Commissioner separation debated
By Jason Stuart
Ranger-Review Staff Writer
The Dawson County Commissioners are still debating how best or even whether to physically separate from one another.
The issue was first raised at the commissioner’s meeting in early February. For years, commissioners have shared the same office in the Dawson County Courthouse.
Commissioner Adam Gartner has pushed the issue, saying he believes having separate offices would help make commissioners “more transparent,” and arguing that the three of them sharing an office violates state law.
“Legally, we’re not supposed to be in the same room,” Gartner has said. “We’re not supposed to discuss anything outside public meetings.”
Gartner has also stated that the commissioners sharing an office has created a problem of public perception in the past and that it can create an issue when constituents come to meet with commissioners about an issue they are concerned about.
The commissioners received an estimate of $31,000 to put up walls and doors in the former assessors’ office to create individual offices for each commissioner.
But they balked at that cost at their early February meeting. Instead, Commissioners Jim Skillestad and Doug Buxbaum proposed getting estimates on temporary dividers.
At Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners received a quote from Boss of $1,873 for temporary dividers.
Despite the much lower cost, Gartner remained steadfast in his stance that the commissioners need fully separate offices to be in compliance of state law.
“Like I said last time, we’re still all in the same room (with dividers),” he said.
Gartner also claimed that commissioners from Richland County “don’t even travel together because of the law.”
However, Skillestad and Buxbaum pointed out that the commissioners in many Montana counties also share offices.
Buxbaum said he believed being in separate offices could actually lead to more problems in commissioners communicating about issues and argued the state law requiring separation was nonsensical.
“If we go into separate office, I think we’re going to lose discussion with the public and each other,” Buxbaum said. “Even though it is the law, it doesn’t make sense. We can’t be isolated from each other and have no communication.”
Ultimately, the commissioners decided to table further discussion of the issue on Gartner’s suggestion that they get a legal opinion from County Attorney Olivia Norlin-Rieger on the matter.
Reach Jason Stuart at firstname.lastname@example.org.