Letter to the Editor – Ellis
County Water District of the Billings Heights
I was appointed by the Yellowstone County Commissioners to serve on the Billings Heights Water District and attended my first monthly meeting in September 2020. Members of the public have a right to participate too. The basis for access to public participation in Montana is the Montana Constitution Article II, Section 8 Right to Participate. State Law MCA 7-13.22.32 which states that the purpose of this board is to oversee the management of the County Water District of Billings Heights. As required by the MT constitution, statutes and case law, the Heights Water Board is required to follow MT Open Meeting law.
Open Meeting law establishes that agendas and supporting material on which the board may make a decision be available to the public 48 hours in advance of the meeting. A single page of the 12 page agenda is available on the website.
MCA 2-3-203. States “All meetings of public or governmental bodies, boards, bureaus, commissions, agencies of the state, … supported in whole or in part by public funds or expending public funds, … must be open to the public”. On Wednesday, December 9th, Wynn Pippin who is President of the County Water Board sent an email stating …” we state on our web page that due to the pandemic unless it is for business a person cannot be at the meeting.” The explanation provided verbally at the meeting was that the public could provide comments in writing that would be read and included with the minutes. The absurdity of making public comments about items when there is no information defies credulity. Three members of the water district came to observe the meeting; Duke Nieskens, the director, locked the front door and refused them entrance.
In the November meeting, staff were given Christmas bonuses of $100 each and health insurance rates were confirmed. At the December meeting, staff were given the refund from the Worker’s Compensation fund to share. The assistant director passed out 2 pages of salary information, the Board President made a motion to increase salaries for all staff 2.5% which was not seconded. Roger Ostermiller made a motion to give all staff a 4% raise which was seconded and approved by 5 of the 7 board members. The salaries for staff were made without consideration for the total increases given for health insurance, bonuses and increase, without preparing an annual budget and explaining to the governing body the impact. The board had no information at the meeting about cost of living, what the salaries would be for each staff member with the increase, what the total impact would be for the budget. The comment made was, “our staff are not union” and it does not matter how our increases compare to other employees in Yellowstone County because we have a lean work force. For reference, social security recipients will see an increase of 1.3% in 2021.
The Heights Water Board of Billings Heights meets on the second Wednesday of each month, 1540 Popelka Dr, Billings, MT 59105,6:00 pm at their office. With the exception of myself, no board or staff member wears a mask; the board sits shoulder to shoulder at a table.
The board is elected by state law. Three positions are open February 1, 2021. Filing opened up for three seats on December 10th and closes on February 8th. If more than 3 people file, an election will be held on May 4th. Board members are paid $150 per meeting if they attend; $100 if they do not attend. These are the rules:https:// sosmt.gov/… /2021- Special- Purpose- District… You may download a Declaration for Nomination and Oath of Candidacy here: https://www.co.yellowstone.mt.gov/elections/information/DeclarationForNomination.pdf
If you have questions, you may want to email the Board of Directors CWDBHBoard@ gmail.com or myself pamellis50 @gmail.com I would be happy to speak with you.
2000 Outlook Drive