Addressing Malfeasance: Republican Ravalli County versus Democratic Missoula County

by jhwygirl

Lizard has had two posts now calling out local democrats – Thanks for Nothing, Democrats and Rape Culture, Missoula Democrats, and Criminalizing Poverty – on their lack of acting with principles most often associated with the Democratic Party.

Lizard points out in his first post that the overwhelmingly progressive city council (yeah, they run as nonpartisans but we all know they’re democrats) are working to criminalize homelessness. He points out that the Board of County Commissioners (all democrats) is suing the feds, saying they’ve no jurisdiction over our county attorney, the illustrious Fred Van Valkenburg, and then Liz points out that oVan Valkenburg – a democrat, himself – chose to not only ignore a county initiative that decriminalized marijuana, but that he actually notched up prosecutions of possession!

A comment from former Poverello Director and State Representative Ellie Hill (HD94 – Missoula) takes us to Lizard’s second post where he takes on former Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir’s recent editorial in support of Van Valkenburg and Missoula County’s lawsuit against the feds. Now, admittedly Muir’s politics are unknown since he wasn’t an elected official – but he is standing not only in support of the very Tea Partyesque lawsuit, he’s also referring to the USDOJ as “ultra-liberal.” Liz then continues on to call out Ms. Hill’s apparent change in positions on her advocacy for the homeless, citing quotes by Hill in Missoulian reporter Keila Szpaller’s blog, Missoula Red Tape.

For good measure, Lizard closes out his post with reference to former US Representative Pat Williams’ ‘knucklehead” comment about rapists at the University of Montana, finely documented by the truly lustrous architect of words, Patrick Duganz.

Yes, it’s hard to find what many might refer to as “true progressives” or “good democrats” here in Missoula these days. Wagons are circled, that’s for sure. That “speak no ill” rule certainly applies in state democrat politics.

A few days ago a friend pointed out to me that Ravalli County – a conservative Tea Party bastion – sure knows how to address incompetence, even when it involves what is an elected office. That person was right. With unproven allegations of malfeasance, Ravalli Board of County Commissioners had County Treasurer Valerie Stamey escorted from the building by the county sheriff. They then hired an outside audit firm, brought in a interim treasurer and also a retired judge to independently oversee the investigation. Stamey remains on paid leave as the investigation continues.

Compare that to Missoula County Board of County Commissioners. With serious allegations made by the USDOJ who have quite clearly said that County Attorney Van Valkenburg has “put women’s safety at risk,” Van Valkenenburg apparently still has access to his office! There are not only allegations of violations of state and federal law, there is significant documentation by the USDOJ that civil rights were violated – that’s the kind of stuff that exposes the county to millions of dollars in lawsuits.

Instead, the county steams forward not by addressing the allegations, but on the hope of a now disgraced county attorney who thinks that the feds don’t have jurisdiction over civil rights violations.

This situation is no longer about who has jurisdiction over who – it’s over who violated civil rights and who is going to continue to maintain the status quo.

With documented allegations of civil rights violations and the failure of the Board of County Commissioners to act, it’s not going to be just Fred Van Valkenburg and Missoula County’s name on the lawsuits that have an easy in to being filed. His enablers will also be on the hook, should they fail to act.

And – dare I suggest – that may include the State of Montana, since there are documented allegations of state law in that 20 page document also. I’ve only heard crickets out of Helena, so far.

Missoula was worried about the cost of implementing the USDOJ’s recommendations? They might start to think about those civil rights lawsuits. That stuff can be real real expensive.

Look – Van Valkenburg poked at the dragon. The dragon bit back in a big way. In doing so, the dragon shined a big light on civil rights violations. If anyone things things are going to get easier, they’re dreaming.

Not only that – Van Valkenburg can’t defend himself or the county from these allegations. Consider that. Van Valkenburg had to hire outside council to sue the feds…he and the county sure can’t defend themselves against the civil rights violations that are now on their way down the pike.

  1. That’s some pretty good analysis here over the last 2 days. In regard to the attorney, I think the slow wheels are turning and we’ll see some action on this soon. At least I hope so.

