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Trustees scoff at public intent and refuse to negotiate

| September 30, 2005 12:00 AM

To the Editor:

On Monday night, Sept. 19, the school board ignored the public vote and refused to sell the old high school for $100,000. In a stunning last minute offer Todd Berget offered the school district property of equal size within the city limits on top of the Friends offer of $100,000. Incredibly, the School Board asked no questions and refused to consider this huge gift, worth $350,000 if we used the school board's own un-appraised method.

This is very curious behavior for a budget-conscious school board. So we know it's not about money.

On May 3, 71 percent of those voting in the school board election voted to sell the historic Libby High School and its grounds, Parcel A. For a year Friends of Historic Libby High School had had a standing offer of $100,000, so the public knew what it was voting for. Turnout at that election was over 100 percent greater than the previous election in 2003. By anyone's standards this should be considered good for democracy.

Scoffing at the clear intent of the electorate and refusing to negotiate even at the request of their own new board member, John Herrmann, the board rammed through an illegal demolition motion. The ballot issue May 3 said nothing about demolition. I suggested they put demolition on the ballot. They refused.

What's behind this, everyone asks?

Their 'voter be damned' attitude is a factor. Many people speculate there is a secret deal for the land (casino?) Another reason is to cover the unauthorized sabotage of the building by destroying it.

On Sept. 10, 2002, I organized a tour of the old Libby High School. There were nine people, including a structural engineer and commercial electrician. As I held my breath, the engineer inspected and pronounced the building structurally sound contrary to the rumors that it was falling down. The electrician reported that it would take well over $100,000 to restore the services and wiring, which had been cut and not disconnected.

At two different public meetings I asked the school board if they ever discussed or voted on taking the service panels and other equipment out and disabling the building. The answer was no. According to the Montana Annotated Code Section 20-6-604, disposing of "surplus" public property requires a vote of the board and a resolution. If there is no record of authorization or resolution, the guy with the bolt cutters was acting as a private citizen.

The old Libby High School is a multi-million dollar asset which was in continuous use for 87 years. Everything worked when the college moved out. If the building had been leased out like McGrade School, even at $1 per square foot, the building would have brought $30,000 a year into the school district minus operating costs. It should have been publicly discussed and a resolution passed authorizing the disposition of school property before disabling a working public asset.

They did not gut the electrical system for personal gain but to sabotage the old school and make it worthless for future use or sale. That was the big ticket damage.

The thing that gets me is that the people doing this aren't from Libby and don't care about Libby. Call the school board and tell them to sell the old high school like the voters told them to.

Ron Carter