Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Filing of Complaint against SME

It speaks for itself.

To: James Santoro, City Attorney
Great Falls, MT.
From: Aart Dolman
Date: May 24, 2010
Re: Filing of Complaint

Dear Mr. Santoro,
The following is a letter of complaint. I a citizen of Great Falls in good standing was prevented from entering the building where SME Trustees were holding a meeting at 9:00am on Thursday, May 20, 2010. The uniformed Billings City Police had responded to a request by the owner of the building not to allow me to park my vehicle on his property and prevent me from entering the building. The Police Officers also told me that the monthly SME Trustee meeting was a “private meeting” and that I was not allowed to attend.

I had received a copy of the SME Trustee Agenda meeting which was to be scheduled for 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, May 20, 2010. The Southern Montana Electric Cooperative Generation and Transmission Cooperative, Inc. (SME, or also known as Southern Montana Electric) have monthly meetings and since no City of Great Falls public official or employee could attend I decided as a Great Falls citizen to observe that particular meeting.

On the previous day, Wednesday, May 19, I had received from the City of Great Falls Administration a copy of this SME Trustee Board Agenda. I had requested this document from the Mayor of Great Falls during the regular scheduled City Commission Meeting.

In early January 2010, I had requested that the City of Great Falls Commission provide me with a copy of the 2008 IRS Form 990, line #14, p.6, which stated that this non-profit SME Cooperative had a policy on the Retention and Destruction of Documents. The IRS tax filing of a non-profit organization is a public document, and I felt that I had every right to request from SME copies of its policies.

When a month later Judge Phillips’ ruling allowed citizens to examine SME documents, I thought that it was unusual for me to wait several months without a response from the City of Great Falls and SME. When I requested again during the April City Commission meeting that I had not heard about my request, the Mayor requested that the City Clerk sent Mr. Gregori a letter requesting a response. A few days later, I received a copy of a letter signed by Mr. Gregori that my request would be honored by SME in a “timely manner.”

After receiving the SME Trustee Agenda for May 20, 2010, Agenda, I was thrilled that under item VIII the trusties would discuss the document issue during their meeting. Thus I traveled to Billings to attend that monthly SME Board of Trustees meeting. Since Judge Phillips had ruled that SME documents were open for public examination, I had no reason to doubt that I would not be allowed to hear and witness the discussion by SME Trustees.

Shortly after 8:00am, on May 20th, 2010,I arrived at the building where the offices of SME are located on 3521 Gable Road, Billings, MT., and parked my vehicle in the south side parking area next to the side walk. I waited there for Beartooth Electric Cooperative members who were also interested in attending the SME Board of Trustee meeting. About fifteen minutes later Arleen Boyd and Larry Luhoff, and three others came and parked their vehicles in the same area. There was a continued flow of people in and out of the building. Because it was a multipurpose business building, the SME Trustee meeting was scheduled to be in the building’s ECI Conference Room.

About 8:25a.m, a Billings Police car arrived in the parking area and continued to the main entrance of the building. A uniformed Police Officer went into the building and a few minutes later he left the main entrance and walked directly to our group. He introduced himself as Officer Peterson and I introduced myself as a citizen from Great Falls. After the introductions, he informed the group, without asking our reason or purpose of the visit, that the owner of the property wanted us to leave the parking area and go to the nearby sidewalk and to continue our conversation with him. He also maintained that the meeting inside the building was a “private meeting” and that we could not enter the building.

After Arlene Boyd explained and informed the Billings Police Officer Peterson that we were here to attend the SME Trustee meeting, she showed him a packet of information which included a copy of the SME Trustee Agenda and the “Open Meeting” statement by City of Great Falls Attorney Mr. Santoro. To no avail the Police Officer stated repeatedly that this was a “private meeting” and that the owner of the building would not allow us to be in the parking area and the building for it was his private property. After a few minutes of conversation, I requested from the Police Officer where I could obtain a copy of this incident report and he told me that since this was a civil matter, not a criminal one, that there would be no police report. In the meantime, I had been informed that Police Officer Peterson was off-duty and had been hired by the owner of the building for the specific purpose of keeping our group of this property. This was puzzling and troublesome for me because the owner of a multi-use building prevented me from entering a building while others were free to enter and leave. So I requested from Police Officer Peterson that I meet with his shift commander. After a short discussion, the Police Officer walked a few paces away from us and when he returned he told me that SGT. Berry was on his way to meet with us.

