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Commissioners deadlock over reduction in number of board members

By Michael Howell

With one seat on the board vacant following the resignation of Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher, the Ravalli County Commissioners deadlocked in a tie vote on the question of whether to pass an ordinance placing the reduction of the board of commissioners from five to three members on the November ballot.

The 2 to 2 vote came down last Friday with Commissioners Greg Chilcott and J.R. Iman voting in favor of placing it on the ballot and Commissioners Suzy Foss and Ron Stoltz voting against it.

Chilcott and Iman are both up for re-election in November having successfully emerged from contested primary races. They have both indicated that they are willing to serve two-year terms if elected to facilitate the reduction in the number of board members in a way that will allow for staggered terms. Currently three of the five seats expire at the same time, presenting the possibility of a turnover in the majority of the board.

Chilcott has steadfastly supported placing the issue on the ballot. He believes it is an important issue and should be considered and decided by the voters. He also believes it could save the county some money. Iman has also supported the notion of placing the issue on the ballot. Both commissioners believe that it will be placed on the ballot by citizen petition if not by the commissioners and that by taking the initiative the commission can provide the information required for the public to make an educated choice. Chilcott has been working with the County Attorney’s office on drafting the ballot language.

Both Foss and Stoltz have expressed concerns about the reduction in members. Stoltz has previously expressed his concern that if a government study commission is established in a few years, it could lead to a reversal of any change made in the next election and lead to a confusing and inefficient situation. He also advocated waiting for the fifth commissioner to be appointed as a replacement for Kanenwisher to come on board before any decision was made.

Foss has expressed concerns about the appearance that the Board of Commissioners supports the three-member option by placing it on the ballot. She is not sure that a three-member board is actually a cost saving option as it could lead to the need for hiring an administrator, perhaps a secretary as well, and possibly even lead to hiring more human resource officers. She believes that the five-member board has been an improvement and that the real workload exceeds what three board members can handle.

Chilcott said after the vote that it was not necessarily a dead issue. He said that the deadline for placing an issue on the ballot was the beginning of August.

“With another commissioner coming on board the issue could be revisited,” said Chilcott.

The commission plans to interview the three nominees for replacement to fill Kanenwisher’s vacant seat on Monday, July 9. No date has yet been set for actually making a decision on the replacement.

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