Amazing! or, “Why more people don’t follow politics” or, “Why newspapers are dying,” or “Why Montana’s Open Meeting Laws need fixing,” or “Why Montana’s Airport Authorities need to be elected vs. appointed.”

If you are of the belief that all we need are more regulations and more government; that problems in the system take care of themselves; that laws automatically protect the right of the citizen, your innocence can be forgiven. In fighting for citizen-controlled airport policies and responsible, ethical, open airport government, it is amazing what transpires.

To: Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Friday 12 Sep 08

Good Morning Mr. Person —

I read with interest today’s article regarding the pending retirement of Gallatin Field’s Ted Mathis. I was surprised to find no mention of the larger news behind the news.

At yesterday’s board meeting, the board admitted that a quorum of members gathered in Missoula for the purpose of advancing Gallatin Field operations. This consituted a public meeting. It should have been advertised, open, and proper minutes kept. This was an illegal meeting according to Montana code. Further, the Board referenced a recruiting or selection committee of Roehm and McKenna. According to my Montana Freedom of Information Deskbook, this, too, is a public body with a quorum of two, and must also follow all the open meeting laws of the State of Montana.

According to Attorney Mike Meloy from Montana Freedom Of Information Hotline, “There seems to be a prevalent misconception out there that if a quorum convenes and it takes no action the meeting is not covered by the open meetings law. This,of course, is not true. The meeting you describe is subject to the open meetings law.”

In 2001, in a letter to then County Commissioner Jennifer Smith-Mitchell, Deputy County Attorney Christopher B. Gray wrote: “Violation of the Open Meetings laws is a crime (Official Misconduct) among other things. Therefore, one way I can think of opening an investigation is for someone to make a criminal complaint.

Based on the relevant Attorney General’s opinion, if a quorum of this public body discusses, decides or deliberates a matter of significant public interest without public notice it could be a violation.

This doesn’t mean the Board can’t meet for dinner before the main meeting. It just means they can’t use that opportunity to have a “secret” meeting. Therefore for the case to go forward the complainant would have to have some sort of proof that they discussed, decided or deliberated a matter of significant public interest at the dinner meeting.

…I agree this is bad form for that board. The dinner meeting should be stopped or at least noticed in some fashion. You do have some political pressure to bear as you appoint some, if not all of the members of the board.”

Gallatin County Commission keeps re-appointing and re-appointing these board members because of their expertise. These members of Gallatin Airport Authority know better! During the August 2002 airport board meeting discussion on a similar complaint, board member John McKenna commented that “…as a board we’re not even supposed to meet socially as a group…”

Gallatin County sponsored an FOI seminar conducted by Mr. John Shontz. This was February 2005 and a member of the Chronicle also attended. When it was suggested to Gallatin Airport Authority at a following board meeting that they also sit through the same seminar, the Authority voted against the proposal, arguing that they could educate themselves on open meeting compliance.

Was this issue of “Official Misconduct” missed at yesterday’s meeting, or has Bozeman Daily Chronicle shifted emphasis against open meeting compliance and full public disclosure of government activities? There is a history of such behavior on the part of Gallatin Airport Authority. If the free press doesn’t investigate such abuses, who will?

Thomas J. Nagorski
Belgrade Montana USA

See for yourself. Minutes of Gallatin Airport Authority may be found here: From the top menu find “About the Airport” and select “Documents and Statistics.” In there you will find a link to minutes.

from Dan Person
date Fri, Sep 12, 2008 at 3:38 PM
subject RE: Open Meetings

Hi Thomas,

Your concerns have not gone unheard. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the time to turn my full attention to them since we spoke on the phone. I will go over your letter with my editors, and we will discuss where we want to go with it. Please keep in touch – I agree that open meeting laws are in all of our best interest.


Tue 16 Sep 08

Dan —

Thanks for the reply. For some reason, the Gallatin Airport Authority has been given protected status in the media. They are the “golden boys” who can do no wrong. They don’t receive any of the scrutiny that State, County, City, or School administration would. The only law suit against them that received significant press coverage was the one regarding non-compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Attached is a copy of my FOI request to them. (See If history repeats itself, I will have to follow up with another request for this one will go ignored. Finally, their reply will be that each member was there for personal education and no open meeting violation occurred.

It would be interesting, too, to see the minutes of the selection committee. (How do we know the Assistant Manager is not a shoe-in for the position and that the job requirements are not being written to tailor-fit his resume?) I’m sure no such records or public agendas exist there, either.

Since when are government agencies allowed to interpret laws as they wish? Without constant expectations for excellence in government these abuses have, and will continue to exist.

