Large numbers of Richland County people have given public comment about closure of MDU’s Lewis and Clark Station at Sidney. We did this four times to MDU and three times to the Public Service Commission. Richland County Commissioners have filed written public comment. With a few precious exceptions such as PSC Commissioner Randy Pinocci, we have been speaking to people who have plugged their ears. One PSC commissioner has even complained about us being allowed to appear before them.
Public comment is good, but we need to take further steps. With public comment alone, all they do is go through the motions of listening, wait us out at meetings, and go back to Bismarck and Helena as if they never heard a word.
We packed the council chambers at Sidney City Hall on April 25, 2019 when the PSC Commissioner for our district, Randy Pinocci, held a public comment hearing.
We packed the meeting hall of the ag experiment station on July 15, 2019 when MDU hosted a meeting.
County Commissioner Duane Mitchell developed several questions to be addressed by the PSC. Commissioners Loren H. Young and Shane Gorder worked with Mitchell on a unanimous set of questions. As a united Commission, they sent the questions in a letter to the PSC. Their letter resulted in a public comment hearing in Helena on October 29, 2019. We packed the room. It was literally standing room only with more of the crowd spilling through the doorway and into the hall.
Commissioner Pinnocci held another public comment hearing at the Richland County Event Center on February 25, 2020. We provided comment for about three hours. This meeting even drew a candidate for the PSC from a different district, Representative Daniel Zolnikov, House District 47, representing Billing, who commented supporting Richland County.
What has all this voluminous public comment changed? Nothing. Why not? Because they have plugged their ears.
In emails on September 12 and 13, 2019, Public Service Commissioner Roger Koopman complained about us being allowed to appear and give public comment on the letter from our County Commissioners. He zeroed in on the fact that others, like MDU, are parties to their case before the PSC, but none of us in Richland County were parties. As Americans and Montanans, we have the right to citizen participation in the operation of governmental agencies. We have the right to open government, not a closed government denying public comment, not a government complaining about public comment, and not a government of plugged ears.
The complaint by Commissioner Koopman exhibits a profound lack of understanding of basic American civics that every 4-H kid, every Girl Scout, and every graduate of 8th grade knows. He should withdraw from participating in any further proceedings involving Richland County.
We can thank Commissioner Koopman for one thing. He showed us that we need to do something more than give public comment. He made a sharp distinction between public comment by non-parties on the one hand and participation by intervening parties on the other. That is what we need to do. Various parties in Richland County need to intervene as parties in MDU cases to use the rights of parties to obtain real and complete information, to make our case, and clean the wax out of the ears.
The hearing on February 25, 2020 ended on an excellent note when James Brower was on a roll laying out what we need to do and likening this struggle with the struggle of Richland County during the irrigation case in federal court. On all counts, James is correct.
Our sons, Leif and Cedric, perform a repertoire fur trade era and other 19th century music. They dress in period-appropriate clothing and play on era-authentic guitar, banjo, bones, and other instruments. Between songs they give spoken historical explanations. They perform as Eric and Arty of the Upper Missouri.
This takes them to a variety of venues where the history of those eras is being preserved and re-enacted. In one instance, western artist C. Michael Dudash was present for an informal evening around a campfire. He made Leif the subject of a new work of art, titled "Six Stringer." The work is oil on linen, 16" h x 12" w, dated 2/9/17.
The March-April 2019 issue of Art of the West features it on the cover. Dudash says, page 9,
As a lifelong musician -- guitar, piano, mandolin -- it's only natural that paintings of pickers and players would be of special interest to me. The banjo is one of the truly original American instruments and comes with either four, five, or six strings and is strummed and played in several different ways. The six string is probably the rarest. I've seen only a couple in my day, and I actually had one several years back. I tuned it like a guitar. Painting old timers by campfire light is always challenging, but loads of fun."
The cover story by Sara Gilbert Frederick is about Dudash, titled "I’ll Never Retire; I’ll Always Paint."
Debra Gilbert, Disaster and Emergency Services Coordinator, and I were privileged to be presenters at the Emergency Management Forum in Helena at the beginning of this month.
The Forum is organized by the Montana Department of Military Affairs, Disaster and Emergency Services Division. It brings together people working in a wide variety of organizations and roles to provide disaster and emergency services. There were people from all across Montana, from state agencies, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, from the North Dakota DES, from private relief agencies, and from industry.
The Forum was held for 3 days. Debra and I presented on Day 2. The theme of that day was Mutual Aid. I presented a paper that I wrote for the Forum titled, “Guide to Montana Mutual Aid Statutes .” Montana has over a dozen mutual aid statutes, and this has been a source for confusion and obstacles in achieving mutual aid during disasters and emergencies. My presentation surveyed the many statutes and simplified the process of using the right statute in the right way to make mutual aid happen.
Debra led a panel discussion on mutual aid, “Neighbors Helping Neighbors.” The discussion was of a very practical, rubber-meets-the-road nature and engaged the Forum with actual real-world examples. The session was especially helpful because, like so many when they first take on DES positions in county government, at first she says she had little idea what she was supposed to do. She charted a course for digging in, discovering the role, forming networks, and making mutual aid happen.
Unlike many such meetings, this Forum was productive in that we accumulated a list of action points and projects to pursue. Debra and I are working on interstate mutual aid agreement templates which can be so important to our own county because we are right on the border with North Dakota. We also learned the value of assembling an inventory of disaster and emergency assets for ourselves and to share with neighboring counties and the state DES.
Richland County asked the Montana Association of Counties to prepare a bill for the 2019 Montana Legislature to provide specific relief from land use regulation.
The bill gives county commissioners discretion to lift restrictive agricultural covenants from land that is leaving agricultural use but is going into a public use.