In about 15 minutes, Billings Police SGT Berry arrived and joined us in the parking area next to the side walk. He also stated that we could not enter the parking lot or the building. This was at the request from the owner of the building and that the SME Trustee meeting was “private.” The public was not allowed. During our discussion with the police SGT, he read a copy of the Great Falls City Attorney ruling on “Open Meetings.” After a lengthy discussion, I asked for a copy of the police report and was told that this was a civil issue and not a criminal one; therefore there would not be a report. A police report would only be filed if there was a criminal incident. Again this conversation was troublesome and puzzling for me, and I wanted to ask if there was a Police Report of an earlier incident in the same building. Some of the members of our group had been trying to observe a SME Trustee meeting last February. I had seen the video where they had been ill-treated by SME Trustee members and the owner of the building in the hall way and were insulted by negative language including in offensive gestures while they were waiting for the Billings Police to arrive. I did not want the same pattern to occur. Therefore, I asked SGT Berry that, as a law abiding citizens, how I could enter the building and observe a meeting for which I had every right to attend? Certainly, a law obeying citizen would respect the order given by the Police but yet it seemed strange that the Billings Police would allow an illegal meeting. This was the reason for my request of a Police Report. Sergeant Berry informed me that there was already a record because someone with a video camera was present. After some more amicable and civilized discussion, SGT Berry promised me that he would write a report of this event. He then requested that we give him our names, addresses, and social security numbers. The group provided him with our names, etc.

In the meantime, Arleen Boyd had made four telephone calls to the Billings City Attorney Mr. Brooks on my private cell-phone and on the last call she discovered that he had a meeting with the Billings Police Chief and another official discussing our case. They requested that we give them a copy of the SME Trustee Agenda. Since we had given our copies to others so we had none to give to SGT Berry. Arleen Boyd then suggested that the SGT ask Mr. Gregori inside of the building for a copy of the Trustee Agenda. After about twenty minutes the SGT returned and stated that he could not get a copy of the SME Trustee Agenda from Mr. Gregori. Our group promised him to email a copy to the Billings Chief of Police and City Attorney.

After shaking hands with the Police Officers, I left the parking lot at approximately 10:15am after I received a card from Police Officer Peterson which stated the number, 10-21746, for a police report.* (See attached exhibit)


Lt. Col (R) Richard Liebert said...

Thanks for posting Sandra. Time for our city staff to step up to the plate and FIGHT FOR us, not against us as the last mayor and SME did.......


Great Falls Guy said...

The clock at city hall is about timed out. Its now time for important and decisive decisions on all this SME, and ECP, payola and tax payer robbery goings on down there!

Anonymous said...

If this is not Fascism, I don't know what is.

The police should be supporting the citizens rights but as usual, big business is protected without question. Somebody is washing their backs. How much does SME donate to the BPPA and other Billing Police functions.

You pay your dues and the favors flow. That's the way the system works.

Anonymous said...

Tim thinks he owns the building? I could not find any records in Yellowstone county listing him as owner.

Anonymous said...

Good grief, he KNEW they weren't going to let him in. What a waste of gas for an "energy-conscious" fool.

Anonymous said...

Yeah 5:15, just sit at home, no need to ever risk anything and venture forth into the unknown.

The earth would still be flat with that chicken sh*t spirit.

Lt. Col (R) Richard Liebert said...

5:15, I understand your point, but if we didn't FIGHT for oversight, accountability and transparency, this community and nation would be even further 'in the hole'...Dr. Dolman routinely carpools and somebody - somebody - has to 'hold the line' and demand open gov't. If we had more vigor at city hall, we'd have the actual MINUTES and wouldn't have to travel to make the point and show courage.

If you'd like to help, let us know.

"Even when just one citizen shows courage, that is a majority."

Andrew Jackso