By Larry Kline/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Anyone who has attended a meeting of the Havre City Council knows Charlie Grant. He's the fellow who rises and speaks his mind at any given opportunity. Often, his comments are a criticism of how city government operates. Council members agree that he has an effect on their meetings, but have varying opinions on whether it's a positive or negative one.
As for Grant, he says he's fulfilling his duty.
"It's part of my duty as an American citizen," Grant said. "The survival of our government depends on people taking part in things. I believe it's our job to make sure our government is doing its job and is open."
Grant, 64, was born and raised in Havre. He began attending city government meetings in 2000.
Council member Tom Farnham said he appreciates seeing residents getting involved with city government but thinks Grant has had a negative effect on meetings.
"He has some good ideas, and it's nice to see people involved in the community, but there are a lot of people who would like to go to council but they get embarrassed when he just starts yelling at them," Farnham said. "A person that just likes to talk to have himself be heard doesn't do much for anyone."
"Those people aren't intimidated and I'm not abrasive," Grant said.
He said he has to be "outspoken" in order to be heard.
Council member Pam Hillery said she thinks Grant contributes in a positive manner.
"No one likes to sit and be criticized," Hillery said. "God knows, I've had some words with Charlie, but that's what open government is all about. I think Charlie has a very good grasp of the importance of citizen involvement. I think his delivery sometimes sets people on edge. Some of the things he tells us, we need to hear."
One of Grant's criticisms is that the public is not provided with enough information about what the council discusses at its meetings.
"We as the public cannot make a decision on government functions unless we're provided with information," he said.
Hillery said she agrees with Grant on that point.
"I think it's a very legitimate criticism," she said. "It's important to allow the public to know what's going on."
Hillery said she thinks the situation has gotten better recently.
Grant said the council does not follow the proper procedures that govern how a meeting is conducted and when the public can speak.
Farnham said the council follows the same policies and procedures that are followed by governments across the state.
Grant has other criticisms of city government.
"The way their money is spent, there's no oversight on that," he said. "The way they've handled the Heritage Center, it had very poor results. There wasn't any input on that. They have a beautiful building sitting there empty. The handling of the skateboard park wasn't monitored by City Council."
Grant serves as the treasurer of the Havre Skateboarding Association. He said he thought it was his "civic duty" to get involved in the project. It was also a good way to get to know the young people of Havre, he said.
Council member Allen "Woody" Woodwick said Grant was "instrumental" in getting the park built, but said he has a mixed opinion of Grant's effect on City Council meetings.
"Everyone has a right to speak, and we should be listening to everyone," Woodwick said. "Sometimes he can be annoying to some people, but other times he makes some very valid points."
Council member Terry Schend said Grant has a negative effect on council meetings.
"Most of his comments are all self-serving," Schend said. "Any time anyone comes to a council meeting and wants to bring up something, he attacks them and their position. Even when a speaker would come in from out of town, he would have to put up with Mr. Grant."
Council member Emily Mayer Lossing said Grant forces city officials to think about issues differently.
"Sometimes he'll get a little on the edge, but Charlie forces us to stop and look at a different angle," she said. "I don't think that's ever a negative effect on an organization."
She noted that Grant has voiced concern about the nitrate levels in a water well at Pepin Park. The city no longer uses wells for drinking water, but it could be an issue in the future, she said.
"It kind of makes you wonder what we need to do to fix them if they're fixable," she said. "It isn't something we normally think about. He brings that perspective to City Council.
"I don't always agree with Charlie, but he needs to be commended for the fact that he's a tax-paying citizen who is involved with City Council. I think he's doing what he needs to do as a citizen."