Shut Down

SME declined my request to obtain documents surrounding the City's coal plant transaction.

Now what?

I guess I see three main alternatives. First, do nothing. This is actually a fairly enticing choice; I do actually have paying clients. This is the obvious choice of the City of Great Falls and SME.

Second, litigate. Montana has a very powerful doctrine favoring the public's right to know what is going on its government, and I don't think there are many District Court judges who will refuse the public the right to see documents of a 'private' entity owned by public entities. Plus, I would have the added pleasure of deposing some of the individuals involved in this transaction, including our City Manager and Commissioners.

The theory would go something like this (this is rough, I haven't really researched it yet): A shareholder has the right to inspect corporate records. A shareholder "includes a beneficial owner whose shares are held in a voting trust or by a nominee on the shareholder's behalf." I would assert that Electric City Power is merely a nominee holding the shares on behalf of the City of Great Falls. I would assert that, since the City of Great Falls has every legal right to inspect and possess these records (they "document the transaction of official business"), the City cannot shelter the records from disclosure to citizens merely by refusing to request them.

Anyone know a lawyer who wants to take my case?

Third, we could just go right to the heart of the matter. You see, the Montana Constitution guarantees the citizens the right of initiative, and this applies even to local governments.

I'm just thinking out loud here, but what if someone were to draft an ordinance for the City of Great Falls that declared a moratorium on the City's involvement in the operation of a public utility and directed City Staff to immediately take all reasonable steps to extricate the City from any prior entanglements directed to such ends.

And what if that same someone were to go out and gather the necessary 15% of the 29,029 registered electors (ok, this isn't completely spur of the moment) to get that ordinance placed on the ballot. That is 4,355 signatures.

To be honest, I might advocate voting against such an initiative. At least if we put it on the ballot, though, we might gain access to the information surrounding the construction of this plant.

After all, that's all I really want. Information. What is there to hide? What do they not want the public to know about this coal plant? It is going to be well over a 100 million dollars of your money they are spending. And they 'decline' to produce the documents concerning the transaction?


craig said...

Keep their feet to the fire, Gee Guy!

Hawkeye said...

I would love to see this come to a vote. How rigorous is it to get the proper signatures etc. for the ordinance? Is it true that the city administration specifically set this process up so the decision would not come down to an election ballot?

Big Sky Husker said...


I apologize if I missed it, but is there a drop dead date to start the initiative process? I've been following your tortured path with the coal plant and it seems to me that short of legal proceedings, nothing involving SME is going to be shown the light of day. I was in favor of the coal plant, not anymore.

You have to shake your head at the malt plant mess. I'm sure ADM is tickled pink.