On Jan. 28, the Commissioner of Political Practices (CoPP), Jeffrey Mangan, issued a document dismissing the case that the City of Bozeman filed regarding a complaint against the city, claiming city officials used public resources to campaign for a $36.9 million Bozeman Public Safety Center.
In an unprecedented way, the City filed the complaint with the CoPP, naming itself as both the Complainant and Respondent, shifting the focus of the issue from that of a law suit filed by Roger Koopman, Paul Johnson and others. (Koopman is a Public Service Commissioner and former state legislator.)
The suit, filed in Montana 18th Judicial District Court, alleged that the city had used public resources to campaign in support of a bond issue that was ultimately passed by voters on Nov. 6, 2018. Montana law prohibits the use of public money and resources to campaign regarding political candidates or issues.
In the CoPP document, The City of Bozeman repeatedly states, regarding each action taken that it was done as part of an educational campaign, including the hiring of a marketing firm, The Nest Collective, for “development of strategy, messaging, and create an educational campaign for the City of Bozeman Public Safety Building.”
“The Commissioner has determined that the City’s BPSC materials were electioneering communications, not election communications, that no City employees used public time or resources to advocate for the BPSC and that the City did not coordinate any BPSC activities with the BCFS group,” wrote Mangan.
The City contended that the case should have been filed with the Office of Political Practices rather than initiated as a court case. They also contended that Koopman should have filed a complaint with the city’s three-member Board of Ethics, which he has since done, however, Koopman said neither action is necessary for him to pursue a court challenge.
Koopman and his attorney, Chris J. Gallus, said that they did not agree that the CoPP had any role to play in the case. He said, “it struck me as a very elaborate whitewash, where the commissioner and his in-house lawyer … went out of their way to attempt to discredit a complaint that never belonged in their jurisdiction in the first place, and where prudence dictated it should not have been accepted by their office.”
He went on to say, “That Mangan would rule against us was a forgone conclusion. We did not even waste our time presenting more evidence to him in the matter.”
Following the CoPP decision, Bozeman City officials said that they will ask Koopman to drop his case, and they will ask the court to dismiss the case.
However, Koopman issued a statement saying, “We are continuing to raise funds for our cause, and have no intention of giving up the fight. This matter belongs before the Gallatin County Attorney, and ultimately, before Gallatin District Court where it was first filed many weeks ago.”
City officials have voiced concerns that any delay in the construction process could result in additional costs. So far the case has not caused any delays because there is work that can be done. However, if the delay extends beyond March, city administrators estimate it could begin to cost them as much as $200,000 a month.
Koopman further stated, “While entirely predictable, the significance of the Mangan-City of Bozeman Love Dance should not escape us. It underscores exactly, the degree to which partisan actors have corrupted the integrity of local government, and stolen from the people, our sacred right to democratic elections, free from government influence and manipulation. That is precisely why I brought this suit — a suit that symbolizes the people of Montana striving to regain their lost democratic liberties.”