Monday, June 21, 2010

The Ongoing Quest For Open Meetings

The following email correspondences represent an ongoing struggle citizens have had to gain admittance to SME board meetings. It is truly a pathetic situation when citizens have to work so hard and put up with so much in their quest to uphold their constitutional rights. The beginning of the exchange begins at the end of this posting.

Dear Mr. Brooks,

I thank you for your timely and professional response on this matter and for advising the police accordingly. My regrets the fax wasn't available for your office as I thought I had successfully transmitted from Fort Carson, CO, but I think we're all up on the issue now. We shall now see how Southern will deal with our constitutional rights, open government and citizens who insist on transparency, accountability and oversight.

Very Respectfully,

Richard D. Liebert

----- Original Message -----
From: "Brooks, Brent"
Date: Wednesday, June 16, 2010 12:54
Subject: FW: police enforcement of co-op's closed meeting

Colonel Liebert:

I am forwarding to you as promised the recent email I sent to Arleen Boyd which also contains an additional email as an attachment. That attachment is another email sent to an attorney for SME advising what I mentioned to you a few minutes ago-that I have recommended to the Billings Police Chief Rich St John that the police respond to reports that a crime is imminent or actually in progress concerning SME meetings in Billings. I do not know if SME will have private security in the future and that is a matter for its decision.

I am also attaching the May 5, 2010, letter I sent to Mr. Frank Willett, husband of Arleen Boyd which is self explanatory and contains specific statutes that authorize a challenge to an open meetings violation.

If you have any questions on any of these items I am forwarding to you feel free to email or call me as needed.


Brent Brooks
Billings City Attorney
P.O. Box 1178
Billings, MT 59103
(406) 657-8205 (work)
(406) 672-8316 (cell)

From: Brooks, Brent
Sent: Monday, June 07, 2010 10:28 AM
To: 'Arleen Boyd'
Subject: RE: police enforcement of co-op's closed meeting

Mrs. Boyd:
Attached is a brief email I sent last Friday to Mary Jaraczeski, one of the attorneys representing the SME Board. Billings Police Chief St John, Assistant City attorney bonnie Sutherland and I have previously met and discussed the issues on these meetings and the attach email is the result of that meeting, several phone calls from me to attorneys John Crist, Jim Santoro and Mary Jaraczeski so I could learn more facts.

Please let me know if you have any additional questions on this and I will attempt to help as much as possible. I encourage you to work with anyone within SME or within one or more of the member cooperatives to resolve the open meetings issue.


Brent Brooks
Billings City Attorney
P.O. Box 1178
Billings, MT 59103
(406) 657-8205 (work)
(406) 672-8316 (cell)

From: Arleen Boyd
Sent: Monday, May 24, 2010 8:08 AM
To: Brooks, Brent
Subject: police enforcement of co-op's closed meeting
Importance: High

Dear Mr. Brooks,

I am preparing my complaint regarding the closing of the May 20, 2010, Southern Montana Electric Generation and Transmission Cooperative, Inc. board meeting. As we have discussed, the meeting should have been open to the public, yet General Manager Tim Gregori declared it closed. I am attaching, again, Great Falls City Attorney James Santoro's memorandum stating the legal case for declaring Southern's meetings open.

The Billings police enforced this order of closure by parking a Billings police vehicle directly in front of the door of the building, 3521 Gabel Road, and stationing Officer Peterson at the site to remove any "uninvited" persons from the property. Officer Peterson confronted me, several other Beartooth Electric Cooperative members, and Great Falls resident Aart Dolman in the parking lot and told us that we could not even approach the door of the building. He said that we had to stay on the sidewalk.

Following are a few facts regarding this May 20 event:

* Officer Peterson was at the site at 8:20 when I arrived and the police car was parked parallel to the building, directly in front of the door.
* The officer drove the car around the parking lot after I arrived and was talking with Mr. Dolman who had arrived earlier. The officer then parked it, again, in front of the door.
* The officer told us, in the parking lot, to leave or go to the sidewalk.
* I told him that the meeting was an open meeting.
* The officer told me that the meeting was a closed meeting.
* When I pointed out that my car was in the parking lot and that I needed to be on the property to enter it he said that it was unlikely that it would be towed away but that could legally happen.
* Aart Dolman asked for a police report to be filed so that he would have a record of exactly what had transpired and what legal action was taking place to remove us from the property.
* Officer Peterson called Sergeant Berry, his superior officer, to come and discuss a report.
* Sergeant Berry gave us a report number and explained, exactly as Officer Peterson had, that the meeting was closed by the board, that the building owner had secured police support to enforce the closure, and that we would have to leave. The officers were polite. I believe they were put in a very bad position by someone in charge of police activity. They were enforcing an illegal closure of a public meeting. I have many questions about this police action including:

* Who told them the meeting was legally closed?
* Why did they accept and repeat the contention that it was closed?
* Is it a Billings Police policy to enforce "closed meetings" on private property?
* How much does it cost to station a Billings Police officer in a parking lot for three or four hours?How much does it cost to police to use a police vehicle for three or four hours as a signal that the police support the closure?

When we tried to attend the Southern Montana Electric Generation and Transmission Cooperative's annual meeting, March 19, 2010, we were met by a police officer in the lobby of the building and threatened with arrest if we did not answer all of his questions and immediately leave the property. He was not as polite as the officers who met us on May 20. He repeated several times that we were subject to arrest if we did not cooperate with a police officer's instructions. What legal right did he have to give me and several other polite and orderly people who were making no disturbance whatsoever instructions?

I will call you this morning to ask about this complaint which relates to actions taken by Tim Gregori on behalf of the Southern Montana Electric Generation and Transmission Cooperative, Inc. board and by the Billings Police Department. We did record the May 20 morning's activity with a video camera and I have pictures of the police officers talking with us.

Yours truly,
Arleen Boyd (328-6645)

1 comment:

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

Thanks for the updates Sandra and I must commend Mr. Brooks and the Billings Police for their restraint and not being 'used' by SME any longer. I'm sure they do not wish to be placed in any ethically challenged positions in the future thanks to Southern, which can hire private security if it chooses, but that's problematic since we'd be spending money to deny ourselves our rights to public information, and this ever perplexing.