As most local folks in Cascade County are now aware, former Cascade County Sheriff’s Office undersheriff John Stevens has been charged with felony theft related to public property, firearms, he allegedly absconded from the sheriffs office and traded for a four wheeler.
Of course Stevens is presumed innocent unless proven otherwise.
I would like to focus on something other than the details of this particular story and look at a broader issue and some possible lessons we can learn here.
We often wonder why Great Falls/Cascade County seems to be struggling to remain stagnant while other state and regional cities are growing and prospering.
I have long maintained that part of the reason for our economic and cultural stupor is a general anti-business and development attitude, and policies that go along with that from our local public officials.
But another factor contributing to our failure to progress and grow here is a longtime culture of cronyism and a lack of transparency as it relates to public officials and employees and the processes involved in our local government and public institutions.
- For years, maybe decades, there were major conflicts of interest in the Great Falls city commission and city advisory boards surrounding the Community Development Block Grant money allocation. The public knew little if anything about these shenanigans until very recently and only because citizens starting speaking up and demanding change.
- The Great Falls Public School District covered up the theft of public property by a district employee several years ago and also tried to sweep some very disturbing rape allegations at Great Falls High School under the rug. (I’m told to stay tuned for a more detailed reference to the rape allegation in an upcoming piece.)
- Remember Electric City Power? The details of that fiasco and the incompetence and possible dirty dealings of those involved with it were largely unknown to the general public until it was too late.
- Even now there are lots of questions about how transparent Cascade County officials have been in the Madison Food Park (slaughterhouse) development.
Okay, now for the good news – I am very impressed with Sheriff Jesse Slaughter and Undersheriff Cory Reeves and how they have conducted the peoples business over the last 3 months. As soon as the states DCI investigation into Stevens, and possibly others, was concluded Sheriff Slaughter sent out a press release and conducted a press conference fully open to the public with the details.
The law enforcement community is a very tight knit group and they take care of their own, sometimes possibly at the expense of honesty, transparency and fairness.
How easy it would have been for Slaughter to minimize and try to cover up, as much as possible, the charges against a fellow law enforcement officer. But he didn’t.
Back during the 2018 campaign for sheriff, Slaughter and Reeves reached out to me and asked to meet for a cup of coffee. I was a little surprised by the invitation and asked why. I was told that since I am known as a vocal opponent of the local good ol’ boys & gals club they wanted to assure me that they were running on a platform of transparency and zero tolerance for cronyism.
So far so good in my opinion. I hope the example being set by the new sheriff and his administration will be an example and the start of a new way of doing business in Cascade County and Great Falls.