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It’s Secrets Week here in Montana. You know, like when the History Channel would host themed weeks, but then every show somehow involved Hitler? Where did they get all that Fuhrer reel anyway? It’s a secret.

Somebody out there knows a secret about Anthony St. Dennis, the local teen accused of stomping out transient Forrest Clayton Salcido last December, but whoever it is has a secret of his own. In the ever-mutating homicide case, public defenders Chris Daly and Paulette Ferguson find themselves battling over immunity for Witness X, a young man they say can challenge police accounts of the incident. The rub is he wants his sins forgiven first.

Prosecutors protest that the immunity request contains almost no information about who Witness X is, what information he can offer and, most importantly, what he did. For example, what if an immune Witness X actually took part in the alleged murder? Talk about a secret.

Constantly watched by legions of antagonistic, attention-to-detail seniors, it’s pretty hard for the Frenchtown Rural Fire Department board members to keep secrets, but they’re still trying. At an Aug. 11 meeting riddled with small controversies, the public wondered why the board sneakily hired private attorneys to settle a labor dispute when it has free use of the County Attorney’s office. At least one board member contacted Phillips Law Firm last month, prompting a bill for $592.50 to land on the agency’s monthly expense report.

The charge almost snuck by with wholesale list approval, before trustee Tom Mahlum blew the whistle. A few older folks saw the incongruities with public records law faster than you can say, “I’d like to buy a vowel.” Can elected officials spend taxpayer money without due process? Survey says, “No.”

Beyond what’s going on in Bonner (see “Riverside theater,” page 8) the state looks like it might have other secrets in its canopy. Former Indy staffer and Great Falls Tribune  reporter John S. Adams sliced one loose with an Aug. 10 report that, like the U.S. Forest Service, the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Resource Conservation also engaged in some closed-door talks with BNSF real estate trust Plum Creek. The company wants to expand its logging road easements. Why? Well, that’s not really a secret—developers aren’t keen on buying land the public can’t access.

As far as the Forest Service deal goes, Missoula County officials announced late last week the federal agency’s response to their public records request looked pretty light.

Secrets, secrets and more secrets. Just to fit in, we had to draft this column behind a bush. And, whatever else happened back there, we’re not telling you.
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