A law like this recently would have saved our rural electric cooperative over $80,000 in useless and time-consuming subdivision regulation studies. Since the cooperative will be using the land for an electrical substation to serve the residents of our county, there really was no reason for an expensive study of drinking water and sewer regulations. With this law, when local county commissioners can see that the regulations are useless, expensive, and a waste of time, they will be able to lift the restrictions.
In the photograph above, standing on the right is Loren H. Young, Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, at the bill signing with the Governor of the State of Montana.
Testifying for local discretion and entitlements before the Montana legislature; and working for local infrastructure
During a visit to the Montana State Capitol to testify before committees of the Montana House of Representatives and work on legislation with the Montana Infrastructure Coalition. Our Commissioner, Shane Gorder, is the Chair of the Coalition.
Pictured from left to right, Mayor Rick Norby, Craig Steinbeisser, Tom Halvorson, Representative Joel Krauter, Commissioner Shane Gorder, City Clerk Jessica Redfield, and Commissioner Loren Young.
Commissioners Gorder and Young and I had the opportunity to support a bill that would let the county commissioners lift restrictive agricultural covenants from land that is leaving agricultural use, but is going into a public use. A law like this recently would have saved our rural electric cooperative over $80,000 in useless subdivision regulation studies. Since the cooperative will be using the land for an electrical substation to serve the residents of our county, there really was no reason for an expensive study of drinking water and sewer regulations. This bill was drafted by the Montana Association of Counties at the request of the Board of County Commissioners of Richland County.
I had the opportunity to defend the local government entitlement share from being raided to enable continued mismanagement and wasteful overspending the state Office of Public Defender. The Montana Association of Counties had about 70 members in attendance. Its Executive Director, Eric Bryson, spoke against the raid, as did many county commissioners from around the state. From my experience in criminal defense for 23 years, with 5.5 of those years as local public defender by contract with the county, and 18 years as deputy county attorney prosecuting crimes, and seeing what has happened with the Office of Public Defender, I was able to add information to the hearing that no other witness was in a position to provide. This all was a stroke of luck because the matter popped up like a jack-in-a-box without notice, and we happened to be in Helena for the Midwinter Conference of the Montana Association of Counties.
We also had the pleasure of seeing former Representative Bob Gilbert and his wife Dee, of Sidney. Bob was appearing before several committees providing information on various bills.
During that same trip to Helena, I had the opportunity to meet with the subdivision bureau chief, engineer, and bureau attorney of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality working on issues for Richland County.
A painting of our son, Leif Eric Halvorson aka Eric of the Upper Missouri is the subject of the forthcoming cover of Art of the West magazine for March/April 2019.
The cover reproduces an original painting by C. Michael Dudash titled, "Six Stringer." For this study, Dudash used his live observations of Eric rendering authentic Fur Trade Era and other early songs accompanied on period-appropriate banjo. The original is an oil on linen work 16" h x 12" w, completed on February 9, 2017.
The magazine announced the forthcoming cover on Facebook here. You can see much more from Art of the West at its website here.
My daughter-in-law’s sister has become quite an artist.
While participating in the Fort Union Muzzleloaders Bunny Hunt, my son, Leif Halvorson aka Eric of the Upper Missouri, took a photo of me at the fire. He sent it to Jaci Moos, and Jaci used it as inspiration to paint a picture that Leif gave me for Christmas.
Above is an image showing the photo and the painting.
Jaci can be reached on Facebook here, and by email here. Jaci is the daughter of Lee and Jill Miller of Sidney, Montana, and the sister of Kim Miller Halvorson of Sidney, Montana.
One of the impressive memories of youth is the men of the church bagging candy, nuts, and fruit to give to the children following the Children’s Christmas Program.
Ours was a large congregation. My grade had 68 kids. Multiply that by ages from 3 to high school seniors, that is a lot of bags, a lot of candy, a lot of nuts, and a lot of fruit. It took some acreage to lay out the work. It took an organized effort of quite a few men. A project that size hardly could be done in secret or under the radar.
Kids saw the preparations and work of the men. After the program, it was from the hand of the men that the kids received their treats.
In no way is this to diminish the role of women. But the women usually do things for children without having to be specially prodded to do it. Seemingly, these days, men lack the self-starting attribute to do these kindnesses that help Christmas show that our Savior really has come. But that has been true in the past, too. In fact, one of the reasons God sent John the Baptist was to change that.
In the prophesy that John the Baptist would come to prepare the way of our Lord, Malachi says (4:6):
And he will turn
The hearts of the fathers to the children,
And the hearts of the children to their fathers,
Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.
And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
Men, we all can be like John the Baptist, preparing the way of the Lord. Let’s turn our hearts to the children. There are many, simple, low-effort ways to have a major impact. Get a book of Advent and Christmas stories and read one a day to children. That’s it. Just read it. Nothing more to it. But believe that, not because of you or any talent you would have to acquire, but because of the content of the stories, that would leave a mark for the better. Bag candy for children. Give candy to children in the Name of the Lord.
Children already know – no one has to tell them – that the world is agonizing in sin. When you do such a kindness and by it point to Christ, they will know it came from Christ through you. Kids get things that are hard for adults, but easy for them. Do an easy Christmas kindness, and give a kid a chance to get an easy Christmas message, that you, a man, have a heart from Christ for the children, a sign that Jesus loves them.
Art Of The West
China Virus Disease
Church And State
C Michael Dudash
Disaster And Emergency Services
Environmental Quality Council
Eric And Artie Of The Upper Missouri
Eric Of The Upper Missouri
Fort Union Muzzleloaders
Lewis & Clark Station
Loren H. Young
Montana Association Of Counties
Montana Dakota Utilities
Montana Infrastructure Coalition
Public Service Commission
Richland County Commissioners