Thomas J. Nagorski

A follow-up:

From: Thomas Nagorski
Sent: Thursday, September 18, 2008
To: Dan Person
Subject: Open Meetings Reply

Dan —

Attached is a copy of the reply I received from Gallatin Airport Authority to my letter of 15 September. (See

I was wrong on one account: I actually received a reply without hounding them for answers. …Or did I?

This was received on plain letterhead, in a plain envelope without a return address, and without a hand signature. Is this standard practice for a government agency? They can certainly offer plausible deniability. It is as if Roehm did not want this issue or reply on public record in the airport office. I’m curious as to whether one could find a copy of this letter on file there. [BTW: To the best of my knowledge, the Chronicle did not follow up and check to satisfy their own curiosity. –TJN]

As to the content of the letter, Mr. Roehm admits that the Authority conducted an illegal meeting. Any publication of Missoula County Airport Authority’s activities does not absolve the Authority of their responsibilities. As I predicted, they would take their own restrictive interpretation of Montana Code and gamble that no one would sue them on their decision.

The selection of a replacement for Mathis is not off to a solid transparent open start. Does the Chronicle plan to obtain selection committee notes and report on its progress?


Thomas J. Nagorski

Now here it gets surreal:

From: [Dan Person]
Subject: RE: Open Meetings Reply
Date: September 24, 2008

Two things:

I’d like to hear why you are concerned with the path the board is taking. What bad could come of it?
Also, are there any others who do business at the airport that are concerned? Can you put me in touch with them?


Fri 26 Sep 08

Dan —

> I’d like to hear why you are concerned with the path the board is taking. What bad could come of it?

You’re kidding, right? Why should a responsible citizen be concerned with any government impropriety — As long as they make the trains run on time, who cares how it happens? I though ours is a country of laws with power given from the people to the governments. I though no individual and especially no government entity was above the law. That’s why we have checks and balances, right? I defy anyone to prove where the checks-and-balances are of the Gallatin Airport Authority. If the County will not oversee them, and the press will not report on their every action, how can citizens exercise control of this bureaucracy? This is different than a Fair board or Waste Disposal Board. This is an independent body politic with the authority to tax and spend and purchase land and regulate and now with its airport police, to enforce. These individuals are not elected nor are they term limited. The Commissioners appoint and reappoint individuals to this agency for their expertise, yet these Gallatin Airport Authority board members continually disregard the spirit of Montana open government policies. According to Montana Freedom of Information Hotline, Montana’s open government regulations are to be applied with liberal interpretation in favor of the citizen. Yet, the Authority interprets them with extreme bias in favor of the government. This is not right and such absolute power can only lead to bureaucratic arrogance and eventual corruption. But why be concerned?

What bad can come of it? Missoula County Airport Authority had a director fired and charged with (I think the charge was) misuse of public funds. The County figured more government oversight was needed to minimize a repeat. Over the years the Chronicle and other Montana newspapers have sued government agencies for failure to operate in complete openness — what harm could come of their secrecy? There is a lawsuit against the Bureau of Indian Affairs accusing them of mismanaging funds — what’s the big deal? Why are the citizens of Bozeman petitioning for a say in the fate of the old SAE house? Why did residents insist on due diligence in the design of a county jail? Why should we care if government officials are on the take? …Or if tax dollars are spend for their campaigns? …Or if drivers ignore school zone speed limits? …Or if agencies breach labor contracts? Perhaps you get the idea. Open government means that we should have access to most any record — from email to meeting minutes. Is this a nicety or an undisputed fact?

If agencies which write the rules refuse to abide by all rules themselves, what respect will citizens place on their laws or authority? If government improprieties are not challenged, what motivation is there to not repeat them? And if the press does not exercise reasonable skepticism and serve as inquisitor and advocate for the basic foundations of our country, how shall freedoms be preserved in a civilized society?

> Also, are there any others who do business at the airport that are concerned? Can you put me in touch with them?

Amongst those that “do business” at the airport the list is small. I assume this is for two reasons: The Authority provides some market protection against competitors. But too, folks have learned to not “rock the boat.” Since their very commercial existence is controlled by the Authority through the Director, prudent businesses have learned to not get on the government’s bad side else leases be rejected or expansion plans be thwarted. Amongst themselves during coffee breaks they grumble. Few will get their comments on record.

