By Evelyn Pyburn

After making a number of changes to Project Recode, the Billings City Council passed the new zoning regulations in First Reading by a wide margin last Monday. On December 21, the City Council will take up Project Recode in Second Reading at which time more changes are possible.

A proposed amendment to a regulation that is perceived as especially onerous by casino owners failed to be passed. The amendment would have reduced from 350 –feet to 150 –feet as the distance that  casinos must be located from the nearest residence. The new regulation immediately puts almost all 134 casino and bar owners in Billings out of compliance. Also left in place are regulations that will, over time, consolidate casinos into one or two areas in the city. Non-complying businesses are “grandfathered in” until they have to rebuild or remodel for some reason.

Questions about whether the city could “target” casinos in such a manner and whether it was legal was generally dismissed by city planners who pointed out that other cities have implemented similar regulations. City Council members who voted against the amendment said that regulations are being changed because they have been hearing for years from people who want them changed, because they don’t like living so close to casinos, and said council members, during the past weeks they had heard from only a few casino owners who objected.

Said City Councilwoman, Penny Ronning, the presence of casinos is “one of the major issues I have heard about more frequently than most other issues… the frustration that people have with casinos being close to their neighborhood.” Incidents of crime was pointed out by council member Denise Joy as a concern.

With one casino owner pointing out that bars and taverns have a much higher incident of crime associated with them than do casinos, (and that crime around convenience stores is four times higher) he wondered why the distance requirement for bars and casinos is only 150 feet. Mayor Bill Cole expressed his concerns that there is a difference between the two types of businesses, saying he prefers to see consistency in the codes.

The objections are about the risk to casino owners who could lose their business and property values should something happen in which they would have to rebuild and would be denied the ability to do so by city government. The risks also exist for other kinds of non-conforming businesses,

“This simply isn’t fair and is being pursued by a relatively small group,” said casino owner Dennis Benson, “There are thousands of people who go into the casinos.” The regulation, said Benson is not “healthy for the community” …. ”people who go into the casinos are being pushed into the underbelly of the community.”

“I don’t see it as an incredible hardship,” said City Council member, Danny Choriki, calling the objections “fear mongering.” Choriki was later chastised by one casino owner, Josh Benson, for jokingly calling gamblers “sinners.”

Other amendments to Recodes, which fared much better, addressed other issues such as requirements that would have forced new infill building or remodeling, to adhere to the current style of a neighborhood. Builders had said in earlier comments that the requirement could increase costs.

Another successful amendment extended from six months to 12 months a limitation on how much time businesses of non-conforming uses would have to sell or otherwise resume business, at their location, should they temporarily cease operation for some reason. To exceed that time frame would terminate the legality of the non-conforming use.

City Council members Pam Purinton and Frank Ewalt wanted to delay the decision on Project Recode until January 11, but the motion failed. They pointed out that there are a number of issues that have been brought forward that are still unaddressed, most especially the concern from builders that the new codes escalate the cost of building and will adversely impact affordable housing. There are also unaddressed requests for a legal review of the codes.

During the next city council meeting on December 21, the adoption of Project Recode will be considered again in Second Reading, with the possibility of additional amendments.

In earlier emails, builders pointed out many aspects of the codes that they believe will raise costs. For example the requirement to have a back road access to a multi-family development immediately doubles the cost.

Restrictions on building heights eliminate opportunities to gain the most value from available space.

There were questions and confusion about restrictions on the amount of frontage required for residential lots versus multi-family lots and about required sizes of garage doors. “Can you confirm if there will be a maximum garage square footage size, other than the max of 50% total garage door width on the front façade?” asked Brendon Hill of Diverse Construction.

“The 50% limitation in the proposed code applies only to the garage door opening on the front façade of the house. So if your house is 60 feet wide, 30 feet of garage door opening is allowed along the front façade,” replied Nicole Cromwell, Planning Department staff member who oversaw the three and a half-year effort writing the new codes. Cromwell explained on Monday night that she believes the garage door restrictions is a safety measure which will allow the home owner to better see if they accidently left their garage door open or to see the plight of a pedestrian who might fall in front of their house and need assistance.

