Libby’s transparency week attracts little public interest

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The City of Libby’s first “Transparency in Government” week went mostly unnoticed by residents, but it passed muster with the person whose office mandated it.

“I didn’t have any expectations, at least in the first year, as I expected the City Council to move forward in a positive way and address areas they felt would be beneficial to the community,” Jeffrey Mangan, Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, said via email.

Four annual transparency weeks were stipulated in a settlement Mangan proposed last July to close a case in which his predecessor, Jonathan Motl, determined that state campaign finance laws were violated during Libby’s 2013 mayoral election.

The case arose after Libby resident Arlen Magill filed a complaint in September 2014, originally against former City Attorney James Reintsma, alleging interference in the mayoral race between incumbent Doug Roll and Allen Olsen. After reviewing the complaint, Motl added to the defendants the City of Libby, Doug Roll and five council members.

The City Council agreed to the settlement last October to prevent Mangan’s office from pursuing further administrative or court proceedings. In doing so the City acknowledged Motl’s finding that the defendants “failed to comply with certain campaign finance and practices laws and administrative regulations,” and agreed to hold the transparency weeks, which Mangan at the time said he hoped would “assist in ensuring issues such as those that transpired do not happen again.”

The week was marked by two events organized by councilors Kristin Smith and Hugh Taylor. The first, held June 4, featured a presentation by Smith on how city government works. In addition to explaining items such as budgets and city projects, she outlined how the city’s website will soon be updated to provide meeting agendas and minutes and allow people to sign up for email announcements, among other features.

The second event, held June 7, was billed as an “Open Mic” night in which the public was invited to attend and offer suggestions for how the city could operate.

Former council member D.C. Orr was the only non-media person to attend the June 4 meeting. Orr and Libby resident Stacy Bender were the only ones to attend June 7.

Smith said that though she would like to have seen more people attend both events, she hoped the apparent lack of interest was due to residents believing the City Council was making strides.

Mangan wrote that he had been notified in advance of the events. Though he “had many thoughts and ideas” for what could have been done, he said he had “wanted this to be developed at the community level, not from Helena or my office.”

He appreciated that educational and free speech events were scheduled, and approved of the pending updates to the city’s website.

Smith said she has no ideas yet for how the council might proceed next year’s “Transparency in Government” week, but thought that council members might start planning for it farther in advance.

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