In this crazy time of turmoil and profound confusion it only makes sense to strip away a few of the common Joe’s civil liberties. But now even our elected officials are losing their freedoms. Did you know that even the governor can’t ban lobbyists from her office? It’s true! And were you aware that mayors aren’t allowed to take reporters’ notes after interviews and tear them in half? Sadly, this also is true. And what’s even worse is that Stevensville Mayor Pat Groninger is facing a recall effort that, if successful, would abridge his freedom to destroy other people’s property.

Stevensville residents are now working on their third effort to recall Groninger (the first two attempts were disqualified due to irregular margins and wrong-sized paper). The latest recall petition focuses on Groninger’s destruction of Bitterroot Star reporter Michael Howell’s notes (Howell and two witnesses have signed sworn statements detailing the incident). Groninger doesn’t deny taking the notes, tearing them in half and putting them in the trash, but he denies that his actions were violent or threatening.

“There was nothing hostile about it, there was no raising of the voice,” he says. “The whole story is that I asked him politely after I gave him somewhat of a statement, ‘Can I just proofread that before you print it?’ And he abruptly and rudely told me, ‘No, it’s none of your business.’”

Groninger also points out that this happened last summer, and Howell didn’t seem to have a problem with it then.

Groninger says it’s a mere half a dozen people behind the recall efforts and says that their campaign is “hateful, deceitful and unbelievable.”

Maybe petition-organizer Mark Adams is being humble, or maybe he has an abnormal idea of what’s exciting, but Adams says: “There is no real story. From my point [of view], we’re just gathering signatures, so there is nothing really exciting about that. It’s kind of drudgery.”

All in all, various recall petitions have alleged official misconduct, criminal mischief, theft, assault and sexual harassment. The mayor says that all the accusations are false, and that he has no plans to leave office.

•••

Maybe now the Bush administration will finally stop bitching about environmental groups gumming up its healthy forest initiative with lawsuits. A team of researchers at Northern Arizona University (NAU) has just released a study on the people and groups who appeal U.S. Forest Service projects. And holy shit…It’s not just those litigious-minded folks over at the Ecology Center (although they have made 236 appeals, according to the research).

Of the 3,635 Forest Service project appeals filed nationwide from Jan. 1, 1997 through Sept. 30, 2002, a full 35 percent were filed by individuals, not groups. NAU political science professor Jacqueline Vaughn says that a great many of those individual appeals were submitted by ranch owners unhappy with grazing allotments.

“Oftentimes the rhetoric has been couched in terms of timber sales or timber projects,” she says. “[The project] has pointed out that appeals are used by a wide variety of appellates that include timber companies, state and local governments, tribal groups, recreational users, and not just environmental groups.”

The Bush administration and its industrial parrots have moaned and groaned about environmentalists and their frivolous lawsuits without any backing data about who is actually filing the majority of appeals, whether or not appeals are increasing (they aren’t), and if appeals are even slowing projects (yet to be determined). Vaughn says that prior to the study, such administration claims were nothing but anecdotal.

It’d be nice if we could call Bush on his faulty logic and overblown rhetoric, but it’s hard to nail a guy that’ll bomb a whole country based on anecdotal evidence.

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