Bill Hanser, a residential builder, pointed out that one regulation requires side or alley facing driveways, which “adds cost and reduces the available yard space…. adds expense and increase(s) the amount of snow removal for the homeowner.

If safety is the issue, said Pam Purinton, how can a home owner see a garage door off the alley?

Landscaping requirements are also a concern. A landscaping plan is required to be submitted with the building permit and that plan will be binding on successors. This seems to add a significant, hard- to- enforce burden, as well as additional cost to the housing market, said Hanser. Also, many homeowners choose to build sweat equity by doing their own landscaping, allowing them to purchase a property they otherwise would not be able to afford.

Purinton expressed surprise and concern to learn that under Recode the newly built Shiloh Commons would not have been allowed.

Developer of Shiloh Commons, Mike Stock, pointed out in an email that his company, Stock Development, has developed over a hundred million dollars in residential, commercial and multi-family real-estate in Billings over the last several years. “During the project re-code we were never given the opportunity to comment on any of the changes that have been made. Just reviewing the 400+ page document the parking for residential/multi-family has increased over 25%. This is astronomical in development worlds and will have a substantial increase in development costs! As it stands today we will no longer be able to consider Affordable housing or for that matter Housing in general. Costs due to this type of increase could be as much as 2 Million on a 200 unit complex. Stock Development is very energy conscious and all the work we put into making our buildings ENERGY EFFICIENT will be canceled out by the increase parking! 99% of all municipalities across the country are reducing parking codes not increasing them.”

Builders have said that the restrictions make using new kinds of materials and concepts impossible, and push them into building higher priced homes, for which there is a market which they can readily address, but leaves middle class buyers out of the market.

Recode advocates have repeatedly said they want “quality over quantity.”

 “Anytime you say quality, you are raising the price,” said one builder.

By Evelyn Pyburn

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Montana has been declining since November 11, especially over the past two weeks while testing numbers have remained steady. But for closed and partially closed businesses there seems to be no winning, the decline in case numbers, just like the increase, has resulted in the extension of restrictions on business.

Last week, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock attributed the decline in case numbers to restrictions that went into place Nov. 20, which expanded the existing mask mandate to the entire state and required bars and casinos to close by 10 p.m. – a mandate that county health officer, John Felton then extended to all businesses through December, and which now, last Thursday, he extended again through January 31.

Confirmed cases of COVID are down 36% since Nov. 20, said the Governor, advocating that the restraints are working and should continue.

The state’s COVID website shows that daily confirmed cases peaked about Nov. 11 and averaged 1103 daily confirmed cases throughout the rest of the month. The average number of daily cases identified for the first 12 days of December has been 849.

While the number of hospitalized individuals remains relatively high — with 488 individuals reportedly hospitalized with the virus on Thursday (dropping to 365 by Sunday) — Bullock said he expected the number to drop after local data is reconciled with the state’s reporting system. The number of deaths reported statewide as of Sunday was 818 with 3,080 total hospitalizations.

The World Health Organization said in March that the fatality rate of COVID-19 was roughly three percent – meaning three out of a hundred people contracting the disease would die – today it is being estimated that a more accurate fatality rate is 0.2 or 0.3 percent. The reason for the change is researchers believe now that there were far more cases of COVID than has been realized and that the disease actually began in December rather than February and March 2020.

One researcher, Jay Bhattacharya, a Professor of Medicine, with a Ph.d. in Economics, at Stanford University, reported that in testing for antibodies, (which indicate that someone has had the disease) in San Diego County, CA, where about 1000 COVID cases had been identified, antibody tests indicated that 50,000 people had actually been infected. So the case numbers were off 50 fold.

Because of the controversy those findings, 82 similar studies have been conducted with the same extraordinary results, confirming that the average fatality rate is not three in one hundred, but two in one thousand.

