Judge asks for additional information in lawsuit over county zoning appointments
Judge Olivia Rieger asked both sides to submit findings of fact and conclusions of law by July 20.
The Glendive judge is hearing a civil suit brought by Ryan Villines against the Cascade County Commissioners over zoning board appointments.
She said she’d issue a written order after reviewing the additional information.
Rieger took the case after all four Cascade County district judges declined. That’s common since they do business with the county and when a government entity is sued, their insurance provider often appoints a lawyer for the case, according to several legal professionals in the area.
In his complaint, filed in March, Villines argues that criteria added by the county for a vacancy on the Zoning Board of Adjustment were unlawful. He took issue with a resident freeholder requirement and that applicants had to live outside a 7-mile radius from the proposed Madison Food Park since the ZBOA will hear a request from that developer for a special use permit, should the developer resubmit their application.
The criteria were developed by Carey Ann Haight, chief of the civil division in the county attorney’s office. The county advertised the vacancy with the criteria, but commissioners did not vote to adopt the restrictions. In April, commissioners voted to remove all criteria and readvertise the vacancy. They later extended the application period after discovering a requirement of state law for a month-long advertising period.
During Friday’s hearing on a motion to dismiss the case, Villines said he was dissuaded from dismissing the case since the application period was extended “for unknown reasons.”
Villines had applied for the ZBOA vacancy and argued in his complaint that the criteria disqualified him and others unfairly.
Mark Higgins, attorney for the county, said the issue was now moot since the criteria had been removed.
“We did what he demanded that we do,” Higgins said.
Michele Levine was appointed to the ZBOA on June 12 with no criteria.
He said the case law Villines cited in his response to the motion to dismiss pertained to anti-trust, which aren’t necessarily applicable in this case.
Villines had argued that an issue isn’t moot if the party could continue to commit the offense in the future. He added Friday that he believes the county could reinstitute the criteria for upcoming ZBOA vacancies.
“Aren’t you just guessing that they’re going to do this,” Rieger asked Villines.
Villines said he might file another complaint asking that the county appointment to the ZBOA from January be voided since there were criteria in that process. For that appointment, the commission excluded applicants who had made public comments about the MFP project.
Villines also said Friday that he wants to case to continue to he can seek compensation from the county for his time on the lawsuit. If he were to win the case and the court ordered compensation from the county, it would be paid by taxpayer dollars.
The attorney for the county said that Villines didn’t include that as a request in his initial complaint. Higgins also said Villines was making new complaints throughout the process that were outside the scope of the original complaint.
Villines brought up public records requests and Rieger told him that was outside the scope of his original complaint and was a separate issue.