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Kalispell declares state of emergency

by BRET ANNE SERBIN
Daily Inter Lake | April 7, 2020 3:00 PM

In a virtual meeting held mostly through Zoom video conference, the Kalispell City Council on Monday declared a state of emergency for the city due to the COVID-19 outbreak, despite some opposition over the declaration.

Council members participated remotely in the meeting and accepted public comments via email.

City Manager Doug Russell explained “the overall guiding reason” for the emergency declaration is to access funding to address the outbreak. He explained the Montana Disaster and Emergency Services Office requested the city pass this declaration to access funds, and that these resources would be used for expenses directly related to the health emergency.

He added the state of Montana and Flathead County have already passed earlier declarations of emergency, and regardless of the city’s decision, they are required to abide by state directives.

Following numerous public comments concerned about this move, Russell stated the council has no intention to enact a curfew or restrict ingress or egress, and the city manager still has accountability with his emergency responsibilities.

“This isn’t just a carte blanche handover of power to our city manager,” Mayor Mark Johnson pointed out.

BUT SOME members of the community were uncomfortable with the decision. Flathead City-County Health Board member Annie Bukacek organized an impromptu demonstration with about 40 people to protest the decision outside City Hall prior to the meeting, even though most city officials were not at the building for the virtual meeting.

“We are meeting in protest [of] the City Council plan to vote YES on empowering the city manager to call a curfew and otherwise usher in martial law for Kalispell,” Bukacek wrote in an email Monday afternoon.

Nick Ramlow, a candidate for Montana House District 7 and a co-organizer of the protest, expressed his concerns with the virtual meeting setup and the declaration of emergency in an email titled, “Kalispell’s PJ Party.”

“The biggest transfer of power and federal rent seeking that this city has ever seen is coming to us under the cloak of night, as policy makers vote from the comfort of their home (wearing their favorite pair of pj’s), completely void of public interaction in its policy making,” Ramlow’s email stated.

He explained he felt the meeting setup didn’t give the public an adequate mechanism to provide their input, and the declaration of emergency was a violation of citizens’ rights.

“The mayor has barricaded himself in city hall and won’t let us in,” he said. “The civil process is being usurped.”

The council nonetheless approved the emergency declaration with only council member Sid Daoud opposed.

IN OTHER business, the council voted to postpone a decision on updating the city’s water and utility rates for 30 days. However, the council did approve four land-use requests because Johnson pointed out the state has time limitations on approving or rejecting these requests.

They approved WGM Group Inc.’s final plat application and subdivision improvement agreement on behalf of Meadow’s Edge, LLC, for Meadow’s Edge Phase 1B, a 97-lot residential subdivision located near Mountain Vista Way; the Owl Corporation’s conditional-use permit for 10 buildings with a total of 120 multi-family apartments at the west end of Sawyer Lane; the Meridian Apartments’ conditional-use permit for a multi-family residential development that would include four buildings with 36 units each at 41 Meridian Court; and Eagle Valley Ranch Apartments’ and the Stillwater Corporation’s major subdivision preliminary plat for Kalispell North Town Center Phases Three and Four.

The council also voted to distribute funds from the Bridge and Road Safety and Accountability Program. The Kalispell Public Works Department plans to use just over $445,000 in these state funds for chip seal on Grandview Drive, East Oregon Street and Third and Fouth Avenue East; contractor mill and overlay projects in the South Meadows area of town and small mill and overlay projects throughout the city.

The council is also taking public comments on two applications for the state’s new Historic Preservation Grants. The council plans to vote at its next meeting on an application from the Conrad Mansion Museum Board to rewire the Conrad Mansion’s electricity and The Northwest Montana Historical Society to flush and clean the Northwest Montana History Museum’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

Public comments are currently being accepted at publiccoment@kalispell.com.

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at (406)-758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.