Other research confirms that there is about a thousand-fold difference between the mortality rate in older people (70 and up) and that of children. For children COVID-19 is less dangerous than the seasonal flu, according to Bhattacharya. Two to three times more children die annually from the common flu than from COVID. For older people, however, COVID is much more deadly than the flu. About four in one hundred of those over 70 die from the disease.

Bhattacharya pointed out that the use of lockdowns have never before been used to control the spread of a disease. They were devised to slow the infection rate in order to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, a strategy with minimal results.

The lockdowns on businesses, however, are “turning out to have deadly effects.”

While many believe economic impacts are minor compared to health impacts, the reality is that more people will probably die of the economic impacts throughout the world than because of virus infections. The UN has estimated that 130 million additional people will starve this year as a result of the economic damage resulting from the lockdowns – a devastating reversal of the past 20 years during which a billion people have been lifted out of poverty.

Bhattacharya points out that deaths will also occur because other health treatments, including the immunization against other diseases, have not been pursued because people have had more fear of COVID than of the risks from other diseases. Deaths are expected to increase due to cancer and diabetes because of economic shutdowns. And, because of social isolation, suicide rates are already on the rise, especially true for youths, ages 18 through 24, who actually have little risk of death from the virus.

“Widespread lockdown policy has been a devastating public health mistake,” concludes Bhattacharya, who urges, “Our goal should therefore be to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity.” He explained that herd immunity is not a strategy but a “biological fact that applies to most infectious diseases… The vaccine will help, but herd immunity is what will bring it to an end.”

Policies should be to allow those at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally, while better protecting those at highest risk.

The first 9,750 doses of the vaccine were delivered slated to be delivered to Montana ollowing its authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.

The first doses were  delivered to 10 major hospitals in the state’s seven largest communities. Doses delivered to the state in subsequent weeks will be reserved for rural health care workers and staff and residents of nursing facilities.

Bullock said 284 contracted health care workers are currently deployed in the state to assist in hospitals seeing a large number of COVID-19 patients. Close to 200 health care workers in the state are in isolation or quarantine due to exposure to the virus.

More than 73,303 people across Montana have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since March.

Yellowstone County has experienced the highest number of cases at 12,722, with 2,469 active cases as of Sunday. Total deaths in the county is 144.

So far 3,080 people have been hospitalized.

The latest federal employment report revealed yet another month of recovery for the American workforce. Members of the Project 21  black leadership network credited the Trump Administration for policies that have brought back jobs – particularly in black communities – after businesses were devastated earlier this year by COVID-19 lockdowns.

“The news just keeps getting better. The free-market policies of President Trump have lowered the unemployment rate at the fastest level in history! The jobless rate dropping from nearly 15% to under 7% in less than a year is stunning,” said Project 21 Co-Chairman Horace Cooper. “Incredibly, the unemployment rate is now lower than it was during Obama’s entire first term. Notably, black Americans lead the employment gains – the exact opposite of the experience of the Obama years.” 

The American workforce added 245,000 new jobs in November – making it the seventh  straight month of declining unemployment since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. The overall unemployment rate dropped two-tenths of a percentage point to 6.7%, according to a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Prior to the lockdowns, unemployment rates posted record lows. 

“Unemployment continues to decline fastest for those who need jobs the most right now – black Americans, Hispanics and other minorities. These positive jobs numbers represent another example of the Trump Administration’s commitment to the black community,” said Project 21 member Donna Jackson. “Even in the face of ill-advised lockdowns, I’m grateful that the White House continues to deliver for all Americans – especially black Americans like me.”

In the black community, total unemployment fell once again by half a percentage point to 10.3%. Approximately 136,000 blacks entered the workforce in November, and black participation in the workforce increased for the third straight month. More than half of black Americans who were forced out of work by the lockdowns are employed again – far outpacing the progress of the Obama Administration after the 2008 recession. Additionally, the U-4 alternative unemployment measure that includes discouraged workers who leave the workforce – often considered the true unemployment indicator – also fell to just 7.1%. That figure has dropped 4.3% since June. 