    • I think the county commissioners need their own attorney, free from any conflict regarding Van Valkenburg.

      I also don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. It will happen, eventually, out of necessity – but until then, they’re going to continue to fund his pipedream of a lawsuit against the feds.

      Poking that dragon more and more.

      • if the county commissioners continue to support Fred in embarrassing Missoula by stubbornly refusing to cooperate with the DOJ in their mission to improve prosecution of rape and sex assaults and treatment of victims, it is their political funeral.

        Fred is already dead in the eyes of the majority of the voters of Missoula

  2. I haven’t changed my position on the homeless and I am sort of offended by the suggestion.

    I do NOT support the current panhandling ordinances and neither do many of my Democratic colleagues. Yes, Councilwoman Copple knows this. Yes, I also still support Councilwoman Copple. In fact, I think she has been a phenomenal voice for economic development on the City Council. I do not demand my elected officials march lockstep.

    And, I’m certainly not taking my toys and jumping into Lyn Helegaard’s sandbox over it.

    No, I have not been shouting from the mountain tops regarding my opposition to the panhandling ordinances (this round anyway)– and this is deliberate– out of deference to my former employer, the Poverello Center, and the sensitive relationships surrounding the capital campaign for the new building. The support from United Way and the Missoula Downtown Association is critical and I deeply respect everyone involved in that effort. If anyone should understand that, I think “lizard” could cut some folks some slack on how long and how hard SO MANY people have worked towards seeing that to fruition.

    There is zero doubt those ordinances criminalize constitutionally protected behavior and they are contrary to the very notion of being a Missoulian. The ACLU was correct from the beginning and I wrote every single member of the city council and told them that before the first vote and before the federal courts in Idaho confirmed it.

    That said, I am proud to be a Missoula County Democrat and a Montana Democrat.

    “Progressive”, “blue dog”, “libertarian-leaning”, “the New party”, “labor”, “green”; it seems that whoever we are, and whoever it is circling these wagons, I guess we don’t pass 4 and 20 muster anymore unless we load our pistols and start shooting inward. Well, count this former b’birder out then.

    • I don’t expect my elected officials to march lock step Elle – if I did, I wouldn’t bother voting. And I, too take offense – at the suggestion I’ve jumped over to Lyn Helegaard’s sandbox.

      Politicians here need to grow some thicker skin or get off the stage. The idea here that any criticism is some sort of personal attack and an attack on all is not only ludicrous, but non-productive. This isn’t who said what about who – it’s about who voted how on what.

      Is Liz to stand by as an advocate for homeless and keep his mouth shut about shitty ordinances because they’re all democrats that put it in place? With regards to the whole rape scandal, I’ve listened and read as people everywhere but here in Montana assume that the players are all Republicans. Talk about partisan assumptions.

      Liz isn’t alone in his criticism of Dems and neither am I. But the incest with elected and the party elite isn’t, I’m afraid, letting ya’all see it. So be it. No one’s predicting any gains for state dems this year – but yeah – it’s all our fault.

      Look inward my friend. I’ve always supported you, and that’s the truth. The shame is, the party hasn’t always supported you. City level, state level – they’ve thrown you under the bus more than once. If you can live with that, that’s your choice. For me, I’ll still call those hypocrites out and you won’t find me smiling and making pleasantries with those who’ll choose party over friendships.


      • Well, in the words of one of my favorite Montana Republicans, Duane Ankney from Colstrip:

        “They come out and said they were going to bury me in this election,” “I said, ‘Well, get your shovels, boys.’”

        I think you know me, jhwygirl, I’m loyal to the end, stubborn, but loyal. Let’s grab one at the Union Club in a few weeks. I want to run a bill idea past you, re: wild land urban interface.

        Talk soon. Cheers.

    • lizard19

      I have and will continue to use discretion in my approach to discussing matters of importance facing Missoula, so there’s the slack.

  3. steve kelly

    “…I guess we don’t pass 4 and 20 muster anymore unless we load our pistols and start shooting inward. Well, count this former b’birder out then.”

