Havre Daily News
County Attorney Cyndee Peterson, acting on behalf of the Hill County commissioners, has proposed a compromise to the long and contentious debate over whether Havre or Hill County should provide enhanced-911 services to residents: Give it back to the city.
The city-county 911 board, which determines how local 911 money is spent, will meet Tuesday and may vote on the proposal.
In a March 24 e-mail to city attorney Mary VanBuskirk, Peterson and the commissioners proposed that the board re-adopt a 2002 decision that located the primary e-911 call center at the Havre Police Department and make the Hill County Detention Center a backup.
Citing costs, the board voted in January to reverse that decision and make the county jail the primary center and the police station a backup, prompting city members of the committee to abruptly leave the meeting. The city and county have since begun the process of submitting separate e-911 plans to the state.
In addition, the proposal states that the board would agree not to revisit the issue of the primary call center's location for a minimum of five years.
Havre Police Chief Mike Barthel said Tuesday he is pleased with the proposal.
"Personally, I think that is a move in the right direction. That is what the city has been asking for all along, that they go back to the 2002 plan," Barthel said. Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera, who chairs the 911 board, declined to comment.
Other members of the board are county sanitarian Clay Vincent, County Commissioner Mike Anderson, Havre Mayor Bob Rice, Barthel, Havre Fire Chief Dave Sheppard and Bear Paw Volunteer Fire Chief Gary Gregoire.
Vincent would not comment on how he will vote on the proposal, but said he has some concerns about it.
"We'll make it a democratic decision," Vincent said. "If the board votes that way, then that's the way we'll go with it."
State 911 program manager Becky Berger said today that the state has already approved the 2002 plan, which would connect the police station and county jail via a microwave transmission.
"If they revert to the 2002 plan, we have approved that plan," she said. "There is no problem with it."
Anderson said Tuesday that he did not want to comment on how he would vote next week, but said the commissioners forwarded the proposal in the interests of all residents.
"This would be our recommendation," Anderson said. "In considering everything that has happened, this is the best compromise that we see as available for the citizens of Hill County."
Rice, Sheppard and Gregoire could not be reached for comment.
County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said a meeting was held on March 24 at which the commissioners decided to forward the proposal to the city. The commissioners, Peterson and Szudera were present at the meeting, which occurred after an earlier meeting with city officials regarding mediation on e-911 had been adjourned.
Kaercher and Anderson said the meeting was open to the public, but no public notice was given. They both said they didn't think notice was necessary because no decision was made.
"The commissioners aren't making this decision," Anderson said. "Whether or not the 911 board looks at it, we have no control over."
"We have no right to make any decision. We just put a proposal forward for the consideration of the 911 committee," Kaercher said.
Freedom of Information Hotline lawyer Mike Meloy said the press and public should have been given notice of the meeting.
"It doesn't make any difference on whether they're going to take an action or not," Meloy said today. "The Montana Supreme Court has said that if you don't notice a meeting ... that's just as closed as if you shut the door."
A Havre Daily News reporter had attended the earlier meeting held by the commissioners on e-911.
"They should have just called the reporter and said, 'We're going to talk about this some more. Come on over,'" Meloy said. "It would have been very simple for them."
After the county commissioners agreed to submit the compromise plan to the e-911 board, local officials declined to discuss it.
The Havre Police Department issued a press release Friday announcing next week's meeting of the 911 board, and Barthel confirmed Monday that an agreement had been reached between the city and county attorneys. But he and other city and county officials declined to comment about its contents. However, Peterson released the written agreement, which is a public document under state law, when reached for comment by the Havre Daily News on Tuesday.