“The cause of the earlier collapse – and what’s preventing the economy from returning to pre-pandemic levels – has been the destructive and punitive response to COVID-19. Job gains in November showed the economy remains resilient despite the addiction of liberal state governments to socioeconomic lockdowns,” noted Project 21 member Derryck Green. “In my opinion, the employment rate would be much lower, and the labor force participation rate much higher, if business owners were allowed to decide which safety protocols were in the best interests of their employees and customers. The gains we see today will almost certainly be undone – and jobs won’t return – if more states follow California in forcing business owners to shut their doors and ‘temporarily’ lay people off. on.                                                                     

Founded in 1982, the National Center for Public Policy Research is a non-partisan, free-market, independent conservative think-tank. Ninety-four percent of its support comes from some 60,000 individuals, less than four percent from foundations and less than two percent from corporations.

By Lowell Cooke, Broker Associate, Coldwell Banker The Brokers

WOW!  That is all I can say about the Billings area real estate market statistics provided by the Billings MLS (Multiple Listing Service). Stats are showing it is undoubtedly a “Sellers” market, right now.

The statistics cover the Billings and surrounding areas, including Roundup, Hardin, Red Lodge as far south as Belfry.  If you have not heard, there is a lack of inventory causing prices to go up and creating multiple and sometimes, frankly, insane offers over asking price.

Supply and Demand  (or Months’ Supply)

A little background, a real estate market is considered “in balance” when there is a 6-month supply of homes.  This means if there are 600 homes on the market and there were 100 sales during that month, there is a 6-month supply (600/100=6).

A “Buyers” market is characterized by the months supply exceeding 6 months and a “Sellers’ market where there is less than a 6-month supply.  For the last several years, our months supply has been in the 4-5-month range-very close to being in balance, or a stable market.

Covid 19 has made a dramatic difference in the “in balance” supply of homes.  While the market was trending towards a sellers’ market earlier this year, by June we saw our first month supply below 2 months and it has continued to drop.  The November supply of homes was 1.27 months.

#Closed Sales, #Listings Taken, Closed $Volume, Average Sales Price

There have been 6.2% fewer listings taken through November of this year compared to 2019 while the number of closed sales increased by 12.3%.  Fewer listings taken, with a record number of sales equals low inventory and increased prices. The closed $ volume has increased an incredible 21.5% with the YTD Average Sales Price increasing from $268,189 to $290,117 for $21,928 or an 8.1% increase.  This compares to about a 4% increase in prices in November 2019 compared to 2018.

Sell, Buy, Hold?

Now that your head is throbbing from all these numbers, what does it mean to sellers and buyers?  The old saying “buy low, sell high” is definitely favoring sellers.  As a seller, the next few months should be a good time to sell as it may be a few months before our market begins to see some stabilization with the introduction of the Covid 19 vaccine.  Sales price increases will most likely begin to flatten out as more sellers decide to sell.  The problem now, is, if you do sell, as a buyer, you may not be able to find a place to move to.  As a buyer, you will still be competing for limited inventory.  Finding a place to rent, while storing your households might be an option. 

Good news is, as a buyer, you will be able to take advantage of low interest rates, which all indications seem to say will remain historically low.  Now you are thinking, “he’s a real estate agent, he wants you to buy and sell.”  Well of course I do, but as far as the consumer is concerned, home ownership is one of the most cherished aspects of life.  It provides us with more than a return on our investment, it is a place to live, improve and enjoy.  Consider that when you are deciding what is right for you.

Lowell Cooke is a Broker Associate with Coldwell Banker The Brokers in Billings. He may be contacted at 406-661-5140 or


Samantha Penne/ Neumann Construction, 2345 King Ave W, Com Remodel, $35,000

Erving Properties Llc/ Hammond Construction, 19 S 28th St, Com Fence/Roof/Siding,  $30,000

Meridian Automotive Service Ll /Donahue Roofing Llc, 1240 Avenue C, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $19,398

City Of Billings/ T.W. Clark Construction Llc, 1601 St Andrews Dr, Com Fence/Roof/Siding, $130,000