    What then, take your marbles and go home?

    Banishment for Lizard if he fails to “cut some folks some slack?” Obama used this technique effectively to marginalize progressive black activists prior to the 2012 election. Slack, however, is seldom rewarded.

    Have other viable alternatives been seriously considered? Shooting the messenger has been SOP by both parties for far too long.

    And the silver lining is a “wildland urban interface bill?” No more bulldozers, please?

    Lizard, keep up the good work. Endless pressure endlessly applied.

  4. Geoff Badenoch

    Issues like this are terribly complex. The easy part is to line up with those who say anyone who is sexually assaulted is entitled to a respectful, honest and sensitive investigation of the assault. If we imagine the victim as a family member or loved one it becomes even easier. That’s where I line up.

    At the same time, we have a system of justice that protects the rights of the accused, a value I hope everyone agrees is necessary to our liberty. We don’t always get it right in either side of an allegation of sexual assault, although we should never stop aiming to bat a thousand in our attempt to be sensitive to victims AND faithfully protect the rights of the accused. I am not convinced or satisfied we can ever stop trying to do better at this.

    On top of this, though, comes the federal Department of Justice into Missoula County and concludes in its investigation that our elected County Attorney has operated the department in such a way as to less than faithfully serve the needs of victims and deliver justice on their behalf. If true, that is terribly disturbing. But the DOJ findings have not been tested in an arena of advocacy that will require their evidence to be examined in a judicial proceeding. Now that will happen.

    Why is that important? First, because federal interference in local affairs involving an elected official is serious business. It should not occur lightly. It is so serious that it should be tested. Many people–far from being a Tea Partier/anti-government types–who are not given to dismissive two word assessments like “government overreach” understand the gravity of federal involvement in local law enforcement.

    Second, the people of Missoula County deserve to know through a judicial examination whether the DOJ report has any merit. If, through a test of the judicial system, Fred VanValkenberg is found wanting in the management of the County Attorney’s office, I hope he will do the right thing and resign.

    I am willing and happy, though, to have my tax dollars spent resolving this question in a court of law with the best legal minds at it. I am willing to recall Fred’s years of service to Missoula County and the State of Montana as a legislator and have his work examined by trial.

    Geoff Badenoch

    • You make some good points. Well said!

    • Fred is relying on “prosecutorial discretion” in his case questioning the feds right to investigate him. That and his belief that no county attorney has ever been investigated.

      I can’t verify whether he’s correct on that, and I’m sure not taking is word for it. I have, though, perused the USDOJ civil rights division’s website, and there sure are a whole hell of a lot of examples of the USDOJ investigating state AG offices, police, sheriff’s – the list goes on. As for the first issue – now think about it – he’s arguing that it’s his choice to prosecute rape and the feds should stay the hell out of it.

      And here you are Geoff – one of many, I’ll add, so nothing personal here – cheering on the question of federal jurisdiction. That issue is very separate (and not any part) of any determination of whether he is “wanting in the management of the County Attorney’s Office.”

      I do believe that the issue of his management of the County Attorney’s Office has been pretty thoroughly, in fact, exposed in the USDOJ report. “Boys will be boys,” being said to the mother of a 5-year old rape victim? Bible passages read to another? Rapists that confess, yet his office returning forms to the Missoula PD that say “insufficient evidence”?

      His management has been pretty poor, imo – even if you want to frame the USDOJ work on Fred’s addressing of just sexual assaults as anecdotal.

      “Prosecutorial discretion” is NOT choosing not to prosecute a rapist that confesses. That is a civil rights violation. Equal Protection. The 14th Amendment. Something which the USDOJ most certainly does have jurisdiction over.

      These issues are indeed complex I hear plenty of people melding together a whole bunch of them. Freddy’s case is about USDOJ authority to investigate him – whether they are meddling in the local affairs of prosecutorial discretion.

      It’s important as this community hopefully moves forward in discussion that all issues are kept tucked in their rightful sectors.

