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Cascade County Commission reverses 'presiding officer' ordinance

Cascade County Commission reverses 'presiding officer' ordinance
Posted at 3:32 PM, Nov 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-11-28 19:57:34-05

GREAT FALLS — Hyperbole. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as a noun, "extravagant exaggeration."

It's a word that was frequently thrown out during Public Comment at Tuesday's Cascade County Commission meeting.

At the November 22 Work Session, District 2 Commissioner James Larson proposed Ordinance 23-01: An Ordinance Establishing Procedure in Cascade County for the Annual Selection of the Presiding Officer of the Cascade County Board of Commissioners. (Ref: Ordinance 23-01, 1st Reading, R0450515)

In an interview with MTN News, Cascade County Attorney Josh Racki explained the role of the "Presiding Officer," commonly referred to as the "Chair." He described it as "ceremonial," explaining the Commission Chair has the privilege of facilitating official meetings and other administrative duties beyond the Commission Chambers.

Current Commision Chair, Rae Grulkowski of District 3, confirmed following a second reading of Ordinance 23-01, which passed 2-1, in opposition to Grulkowski.

"In our world here, the Chair takes a hold of the meetings and we sign a few choice documents... Just like the Mayor would sign in the city. Other than that, there was no specific duties, including setting our meeting agendas."

Rae Grulkowski
Rae Grulkowski

The Cascade County Attorney's Office confirmed with MTN that County Commissioners have the ability to redraft ordinances per Montana Law. In the case of Commissioner Larson's proposal, the Cascade County Attorney's Office drafted Ordinance 23-01 per its review of state statute, confirming its legality. County Attorney Racki also shared with MTN News that Commissioners have the ability to propose new ordinances when they see fit.

Grulkowski took the opportunity to signal out her opinion that Commissioner Larson wanted to hold the position of Presiding Officer.

She maintained her position of an equal rotating schedule for the position of Chair.

"If Commissioner Larson would like the Chair, then by all means let's put an Ordinance in place and stick with it, that puts him in place next year, but assigns a rotating schedule."

At Tuesday's Second Reading of Ordinance 23-01 — the Cascade County Commission Chamber was overflowing in the gallery. Public Comment took approximately one hour and was filled with opposition towards Commissioner Grulkowski's leadership on the Commission, as well as criticism towards Commissioners Briggs' and Larson's tenure in office.

Rae Grulkowski and Joe Briggs

"I strongly support the resolution and motion on the table..." exclaimed Jasmine Taylor, a Cascade County resident. " are not being ganged up on because the math isn't working out how you want it. Just to be clear, this may be a non-partisan position, but these are three Republicans sitting right here. The fact is, you lack the leadership skills and interpersonal skills to get along with your co-workers..."

Beth Cummings, another Cascade County resident in opposition to the motion, criticized Joe Briggs' 19-year position in office.

"Briggs sets himself up again as the only beneficiary of this two year Presiding Officer term in 2021 to 2022, just as he did in 2009 and 2010. Once again, Briggs will get a lot of free media exposure, as he did in 2009 and 2010 when running for re-election..." explained Cummings. "Now, if the one year term was such a problem and they thought that the two years were better, why didn't Jim Larson, who was there, get his second year, in 2010 to 2021? The reason why, would go down to 2022. Briggs is running for re-election again and he gets more free media. He's in a prime position."

Public comment continued well after 11 a.m.

With opposition to both motions having the chance to speak, Commissioner Grulkowski and Briggs had a chance to respond to Public Comment. Grulkowski explained the role of the Chairperson, while Commissioner Briggs expressed his displeasure with misinformation. He mapped out that in his 19 year seat in the Office, he has held the Chair position seven times, and the other two Districts, six. He said that each position would need to hold the seat on one more occasion, refuting any potential motives.

Briggs also explained the entire Commission's deep ties with the Republican Party. Unsure of Grulkowski's political beliefs, he shared that Larson and Briggs have served as leaders locally and nationally with the National Federation of Pachyderm Clubs — a citizen organization promoting education through Republican government and political viewpoints.

Joe Briggs
Joe Briggs

"I would like everybody to remember, as we sit as County Commissioners, we're not here as Republicans because the vast majority of our duties are administrative and management. This is not an ideological position. This is not the legislature. I just would hope that people would remember that," said Briggs.

Commissioner's Briggs and Larson both took a stance regarding the their position on Ordinance 23-01. It passed 2-1, taking effect in January when the Commission will elect a new representative for the seat.

Grulkowski added, "We are representing you. Whether we share your views or not. Your voice is what's making this government operate properly. Thank you for attending and thank you for sharing your views."