County Commissioners divided over chairmanship cycle

A change to the process for selecting the chairman of the Cascade County Commission caused some public tension between current commissioners during their Dec. 22 meeting.

Jane Weber is resigning her seat, effective, Jan. 22, and she disagreed with Commissioner Joe Briggs’ proposal to change the sequence of the board’s chairmanship.

Cascade County Democratic Central Committee Chairman Carl Donovan said the committee will have a Zoom call on Jan. 7 to select three names that will be forwarded to the remaining commissioners for consideration as Weber’s replacement. The remaining commissioners can choose one to appoint to her seat, but that person will have to run again in 2022.

Weber resigning from County Commission

The candidates who submitted letters of interest, according to Donovan, are:

  • Casey Schreiner
  • Vanessa Hayden
  • David Phillips
  • Helena Lovick
  • Don Ryan
  • Amy Rapp
  • Randall Knowles

The board chair’s responsibility is largely to run commission meetings and sign government documents.

State law requires the commission to select a presiding officer in one of three ways, which includes being elected by the members of the commission for a term established by ordinance and selection as provided by ordinance, according to Briggs’ agenda report.

Commissioners serve six year terms.

In 2009, the commission adopted an ordinance that had commissioners electing a presiding officer at its first meeting in odd numbered years and the chair’s term was two years.

In 2012, commissioners rescinded that ordinance and established a pattern of the chair’s term being one year and that the position of chair was rotated every January with the commissioner serving in the third and sixth year of their term be the chair.

“This annual turnover creates confusion with our granting and other governmental partners as documents created by these partners often cite the wrong presiding officer. Additionally, since the presiding officer is also deemed to be the certifying environmental officer, the annual turnover causes many projects to require a change of environmental certifying officer to occur in mid project when the presiding officer is changed in January,” according to Briggs’ agenda report.

Instead, Briggs proposed adopting a process with each member of the commission serving as chair during the fifth and sixth year of their term and in the case of shortened terms, the commissioners would elect for a one-year term.

Commissioners adopted the change 2-1, with Weber opposed.

Briggs said it would help newly elected commissioners to learn the system before serving as chair.

“This is of particular importance given the resignation of Commissioner Weber. Her replacement would, under a strict interpretation of the existing ordinance immediately become presiding officer following their appointment to the commission. The change in ordinance would even under this midterm resignation scenario allow the new commissioner two years of experience prior to becoming the presiding officer,” according to Briggs’ agenda report.

During the meeting, Weber said that other several other large Montana counties use the same rotation as Cascade County did for the last eight years and Yellowstone County commissioners serve as chair in the third and fourth year of their term.

Weber said they changed their rotation in 2012 to match with other major counties and that she doesn’t want it to appear that one commissioner is ruling over the county for too long.

Commissioner Jim Larson is currently serving as chair and said that when he took over at the beginning of the year, he had to do a lot of changes on paperwork and said he could see some validity to the two-year term.

Briggs said that he’s served under both methods and found it to be smoother on a two-year chairmanship cycle.

Weber said the commission meetings are simple to run and “it doesn’t cause great problems with contracts…so I don’t buy that argument.”

She said that since her successor would have to run again in 2022, the same year Briggs will be up for election.

Weber said that the chair gets more interaction with the media and “I view this motion as a way to suppress the opportunity for my successor to have any face time with the media.”