An Unbiased Zoning Board Of Adjustments

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Cascade County Courthouse/Creative Commons

This week, the Cascade County Commission requested a list of anyone who has submitted a letter during the public comment period (or who has made a public comment regarding the Madison Food Park Slaughterhouse) as they consider two Zoning Board of Adjustment candidates. Commissioner Weber stated that anyone who made a public statement would likely be eliminated as a candidate for the ZBOA, which has been granted permitting authority for the slaughterhouse proposal. Members of the board are un-paid volunteers appointed by the Cascade County Commission and serve a two-year term.

Commissioner Weber stated that the ZBOA should be comprised of individuals who are un-biased, which is reasonable; however, this board is historically comprised overwhelmingly of individuals who represent building and trades interests. The volunteer and unpaid nature of the board does not mean it is not without benefit to some members. Board members are afforded inside knowledge on future development and can influence its course. For many, it makes good career and financial sense to participate.

Our commissioners apparently have no problem with the vice president of a concrete, asphalt, and site development company that could potentially benefit from this project, serving on the ZBOA. This individual also served on the planning board which rewrote the law for special use permits on agricultural land in Cascade County in a manner that paved the way for this slaughterhouse project to reach the permitting phase. He now will get to vote on approving this permit for the biggest slaughterhouse in the Northwest United States. I don’t’ know how he personally feels about this issue. I do, however, believe there is potential for a huge conflict of interest.

If we want an unbiased board, then anyone who could potentially gain financially from this proposal should recuse. Furthermore, Commissioner Joe Briggs has publicly supported the Madison Food Park slaughterhouse. If we are going to hold the candidates to an unbiased standard, then the commissioners who appoint the candidates should be held to the same standard. Commissioner Joe Briggs should recuse himself based on the public support he has expressed for this project.

 

 

 

 

It is disheartening to me that I believe government at the local level

has failed. We are at the mercy of a Canadian businessman, three

unresponsive commissioners, and an unpaid volunteer board to

decide a matter that will define Great Falls for generations.

It is heartbreaking to know that an unfair system driven by bureaucrats and greed could completely change the course of history for our community, and we don’t get a say. I am pleading with our elected officials to truly represent their constituents and lead rather than hide in the shadows attempting to pass off accountability.

I am proud of where I live and will continue to fight for our quality of life, environment, and to keep industrial agriculture and meat processing on this massive scale out of Montana. I do believe meat processing is an important value-added component to our agricultural community, but on a much smaller scale. This facility, if built according to original plans, will be the largest meat processing slaughterhouse in the Northwest United States and one of the biggest in the country. This puts our region at risk of Industrial agriculture, negatively impacting our local farmers and ranchers. In other parts of the country, when the large meat processing facilities have moved into rural areas, this opened the door for Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) taking over the agricultural sector. We should not let ourselves be taken advantage of or exploited and we must protect our rural heritage and our Big Sky Country.

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Stacy Hermiller
Stacy Hermiller has practiced as an orthopedic PA in Great Falls since 2003. She is a mother of three and cherishes every opportunity to enjoy Montana's beautiful outdoors with her family. She is also Co-Founder of Great Falls Area Concerned Citizens, a local advocacy group opposed to the Madison Food Park development.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Very well said. Not to mention the water aspect. By what authority does Briggs and co. have the right to GIVE AWAY 3.5 million gallons a day from OUR aquifer? Of the best water left in the world? To a foreign corporation? For industrial use? I don’t believe they have that right. These greedy bassturds are morally bankrupt! We need to postpone a decision on this abomination until after the next election.

  2. I do believe the county attorney should hear your concerns as well…. after all he has heard the concerns of the Commissioners in regard to the biases of those who may have a say.

  3. How uncomfortable in your position you must be if you must argue for a local quasi-judicial board to be more biased before a hearing. If these BOA applicants are actively trying to get on the BOA to sand bag any project, then they defiantly should not be appointed. There is no question about their motives to pervert the process, their actions have said as much. The only thing we can say for sure about the existing board members is that they volunteered their time before this project came along and they have experience in the application of zoning laws from their day jobs. Bias and conflict are two different animals, if you say you are against the project and you act on it, you ARE biased; if you live down wind of the project you MAY have a conflict that MAY make you biased. The author suggest that the commission must put individuals on the board who ARE biased to counteract existing board members who MAY have a conflict that MAY make them biased. That doesn’t seem wise.

    I served on the Great Falls BOA for over 10 years as a chairman and member, I served with architects, contractors, engineers and realtors. Never did I see or hear of any board member using their board position for competitive advantage, there was just no information given to us that wasn’t publicly available. We never got involved personally on any application nor did we do anything outside of the public meetings because it would have been improper. Any member directly involved with a project recused themselves.

    Alleging that the board members involved in construction would vote against the law and the public interest to allow a potential project they could bid on is just plain wrong. It’s akin to saying that the medical professionals on the board of health would vote for regulations to make people sick so they could profit from curing those made sick.

    The hyperbola on this project is getting out of hand. From their words it sounds like the commissioners think the slaughter house will be good on balance for our region. Others think the environmental impacts are not worth the economic gains. Neither side is corrupt or stupid, it’s just a difference of opinion where both sides want what’s best for our area.

  4. If you live downwind?? Oh come on, dude. You really think that THAT is the only concern? Jesus, dude. Get a clue! And yes, the board IS corrupt when they sneak through a zoning change with OUT a full public debate commensurate with the proposal! I think that it is YOU who is sadly confused here. Legal and ethical are two different animals. Or don’t you really comprehend ethical.

    But hey, you could be kinda right. It very well could be that joe Briggs did NOT understand what he was supporting when he came out for the plant. If that is the case, he is indeed stupid, which is forgivable I guess. But if he actually DID understand and supported it anyway, that is corrupt! For NO ONE who fully understands what this monstrosity would do to our city could possibly be for it, un LESS they had an ulterior motive. It makes no sense on any level!

    I suspect that you don’t have a clue as to the impacts this abomination would have on our town. If you did, you would NOT be talking about downwind problems. That’s just silly.

    • P.S. and rj, just WHO in the frickin HELLo comes DOWN from Canada and BUYS three thousand acres with OUT some assurances from someone that their plans had prior approval? Who? Who? Who? I want to know. THAT is called corruption! Who greased the skids, rj? Who greased the skids? I theenk we know and it rhymes with joe! Now, if you can explain that you ne, please do! If it LOOKS like a duck, it probably is!

  5. RJ,

    You’re choosing information selectively. Stacy is not asking for the board to be more biased, she is pointing out that the commission only appears to be concerned with bias when it might negatively impact this proposal. The blanket dismissal of people for consideration excluded individuals with long records of fair-minded civic participation, people who had not taken a firm position one way or the other. Ultimately, what many of us want is for the decision to be made by people who are accountable.

    You call the ZBOA quasi-judicial. As you know, members are volunteer and unpaid. There are no qualification requirements. There is no deeply ingrained and long-standing code of ethics as you have in the medical community, or years of standardized legal and regulation training. That comparison is patently absurd. It’s actually frightening to consider that a body like this, with no formal training or qualification requirement and no accountability can make a decision of the magnitude. Your argument boils down to “trust them because I never saw any problems.” That is an easy argument to make for someone who supports the proposal. The fact that you can’t see that the types of people who serve on the board overwhelmingly represent a certain type of resident that is not necessarily in tune with the desires of most citizens further proves your one-mindedness.

    Additionally, I’d point out that this does not boil down to a environmental VS economic argument. I would argue this plant will harm the local economy and quality of life for most residents.

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