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Special Alert--Oppose HB 220, Revise election laws for county commissioners

Posted Date: 
January 28, 2013
Harold Blattie, Executive Director, Montana Association of Counties

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HB 220, Revise election laws for county commissioners, will be heard in House State Administration on Wednesday at 8:00.

This bill would require all commissioners be elected only by the voters in their district.  This bill in one form or another has been introduced in nearly every session since I have been at MACo, however it seems to be getting more difficult to kill.  In 2011, it was Senate Bill 302. Senate Bill 302 came out of Senate Local Government committee on a 7-0 vote and died on the Senate floor on a 25-25 vote.  Proponents were Builders, Farm Bureau, Contractors and United Property Owners. This will take a full-court press to kill.

It would be good to have several commissioners attend the hearing to oppose.  Also any e-mails that we could provide to the committee members would be helpful.

Below is part of an alert we sent out in 2011 about SB 302 which gives a couple of good examples why this is a bad idea.

Below is  some additional information for your consideration from a former county commissioner:

I want to tell you a brief story about the effects of separate districts.  Many years ago, when I served on the XXXXXXXX County Commission, I was quite active in MACo and developed many friendships with other commissioners.  At the time, there were two counties that did elect their commissions in the manner being proscribed in SB 302.  Both were fairly rural counties.  One year, at one of the MACo meetings, I discovered that one of my friends, a commissioner from one of those counties, had just lost a primary election.  We talked about his loss and he told me that, for the past four years, the two other commissioners basically took all of the road money and split it in half, directing each half to be spent in their two districts, leaving the 3rd commissioner (and his district) without any funding to improve or maintain the roads in that particular district.  Not surprisingly then, voters, dissatisfied with the fact that their roads were in such deplorable condition, voted him out.

The reason I tell this story is because I think there will be unintended consequences of Sen. Ripley’s SB 302.  I do not know if the kind of parochial decision-making I just described was discussed in committee when this bill was being considered, but I can say with certainty that it will happen. The current form of electing commissioners focuses attention on the needs of the entire county, without regard to whether or not a particular district will benefit.  If SB 302 goes into effect, I can almost guarantee you that county government will work less efficiently, and will be driven far more by political agendas and I don’t think that’s in the best interest of counties or the state.  I hope you will vote no on SB 302.

And a comment from a current county commissioner, Jim Reno, Yellowstone County:

SB 302 creates single member county commissioner districts.   Why SB 302 is a bad idea:

  • MetraPark is in “my” district. Yet when the Fathers Day storm hit county wide resources were called upon to quickly rebuild this valued resource.  
  • The road heading north from Custer towards Roundup needs paving (school bus route).  All 3 commissioners have agreed this will be our next major road project.  With SB 302 would “my” district need to wait until I’ve saved enough paving for the project?
  • No wrong door.  If you call John, Bill or me you’ll get a response…and it won’t be “you called the wrong commissioner.”
  • At least let the local voters make this call via the required LOCAL GOVERNMENT REVIEW COMMISSIONS that meet every 10 years.
Additional Information: 



Harold Blattie | | 406.449.4360