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Commissioners balk at reappointing controversial Planning Board member

By Michael Howell

The County Commissioners balked at reappointing Planning Board Chairman Jan Wisniewski as the planning board representative from the Darby District last week. Wisniewski was the only applicant from the Darby District. Without any other comment, however, Commissioner Ron Stoltz immediately moved to reopen the request for applications for another month. With no discussion at all, the board voted 4-0 to reopen the application period.

Wisniewski’s remarks at a meeting last November between the Commissioners and representatives of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes sparked a public outcry and several requests for the Commissioners to remove him from the Planning Board.

According to unofficial minutes of the November 20 meeting, Wisniewski stated that he had made some visits to numerous counties in Montana and the Dakotas and found that Indians from different tribes come in to non-reservation areas and get drunk and then try and run back onto the reservation so they don’t get caught. He noted that the Havre jail had about 58 Indians in the jail.

He was quoted in the daily newspaper as saying that he had heard the complaints about drunken Indians filling the Havre jail from “a local law enforcement official.” That news story set off a firestorm of denial from Hill County and Blaine County law enforcement officials. Wisniewski claims that the unofficial minutes of the meeting and the newspaper report are inaccurate. He told the Bitterroot Star that it was a Hill County commissioner who made the remarks to him two years ago and that he was simply reporting those remarks. He has refused to name the official. According to the Havre Daily News, all the current Hill County commissioners deny making any such remark or ever having talked with Wisniewski.

The Ravalli County Commissioners subsequently sent a letter of apology to the Tribes about the remark. Wisniewski responded by having an attorney send a letter to the Commission stating that they have no right to render an apology for a private citizen. Wisniewski remains unapologetic for his remarks and claims that he made them as an individual and not as representative of the Planning Board. He insists that his remarks are being taken out of context and being misinterpreted.

Wisniewski stated following last week’s meeting that he believed the commissioners simply needed more time to consider the matter. He said a smear campaign had been leveled against him that has created a lot of controversy and the commissioners probably need more time to sort things out and clear things up in their own minds.

“I haven’t been reappointed at this time, but my application is still under consideration,” he said. He said that he thought he had been doing a good job on the Planning Board and would like to continue.

Commissioner Stoltz said that his motion to reopen the applications was due to the controversy and that the commission needed time to consider the matter. He said in the meantime applications would remain open if anyone else is interested in applying for the position. Commissioner Greg Chilcott, asked for his interpretation, said he believes the action speaks for itself.

The Commissioners appointed Susanna Pyron as Florence representative to the Planning Board, Bill Menager to the Hamilton seat, and Vito Ciliberti to an at-large position.

Bob Thomas was reappointed to the Ravalli County Economic Development Authority.

Appointments to the Health Board included Dr. Michael Turner, Renae Harding and Dr. William Chilcote.

Hollis Poe, Bob Cron and John Ormiston were appointed to the Park Board. Longtime Park Board member John Ormiston got a recommendation from Commissioner J.R. Iman, who serves on the board as Commission representative, and a member of the public. Iman, Burrows and Chilcott voted to reappoint him. Two commissioners, Suzy Foss and Stoltz, did cast dissenting votes but without making any comment.

Hollis Poe was also appointed to serve on the Tax Appeal Board and for an at-large position on the Open Lands Board.

Phillip Tummerello was appointed to the Right to Farm and Ranch Board.

Mathew Getz was appointed to the Veteran’s Burial Board.

Schram and Stacy Pease were appointed to the Weed Board.

The commission plans to re-advertise for three positions on the Airport Board and a position on the Salary Compensation Board as well as for the Darby position on the Planning Board.

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