Thomas Property & Investments/Knife River-Billings,  2520 17th St W, Com New Parking Lot/Non-Building Structure, $64,464

Greg Van Binsberger $/Jones Construction, Inc, 1405 38th St W, Com New Restaurant/Casino/Bar,  $650,000

United Properties Inc/ Dick Anderson Construction, 490 N 31st St, Com Remodel, $25,000

LRS LCC/Bauer Construction, 1300 N Transtech Way,  Com Remodel, $53,853

Sisters Of Charith Of Leavenwo/Saunders Construction Inc, 1233 N 30th St,   Com Remodel,  $35,000

City Of Billings The/TWE Construction & Restoration Inc, 605 S 24th St W, Com Remodel, $31,234

Opportunity Bank Of Montana/Cayton Excavation Inc, 1667 Main St, Demolition Permit Commercial, $30,000


McCall Development Inc/McCall Development, 6107 Norma Jean Ln, Res New Accessory Structure,  $29,568

SMTP 002 Llc/Better Building Technologies Llc, 6327 Ridge Stone Dr, Res New Single Family, $221,483

HLL Llc/Beartooth Holding & Construction, 5362 Amherst Dr, Res New Single Family, $333,310

McCall Development Inc/McCall Development, 6107 Norma Jean Ln,  Res New Single Family, $346,898

Trent Parks/Billings Best Builders Llc, 839 Mission Oaks Dr, Res New Two Family, $442,320

Trent Parks Billings Best Builders Llc,  905 Mission Oaks Dr, Res New Two Family, $442,320

NA/Billings Best Builders Llc, 827 Mission Oaks Dr, Res New Two Family, $442,320

NA/Billings Best Builders Llc, 833 Mission Oaks Dr, Res New Two Family, $442,320

NA/Billings Best Builders Llc, 821 Mission Oaks Dr, Res New Two Family, $442,320

McCall Development Inc/McCall Development, 6151 Farmstead Ave, Res New Accessory Structure, $25,344

McCall Development Inc/McCall Development, 6145 Farmstead Ave, Res New Accessory Structure, $25,344

High Sierra II Inc/Bob Pentecost Construction, 2426 Bonito Loop, Res New Single Family  $350,900

Wagenhals Land And Livestock/Wagenhals Enterprises Inc, 1109 Daybreak Dr, Res New Single Family, $250,000     

Cranford, Leonard/Hg Designs, 2710 Auburn Cir, Res New Single Family, $239,650

Robert Lively/Better Building Technologies Llc, 6328 Ridge Stone Dr N, Res New Single Family, $202,534

Ironwood Land Llc /Wells Built Inc., 6061 Canyonwoods Dr,  Res New Single Family,     $424,324

High Sierra II Inc/ Infinity Home Llc, 2402 Bonito Loop, Res New Single Family, $278,370

Marsich Investments Inc/Marsich Investments, 114 Big Pine Ct,  Res New Two Family, $408,076

Marsich Investments Inc /Marsich Investments, 120 Big Pine Ct, Res New Two Family, $408,076

Marsich Investments Inc/Marsich Investments, 126 Big Pine Ct,  Res New Two Family, $408,076

McCall Development Inc/McCall Development, 6151 Farmstead Ave, Res New Two Family, $257,518

McCall Development Inc/McCall Development, 6145 Farmstead Ave, Res New Two Family, $258,618

McCall Development Inc/McCall Development, 6157 Farmstead Ave, Res New Two Family, $259,243

Marsich Investments Inc/Marsich Investments, 4231 Limber Pine Ln, Res New Two Family, $348,272

Real state personal income grew 2.4 percent in 2019 after increasing 3.1 percent in 2018, according to estimates released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA).

Montana’s Real Personal Income, 2018-2019, increased 1.8 percent.

Real state personal income is a state’s current-dollar personal income adjusted by the state’s regional price parity and the national personal consumption expenditures price index. The percent change in real estate personal income ranged from 4.1 percent in Maine to 0.7 percent in Hawaii, Wyoming, and Rhode Island. Across metropolitan areas, the percent change ranged from 7.6 percent in Hanford-Corcoran, CA, to –3.2 percent in Panama City, FL, and Wheeling, WV-OH.