Are business owners the only ones with a right to question? Check the public record (provided it hasn’t been sanitized by the Authority): Former Commissioner Jennifer Smith-Mitchell had questions regarding open meeting compliance. Jack Bolls and Dave Funk submitted a claim to the County years ago about similar observed non-compliance Airport Authority activity. Long time airport leaseholders Roger and Dave Stradley from Gallatin Flying Service have had disputes with lease issues. The Duffy’s of Central Helicopters had a lease disallowed because they refused to work over their Sabbath. The Authority was sued to comply with ADA access at the terminal… then erected a non-ADA compliant control tower… because they didn’t have to make it handicap accessible (hardly in keeping with the spirit of the ADA law.) Wayne Marshall sued the airport a while ago about their arbitrary interpretation of leases. Doug Chapman of Montana Aircraft has been on the record over the years regarding airport practices. Rick Keenan, formerly of Arlin’s, butted heads with the Authority when they suddenly reversed years of tradition to shut Rick out of a hangar project he was negotiating. Wayne Edsall is another long time airport watchdog with strong opinions.

Start kicking around and listening when users talk amongst themselves and you get an interesting picture. If one starts with the premise that everything coming from the Authority (or any government) is Truth and Best and Fact and Indisputable, then one continues to fall into the same trap and come to the same under-researched conclusions. The public record doesn’t reflect all this, in part because it is edited…. another issue which blends into the entire openness of government debate.

Anyway, enough. My thoughts are wandering and I have a commitment I need to get to. Thanks for the follow-up.

Regards —
Thomas J. Nagorski

Finally, after hearing nothing further from Person:

Subject: Follow Up
Date: October 7, 2008

Dan —

Finally homeward bound after burying a WWII vet who spent his youth fighting to preserve our freedoms.

I’ve been out of touch with local happenings. Did Bozeman Daily Chronicle do anything with the material on Gallatin Airport Authority?

Regards — TJN

This email generated NO reply. Email to Missoula County Airport Authority confirms that no minutes were taken of the lunch meeting with a quorum of Gallatin Airport Authority members. It appears that there was not a quorum of Missoula board members present during the lunch, therefore, they were not obligated to record the event.

Montana has open meeting laws to prevent and punish such illegal closed meetings. Yet, there are no teeth to the law. Just finding anyone to take the complaint is nearly impossible…..

An inquiry to Montana Freedom Of Information Hotline produced this:

from Mike Meloy
date Thu, Sep 11, 2008
subject Foi inquiry

There seems to be a prevalent misconception out there that if a quorum convenes and it takes no action the meeting is not covered by the open meetings law. This,of course, is not true. The meeting you describe is subject to the open meetings law. However, in order to enforce the law you would have to go to court and ask the judge to void any decision that was discussed during the closed meeting.

How does one go about presenting such a complaint in court? None of the local attorneys I contacted handle such cases. One even declined because of conflict of interest. FOI Hotline’s Meloy suggested a few contacts. These contacts don’t handle such suits, but pointed me towards a Montana attorney information phone number. This number suggested another agency with another 800 number that specialized in citizen advocacy. That agency really dealt with low income housing issues. The number they gave rang into yet another desk dispensing useless numbers. The number they provided …. rang into Mike Meloy’s office and right back where I started from!!!!

(Add to that sentence: *&#$@!!*&$%#!!! Insert the profanity of your choice.)

The system is broken, folks. When you complain to Gallatin County Commissioners, they claim to have no control over Gallatin Airport Authority’s actions. When you talk to Gallatin County Attorney, he claims that it is out of his jurisdiction. When you attempt to exercise your right under Montana Code, no attorney will handle the case. And should you find someone to process your claim, it is probably past the 30-day window which Montana Code gives for filing.

In 2005 a bill was presented which would require a portion of Airport Authorities to be elected rather than appointed. The committee hearing looked like a remake of Matrix’s Agent Smith clones, with the room swamped under all the airport managers and country commissioners from all over the State, each arguing that current policy is fine and provides adequate checks and balances. Yeh, right. (Regrettably, I failed to point out to the committee that a quorum of Gallatin Airport Authority board members were in the audience and spoke against the bill — gathered illegally without proper public notice and without minutes recording their actions.)

In the same session, there was another bill presented to put more teeth into Montana’s open meeting and Freedom Of Information Code. It would have created penalties for individuals knowingly and blatantly violating State Code. As you might guess, it failed to make it out of committee, too.

Ya gotta love days that bring you emails like this:

Subject: Way to go…
Date: December 10, 2008


Just wanted to say keep up the good work keeping the airport board on their toes. I read the minutes every month (usually a few months delayed) and I totally agree that these need to be more open and regulated. They can’t even get the board minutes out for a month or two after the meeting. Not sure why they can’t have them available the next day for public consumption. Anyway, keep it up!!



If General Aviation can not influence the political airport environment, an area about which we are knowledgeable and dependent, then how can we fool ourselves into believing that we have any control of our future?

Anyone know how to submit these suits in court?

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