    • not really so complex geoff….. Fred is dragging Missoula through the mud to prove a point and to placate a very fragile ego….

      the business community and the taxpayers of Missoula are to suck it up for the sake of some legal fine points? let some other county fight the DOJ

      enrollment is declining at U of M which hurts business….
      tourism is suffering…..
      the very image of Missoula is at stake here….
      women victims are coming out with horror stories about how they are treated by Fred and his staff….
      rapists confess and there is no prosecution….
      a child rape victim’s mother is told that “Boys will be Boys” by a member of Fred’s staff…..

      and we should support Fred’s refusal to cooperate with DOJ recommendations to improve prosecution and to treat victims with basic human rights…..

      my mother was right. there is a point when too much thinking produces bad solutions. she called them educated idiots.
      I am not one of those. i use common sense most of the time.
      and common sense dictates that splashing national coverage with the lead that Missoula refuses to improve our prosecution of rape and sex assaults and treatment of victims as DOJ suggests sends the world a very bad message.

      I have talked to mothers and fathers who are pulling their daughters out of U of M over the last dorm room rape from Monday night.

      but if you are ok with the loss of tourism and the declining enrollment to prove a fine legal point for Fred then go ahead.

      I just hope that you are aware that the majority of Missoulians are not with you and Fred on this.

      also, I hope that U of M is ok with the result of this bad publicity. one thing is for certain. the ratio of women to men is declining rapidly.

      i know my grand daughters aren’t going anywhere near U of M
      if this lawsuit goes forward.

      • Wow, another great response that gets to the heart of a lot of this. Who says this site was going downhill?

        • lizard19

          the site has gone downhill from the peak of activity. if you look at the list of contributors only a few remain active, which is understandable. it’s easy to get burned out writing relevant content for free during spare time, and the back and forth of commenting has, at times, been extremely toxic.

          blogging overall has also seen a decline. we’ve had local blogs come and go, and the diversity of Montana blogs right now is diminished. notably there are no good conservative blogs around anymore, and the Democrat blogs just do their partisan thing, which is useful when it comes to tracking the crazies on the extreme right, but not so useful when it comes to applying their alleged principles to their own team.

      • Problembear, if you think Fred Van Valkenberg has a “very fragile ego” he is protecting, it makes me wonder if you know Fred Van Valkenberg. Whatever is motivating his actions, my sense of Fred is that it is not due to a fragile ego.

        This incident as it has unfolded has required discernment and a dogged pursuit of the truth. I simply don’t believe that the DOJ report, unchallenged and unanswered can be the gold standard of truth. I have yet to be told about the evidence and have yet to see it cross-examined. What was said? What was heard? We have all had enough experience being misunderstood to see that suspending our judgment pending examination of the DOJ’s allegations is worthy.

        Yes, Missoula’s and the University’s reputations have been sullied by the allegations played out in our courtrooms and out newspapers. One case, where the accused was the UM star quarterback resulted in an acquittal, in other words, not guilty. So, a not guilty person, because of his notoriety as a UM star athelete, was dragged through the headlines for a year or so, causing what the world sees as a stain on our community. That’s terrible.

        Was he really guilty though? Did he really do it and just get off because of crafty lawyers or weak-minded judges and jurors? Here’s the hard truth: if he was innocent, Missoula got a bad rap and we can hold our heads high and suck it up until the world forgets. On the other hand, if he did it, and got away with it leaving his victim unfairly shamed and discredited, it clearly demonstrates why prosecutors–even with a case they are ready to take to trial–are so often reluctant to do so. The loss is not only theirs, but the victim is doubly violated.

        Is there something to be learned from that? Sure. The pursuit of the Truth, as noble and necessary as it is, is not a journey with a certain, immediate destination. Deeper examination of the facts is all that takes us away from judgment by innuendo, unsupported allegation and humbuggery. Rather than sweep the DOJ findings away dismissively, I say give them a thorough going over and then act on what comes up.

        • Geoff-
          The mayor of Bozeman agrees with most of Montana on this-

          quoted from article.php?article_id=1158

          “My thoughts after time passed became more reflective. I certainly understand how public life can be risky, where making mistakes or even ‘business as usual’ attitudes can lure me into overlooking a problem. But the best way of dealing with great risk is to enthusiastically endorse a way forward.