In North Dakota it increased 3.3 percent, South Dakota, 2.1 percent and Idaho, 3.6 percent.

Real Personal Income in 2019

Large metropolitan areas—those with populations greater than two million—with the fastest growth in real personal income were Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown, TX (5.3 percent), Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO (4.0 percent), and Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA (3.7 percent).

Large metropolitan areas with the slowest growth in real personal income were Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL (1.4 percent), Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI (1.4 percent), and Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI (1.4 percent).

Regional price parities (RPPs) measure the differences in price levels across states and metropolitan areas for a given year and are expressed as a percentage of the overall national price level. RPP covers all consumption goods and services, including housing rents.

States with the highest RPPs were Hawaii (119.3), California (116.4), and New York (116.3) (table 3).

States with the lowest RPPs were Mississippi (84.4), Arkansas (84.7), and Alabama (85.8).

Across states, California had the highest RPP for housing rents (153.6), and Mississippi had the lowest (60.0).

Large metropolitan areas with the highest RPPs were San Francisco-Oakland-Berkeley, CA (134.5), New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA (125.7), and Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA (118.8).

Twelve Montana counties have officially founded the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority to advocate for the return of passenger rail service across southern Montana.

The finalized joint resolution, fully executed the last of November, seals the commissioner actions and provides for the appointment of one representative from each county to serve on the authority.

Gallatin County was the first to act on July 28, and Powell County the last on Nov. 18.

“Counties in Montana have done what has never been done before: establish the first regional passenger rail authority in the state. This will set the stage for re-establishing regular passenger rail service through the southern tier of the state—a transformational project for Montana that will add to and complement the Empire Builder along the Hi-Line,” Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said.

“We hope to schedule our first board meeting of the authority in December or January and get this train moving!” The purpose of the authority is to provide for the preservation and improvement of abandoned rail service for agriculture, industry or passenger traffic and to provide for the preservation of abandoned railroad right-of-way for future transportation uses, when determined to be practicable and necessary for the public welfare.”

The authority constitutes the governance structure to investigate, analyze, seek funding for and develop long-distance, inter-city rail service to further the health, safety, welfare and economic prosperity throughout Montana. The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority board comprises commissioner-appointed representatives from each of the following counties: Broadwater; Butte-Silver Bow; Dawson; Gallatin; Granite; Jefferson; Missoula; Park; Powell; Prairie; Sanders and Wibaux.

According to Smith & Wesson CEO Mark Smith nearly eight million Americans have decided to “exercise their Second Amendment rights for the first time.”
Of the eight million first time buyers, 40% have been women, which mens approximately 3.2 million women became gun owners this year alone. Gun purchases by Black Americans were up 58% in the first half of 2020. “This expanded consumer base of new firearm owners represents a healthy long-term opportunity for the industry as a whole, but specifically for Smith & Wesson,” said Smith.
These numbers only tell part of the story regarding gun sales. The current stats are based on the 19 million NICS checks that were done in 2020, which are required by the FBI. Anybody who has a concealed carry permit has already passed a background check, and additional gun purchases do not require a repeat check. Customers need only to show their carry permit when purchasing a firearm. And, a single NICS check can be used to purchase multiple firearms.
Also, a background check is not required for a private sale between two individuals in most states. Considering these variables, gun sales hit an all-time high in 2020, even beating the massive spike in sales running up to the 2016 election.
The reasons for the boom are obvious, according to Smith. 2020 has been the perfect storm for gun sales. TheCOVID-19 pandemic tanked the economy. Crime spiked.
Americans watched months of rioting and looting take place in cities across the country. Politically motivated violence is on the rise.
Plus a presidential election where one candidate has declared war on the Second Amendment. “It’s better late than never, so stock up if you can,” said Mark Smith

By Evelyn Pyburn

Sometimes modern technological innovations may not be an improvement over old fashioned, labor intensive processes. Such is perhaps true regarding voting.

