Crying secession

By now Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss is tired of answering questions about the Swan Valley Preservation Group's attempts to secede from Missoula County. Until they have a signed petition, she says, "we aren't taking it too serious."

"Through Rural Initiatives, we know there's been conversation about whether [secession] is going to be a topic of discussion at the community council meeting," Curtiss says. "But it's really a handful of people that won't give up."

The Swan Valley Preservation Group, under the leadership of Ken Donovan, made a faint ripple in local media in April by announcing its desire for Condon to secede from Missoula County and join Lake County. The issue was raised again at a meeting last week.

Mike Holmes, Swan Valley Community Council chairman, agrees with Curtiss that the situation has been overstated. He has yet to see the petition that the group planned to make public this fall. Donovan says a draft of the petition will be circulated once tax revenue information is provided by the state.

"They plan to get it on the 2010 ballot," Holmes says, but "it's by far not the majority."

Holmes and Curtiss refute the group's claim that Lake County officials welcomed the idea with open arms. And while the secession group lists a number of grievances–mainly the rigor of building codes–with the way Missoula County operates, Curtiss credits the sudden initiative to a much simpler factor: fear.

"In the last year, we've noticed so much more of this disgruntled citizenry," Curtiss says. "Nothing's really changed. Missoula County is offering the same services, we haven't really raised taxes, we aren't doing anything new. Looking back at it, it looks like it ties to the election."

Curtiss has heard whispers of similar secessionist sentiment from pockets in Seeley Lake and even Pattee Creek. As for the situation in Condon, where Curtiss has both family and a private cabin, she can't say she's surprised.

"The funny thing is, the two ringleaders of the whole thing moved there from Lake County a few years back," Curtiss says. "If it was so wonderful in Lake County, all they have to do is move a few miles down the road."

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