          “So you’ve seen the MUS (Montana University System) cooperating fully and adopting the recommendations—even if we weren’t in “consensus” about the details of the reports or even if we agreed every recommendation is a good idea. Furthermore, the City of Missoula agreed to move forward with the DOJ. Again, it is not about 100% agreement with findings. It is about getting much better in our attitudes and procedures dealing with sexual assault, fully implementing Title IX, and moving forward in our duties to protect and serve.

          “The first step to making progress is to stop excusing the past and just admit we have a problem. And if one of our critical partners, like Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg, won’t take that step, we don’t make progress. The system breaks down, and the community of Montana can’t move forward.

          “When the issues needing progress are the safety of women on our campuses, and the civil rights of victims, and the safety of the daughters of Montanans attending UM and Missoula College, I’m not willing to accept anything but rapid, immediate, effective progress. As a Regent of the Montana University System, the words of the DOJ report speak directly to my duties and obligations to the women attending and working on the Missoula campuses. In fact, the whole state has a stake in the safety of the women on the campuses in Missoula County. We have a stake in the success of one of our proudest institutions—The University of Montana—and in the reputation of “The Garden City.” It’s time to stop fighting over the past and instead look to how we all work together to restore those reputations and, more importantly, send the message that Missoula and The University of Montana are great, welcoming, safe places for women.”

          Also, our own Mayor and current police chief-

          From yesterday’s Missoulian….

          It’s close to a year since the city of Missoula entered into an agreement with the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, and we’re the better for it.

          In the wake of continuing conflict between the DOJ and the Missoula County Attorneys Office and a recent (Feb. 18) opinion piece by Missoula’s former police chief, we think it’s important to remind the public we serve where the city of Missoula stands when it comes to the safety of women in our community.

          We’re more responsive and sensitive to the needs of victims of sexual assault, we’re operating under better policies and procedures, we are better trained, we are cooperating better with our partners in law enforcement, the criminal justice system and the community, we’re reorganizing our staff and remodeling our facilities to better serve victims and we’re opening ourselves to external review in an effort to ensure that we’re always improving and that we’re accountable to the citizens we serve.

          Since May, when we finalized our agreement with the Civil Rights Division, our team has worked tirelessly to meet the letter and spirit of that agreement, which calls for a victim-centered approach to investigating sexual assault.

          Here’s what’s different today from a year ago:

          • Nearly every one of Missoula’s police officers has received extensive training in sexual-assault response from a widely respected trainer using nationally recognized best practices. Our officers have been joined by the staff of the University of Montana’s Office of Public Safety, the county attorney and members of his staff.

          • We have updated our policies and procedures around sexual-assault cases, ensuring that we’re communicating more frequently and thoughtfully with victims, more assertively following up with suspects and turning over the best possible investigations to prosecutors, then following up with their charging decision and documenting those decisions. The city of Missoula, University of Montana and Missoula County Attorney’s Office have agreements in place designed to enhance interagency cooperation with regard to sexual assault.

          • Each of our sexual-assault cases is reviewed by an independent, community-based team responsible for holding us accountable to our policies and practices. We make changes in policy, procedure and personnel based on these reviews.

          • Soon, we’ll participate in our first annual community audit of our response that will assess how we, the University of Montana and the Missoula County Attorney’s Office are collaborating to address sexual assault, “with a focus on enhancing victim safety, support and participation in the law-enforcement process.”

          Today, the women and men of the Missoula Police Department are working diligently every day to ensure that we’re taking care of victims of sexual assault better than any other city in America. We’re not grudgingly operating under an agreement with the federal government, but operating in the best interests of the community we’re sworn to protect and serve.

          Mike Brady is the city of Missoula’s police chief and John Engen is Missoula’s mayor.

          And Geoff. You are right. I don’t know Fred Van Valkenburg. I don’t have a membership to Missoula Country Club.

          I do however know that the louder a dog barks, the smaller he becomes…..

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