No matter how this election turns out, it will have totally undermined confidence in the electoral process for all, and that is a massive casualty for the country. And, it isn’t something that happened after Election Day, it began long before when all kinds of safeguards were being eagerly undermined.

Confidence in the process has to be reinstituted and we have to conclude, that no technological advancement can be introduced that won’t carry with it greater potential for fraud. 

Former President Barak Obama identified most clearly the best system and how it provides the best possible safeguard. Back when there were concerns about Russia having manipulated our voting process, then- President Obama stated, “…there is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even rig America’s election, in part because they’re so decentralized.” (October 2016)

And, therein is the solution – we had it all along, and President Obama resoundingly identified it. Keeping it a hands -on process conducted county-by-county. No computers, or digitizing of data or centralization. President Obama recognized, as should anyone, that decentralization, while undoubtedly cumbersome, is inherently the best protection against subverting the whole system. The very unwieldiness of it minimizes the ability to orchestrate any kind of focused massive manipulations.

A computerized, centralized process will always be vulnerable. One doesn’t have to be much of a computer guru to understand that.

While how to conduct elections should still be left to the province of each state –dovetailing with the idea that a decentralized process is best – the one federal limitation should be that it remains under the authority of disparate counties, in a manner in which each ballot can be traced back to a voter – no centralization, no computerization.

Fraud can certainly still happen but not on a massive scale and not without being detectable should someone exercise their prerogative to look. (Speaking of which, it is not only President Trump’s right to challenge suspect elections, it is his obligation. Part of the system’s weakness today, is that others did not challenge when they should have.)

And while we are talking about it, let’s be really, really honest — the only reason for voters not to have to show ID, or for deadlines not to matter, or for mail-in ballots (not absentee) — is to facilitate the potential for fraud – and everyone knows it.

While the old fashioned method to guarantee one- person, one- vote, with its inherent decentralization is the most secure process, it does have a price. It could indeed be more costly and it absolutely requires citizen participation.

The cost in a country that spends money on everything from writing zoo poetry to studying cow burps – the cost cannot be of any serious concern. Whatever the cost, to have elections that can be trusted, is worth that cost.

But the biggest challenge for local hands-on elections is the need for hands… they need the volunteer efforts of local citizens and that has been one of the biggest problems for local election officials – getting the people they need to be election judges, poll monitors, counters, etc. Where are you?

You are the only solution to that problem, and assuring honest elections, no matter how it is done, will never happen without citizen participation and oversight. When compared to what soldiers, since the Revolutionary War, have done to assure our liberty, being a poll-watcher is piffle. Again, where are you?

The other safe guard for sound elections is the aggressive prosecution of anyone who commits voter fraud.  Even if they are just one person mailing in their dead relative’s ballot, they should be pursued and prosecuted and their name splashed across the front pages. Every ballot should be considered inviolate, and its violation should be an despicable act against humanity and liberty. And, that is exactly how everyone, who in any way worked to undermine this election, or who condone or accept any election tampering, should be regarded.

Over 71 percent of Billings business owners are at least somewhat concerned about the welfare of their businesses this winter according to a survey conducted by the Billings Chamber of Commerce.

Almost a fourth are “concerned” to “very concerned” and almost half are “somewhat” concerned about having to close their businesses because of the current COVID-19 restrictions, according to the survey which had 274 responses.

Just under 30 percent said they were not concerned at all.

Current orders issued by Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton requires all businesses to operate at 50 percent capacity, opening no earlier than 4 am and closing by 10 pm. The mandate reduced capacity level from 75 percent, and for many businesses 50 percent capacity isn’t enough to sustain the business and is basically a requirement to close. The order pertains to all places of assembly, retail stores, bars, casinos, churches, gym, and salon.

Exceptions include healthcare organizations and pharmacies. Restaurants may provide takeout and drive-through food after 10 p.m.

Felton is limiting all indoor and outdoor gatherings to 25 people.

His orders are for the most part the same as those issued by Gov. Steve Bullock a few days earlier.