Polson citizens, tired of so many closed city government meetings, reached the point of the proverbial last straw last September. After repeated requests to be allowed to view the interviews, deliberations, and decision making in the hiring of a new city manager, citizens were shut out. A group incorporated and became Citizens for Open Government. They filed a lawsuit against the City of Polson focusing on threatened constitutional rights. Although expecting a quick ruling from district court, the case went on for months and months while MMIA (the Montana insurance company for cities) lawyers racked up their billable hours. Finally, recently elected District Court Judge James Manley heard oral arguments for summary judgment on July 18, 2014 and gave his ruling on July 30, 2014.
What a huge disappointment for the citizens. Although there is no dispute the meetings were closed and deliberations and decisions were made in secret, Judge Manley’s order is filled with falderal that somehow avoids focus on the law and greatly diminishes the public’s “right to know” and even “freedom of speech.” One of Manley’s gems of wisdom holds subjective “rules of conduct” above the rights guaranteed in our first amendment. He said, “When free speech and right to participate is taken as a green light to violate rules of conduct and insult public officials, this does not water the tree of participatory democracy.” Sadly, even if one agrees with Manley’s statement, his example of the perceived insult occurring at a city council meeting did not happen. The “official minutes” he referred to were actually amended by Councilman John Campbell to include the “insult” which Manley focused upon.
There’s more. Read Judge Manley’s order here and see how much of the nonsense you can spot:
The “Citizens” group is working on a rebuttal to Manley’s order and will provide more information when it becomes available. Your comments are welcome.