When recently elected Ravalli County Commissioner Kathleen Driscoll abstained from a split vote on a proposal to reopen the Lost Horse Quarry in the Bitterroot National Forest last summer, she decided she needed more information before she could make a decision. She never imagined that her desire for information would open a can of worms over the role of elected officials.
Last summer the Ravalli County Road and Bridge Department said it needed to reopen the quarry to mine chip seal aggregate. The department estimated that the mining could be done for about $11.25 per ton.
But Driscoll, who won her first elective office last spring, wasn’t so sure, so she spent the next four months researching the costs of buying the needed aggregate compared to having the county mine it.
“I think you do have to do spot checks sometimes before you make a decision,” Driscoll tells the Independent. “I didn’t think I would go to the depths that I did.”
After extensively researching and consulting with local contractors, Driscoll found that mining, crushing and transporting the material would actually cost closer to $24 per ton, while the material could be purchased from private contractors in the valley for under $14 per ton, she said.
But when she presented her findings to fellow commissioners earlier this month, not everyone thanked her for her hard work.
Commissioner Alan Thompson saw Driscoll’s extracurricular research project as an attempt to discredit the road department.
“My problem with it is fundamentally something different,” Thompson said, according to a transcript of the Oct. 17 road department meeting. “The road department has a set of numbers and you have done some research, quite a bit of research, and come up with different numbers. It seems that there was a try to discredit one particular department, maybe embarrass that department. I don’t know.”
Driscoll wholeheartedly denies that claim. She says she saw it as her duty as an elected representative to understand the issue and its potential impacts on the county budget before she voted.
“When people say, ‘You know, the road department knows all this stuff and they’re the experts,’ well, that’s true, but sometimes someone else may have a different perspective,” she says.