Seeley Swan Pathfinder -

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By Nathan Bourne

Editor's Note


by Nathan Bourne


I enjoy my job covering public meetings for the most part. However, I didn’t walk into last week’s sewer board meeting expecting to enjoy it. And I didn’t enjoy it. Though I won’t speak for everyone else in attendance, I’m sure no one else there enjoyed it either.

I do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions. I talk to and listen to a lot of people. I read a lot of meeting minutes and listen to a lot of meeting recordings.

It doesn’t matter what kind of meeting I am going to, generally I am well prepared to ask questions, hard questions. I feel it’s my job and a service to readers of the Pathfinder who can’t be at the meetings.

I’d bet that all the various public boards, councils and officials holding public meetings at times feel like the Pathfinder and I are against them. Heck, sometimes I even feel like it with some of the things I ask. I’m not against anyone; it’s just that some questions need to be asked.

The same goes for what I print. I don’t print only the things I agree with or only the things a board or council agrees with. I print what happened at the meeting. It makes no difference if it’s something positive like our sewer board acquiring the largest grant and funding package Rural Development has ever awarded in Montana or something negative like the engineering estimate for the sewer going up $2 million. It’s my job to print it, unfiltered.

I go where my research takes me. Today, for instance, I have been pouring over the sewer bond election results, the voter registration list and the district’s tax assessment rolls. The board feels the election was flawed and I want to see if there is evidence that supports the claim. I don’t know where the research will take me but it doesn’t matter, our readers will learn what I learn.

Will it be for or against the board? Today it’s a little of each.

On one hand, the argument that family trusts didn’t get to vote because the elections office and the Pathfinder printed that “trusts” couldn’t vote doesn’t have much supporting evidence. In the information I reviewed, nearly all the family trusts had representation by trustees who registered and voted.

On the other hand, were there people who voted that shouldn’t have? That argument absolutely has evidence supporting it. I called and talked to a voter who shouldn’t have received a ballot. I don’t have time to call the other handful I suspect received ballots in error. I will leave that up to the elections office or board to figure out if it’s worth digging into further.

Research takes a lot of time and there is always something left unturned. I couldn’t figure out how to see if there were people who should have received ballots but didn’t and I don’t have time to see how many properties are owned by corporations whose owners didn’t get to vote at all because they live outside the district.

I really do enjoy the research part. It makes up for the rough meeting this week and I always learn tidbits along the way that never make the paper. This week’s tidbit is that people convicted of felonies can vote in Montana after they are done serving their time in prison, even if they are still on probation or parole. There are a few other things you can do to lose your voting rights other than being locked up. Look it up for yourself and ask the county elections administrator if you have any questions.

On another note about getting personal. When a board member kicks a pile of bones during a meeting while touring the proposed sewer route, looks at me and asks, “Is this a dead newspaperman?” I know I’m doing my job that day. When they kick the next pile of bones and ask me if it’s a dead relative it makes me sad. Sad that while I am trying to do my job the best I can, and I know they are trying to do their job the best they can, people make it personal.

It was frustrating at last week’s sewer board meeting to learn that the board members have been on the receiving end of verbal attacks that often got personal. For the last several months leading up to the bond election the attacks have been more frequent. It’s especially frustrating to hear that their families had to experience abuse as well.

They are only people, like you and me. They are just doing their job the best they know how. You don’t have to agree with them but come to their meetings and tell them about it or show your displeasure with your vote. Don’t make it personal.


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