economic development grant comply with state laws governing open meetings and the public¹s right to know.

The bulk of the policy is a restatement of the state constitution¹s right to know provision and state laws regarding open meetings and access to public documents. The policy allows the city to revoke funding if the laws are not followed.

The right to know provision in the state constitution reads, ³No person shall be deprived of the right to examine documents or to observe the deliberations of all public bodies or agencies of state government and its subdivisions, except in cases in which the demand of individual privacy clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure.²

State laws quoted in the policy elaborate on the right to know provision of the constitution and list certain exemptions allowing meetings to be closed for reasons of individual privacy or for the discussion of litigation strategies. Exemptions to the right to inspect public documents include concerns for individual privacy interests, trade secrets, and public safety or security of public facilities.

The policy also requires an entity receiving funding from the city for operating expenses to provide an accounting of moneys expended to the city on a quarterly basis.

Councilman Gary Huntsberger suggested waiting until after a May 12 joint meeting with the Libby Area Development Company ? which reviews funding requests and makes recommendations to the council ? to vote on the policy.

Councilman Doug Roll said he didn¹t see any reason not to approve the policy immediately. He said the city is responsible for how the money is spent and should be protected.

LADC member Mitch Richeal asked the council to postpone its decision until after the joint meeting.

³Because we also have something to say about this too, and we¹d like to discuss it with you guys,² he said.

Speaking from the audience, attorney Ann German said the policy is needed to protect the taxpayers as well as the city.

³This is to keep the members of the public aware and apprised, and the easier you can make this the better,² she said.

Anyone who has a problem with full disclosure doesn¹t need to ask for funding, German said.

³My concern is, who are we trying to protect here?² she said.

She urged the council to approve the policy.

³When you say you have to comply with the law in order to get money, I don¹t see who in the world can disagree with that,² she said.

Mayor Tony Berget also recommended that the council vote immediately on the policy.

Councilman Stu Crismore echoed Huntsberger¹s sentiments and suggested waiting until after meeting with the LADC to vote on the policy.

³On further comment, I just think we should work together with the others, and if we wait on this I don¹t think a week will kill us,² Crismore said after a motion to approve the policy had been made by Lee Bothman and seconded by Roll.

The motion passed 3-2, with Bothman, Roll and Walt McElmurry voting in favor and Huntsberger and Crismore voting against. Councilwoman Charlene Leckrone was not present at Monday¹s meeting.

In other business, the council:

l Received a report on a proposed farmer¹s market from Debi Davidson of the Kootenai River Development Council.

KRDC is working with Libby Revitalization Inc. on plans for the market, which would be open from 4-8 p.m. on Thursdays from early June until September. The first choice for a location is the park at the end of Mineral Avenue near the railroad station, Davidson said. She asked the council to approve closing the Mineral Avenue turnaround when the market is open.

More than 30 vendors have already committed to participating in the market, Davidson said.

³It¹s split about half and half between crafters and flower people and vegetables and things like that,² she said.

Yard sale and flea market items won¹t be allowed at the market, Davidson said. The focus will be on handcrafted items and locally grown fruits, vegetables and flowers.

The council will review the proposal and plans to take a vote at its next meeting on May 17.

l Received an update from Berget on a proposed policy governing use of city vehicles by employees. The city has received a copy of a policy in use by Great Falls, and city attorney Scott Spencer is working to modify the policy for Libby, Berget said. The Great Falls policy was recommended as a model by the Montana Municipal Insurance Authority.

l Approved a request to place crosses representing victims of asbestos-related disease at the city cemetery for the Memorial Day holiday. There will be 210 crosses this year, up from 200 last year, Les Skramstad told the council.

Skramstad said the group organizing the project would like to have the crosses in place by May 23 and leave them there for as long as possible.

³I¹d like to leave them there year-round, but that¹s kind of impossible for one reason or another,² he said.

Berget told Skramstad that the biggest concern about having the crosses in place for too long is having to mow around them. He suggested June 10 as a date by which the crosses should be removed. Skramstad said the crosses will be removed by June 3.

l Took no formal action on a request from Ace Hardware to allow the business to sell fireworks, which is prohibited by a city ordinance.

³The ordinance reads you can¹t even possess them in the city limits, period,² police Chief Clay Coker said.

Fire Chief Tom Wood told the council he is opposed to making exceptions to the ordinance.

Berget told the council it could put the issue into committee for further discussion or simply take no action. The council let the issue drop without a motion.

³I think it just died the death it deserved,² Crismore said.