Ravalli County commissioners hired Dan Klepper last spring to be their chief administrative officer. After six months of observation, Klepper made two major recommendations—combine the offices of planning and sanitation under one administrator and shift both the finance department (accounting, etc.) and information services (computers) to his direct supervision. The county commissioners were faced with making a decision to approve or reject his proposals.
The suggestions reaped a whirlwind of controversy and anger inside the county courthouse and outside in the general community, with everyone from activist groups to state legislators becoming involved.
When the proposals were officially reviewed last week, county planning director Tim Schwecke resigned, saying he had been “blindsided” by the realignment proposals and that he could not work under the direction of the county sanitarian. Many members of Bitterrooters for Planning and other groups attended that meeting and argued against any consolidation of the departments. The commissioners delayed a decision on the proposals until Tuesday to allow additional public comment.
After an emotion-filled two hours of testimony, Commissioner Alan Thompson said he had listened to public comment, which was obviously opposed to the plan, and he made a motion to not combine the two offices. His motion was seconded by Commissioner Smut Warren and it passed immediately.
Tuesday’s meeting also drew many people in support of Ravalli County Clerk and Recorder Betty Lund and Treasurer Mary Kay Browning. The two elected officials had been called into question concerning more than $1 million in uncollected back taxes. Klepper’s recommendation included reports that state law was not being followed by either office in regard to tax collection.
In a lengthy prepared statement, Lund refuted Klepper’s proposal and said she believed the offices should be left under her supervision. She also said the Montana state tax collection codes are “archaic” and that, in a survey, she could find no counties in the state enforcing them.
Testimony at the meeting was acrimonious and—often—personal. At the end of three hours, the commissioners decided to take another week to consider alternatives to Klepper’s proposal.
“It’s their decision,” Klepper said. “I make recommendations but they have to decide what to do.”