Saturday, June 03, 2023

CAG considers ideas for future

by Canda Harbaugh & Western News
| June 30, 2009 12:00 AM

The Community Advisory Group took a timeout Thursday from its usual discussion of asbestos cleanup and health care to engage in a candid dialogue about how the group can draw in the community and work more efficiently.

“The audience will come,” said attendee Jerry Hersman, “if there are enough people in the front that they respect and that are getting things done.”

The group – five board members and two attendees – came up with ideas to bring to next month’s meeting with Virginia Tribe, a professional facilitator out of Missoula. The EPA agreed to hire Tribe temporarily to help whip the CAG into shape and to train a new permanent facilitator before Tribe retires in the fall.

With only a handful of board members and attendees going to meetings, the withdrawal of the EPA’s involvement and no facilitator, leader or structure, dedicated CAG members decided that it was time to initiate change.

One CAG member said Thursday that he didn’t consider the meeting about “re-organization” of the group, but a “re-start” or “revitalization.”

With pen and paper, CAG member Bill Patten, chief executive officer for St. John’s Lutheran Hospital, jotted notes and kept the board on track.

“We need to talk about motions or how decisions are made, length of discussion, what is the requirement to be on the CAG, how the agenda is developed and enforced – what else?” Patten asked the group midway through the meeting.

The CAG has in past years allowed the public to chime in on discussion throughout the meeting, so that even when there is an agenda, the items might not be discussed until an hour through the meeting. Sometimes the CAG spent the entire meeting on one subject and didn’t make any sort of decisions or headway.

The informal format “ran people off,” said Leroy Thom, CAG member and chairman of the Technical Advisory Group. “The reason I quit coming (to meetings) in October was because for two meetings in a row, an hour-and-a-half was dominated by two people.”

Besides adopting a more formal city council format, with public discussion at the end and an agenda that is followed, CAG members discussed ways to encourage EPA participation.

One idea was to have questions prepared for EPA officials before the meeting to give them ample time for research and an obligation to attend the meeting.

“If we want EPA to come, we need to come up with good solid questions for them,” said CAG member Kirby Maki, superintendent of Libby public schools.

Another talking point was how to improve communication between the CAG and other community groups, such as the TAG, Operations and Maintenance group, County Health Board, Healthy Communities and others.

Patten suggested a quarterly meeting to keep in touch with the groups. CAG member and Libby councilman D.C. Orr agreed.

“If this community is going to speak with one voice,” Orr said, “we’ve got to speak to each other first.”

Since the CAG began nine years ago, its mission has been to serve as a conduit for communication between the community and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The CAG seemed to unravel as community involvement declined through the years, the EPA quit participating in meetings in February and CAG’s longtime facilitator, Gerald Mueller, resigned his post shortly afterward.