Crago, citizens blast old hospital decision
The Stillwater County Commissioners’ decision to remodel the old hospital for county office space has drawn the ire of a handful citizens as well as commissioner-elect Mark Crago.
During the public comment period of the regular Tuesday agenda meeting, Crago said that several people have spoken with him since the commission’s Nov. 3 decision to remodel the old hospital for county office use and leave the courts and law enforcement where they currently are in the courthouse, with no improvements planned for the courthouse.
Crago said his first issue is with the timing of the decision, with the commission taking two years to make a decision but not waiting two more months until he was in office. His second issue was the fact that when the decision was announced, the resolution document was the only document missing from the information package that is posted on the county website with each agenda – meaning the public didn’t even know it was happening.
The remainder of Crago’s issues are money-related. Crago said he toured the old hospital two months ago and estimated that $500,000 to $600,000 had already been poured into remodeling the building. Crago, who is a contractor, told the commissioners Tuesday morning “Your $3.4 million budget is not going to cut it.”
Additionally, Crago said the building does not meet the needs of the county and that the public had clearly not supported an old hospital remodel. He asked them to reopen the resolution for discussion.
Also speaking was resident Jim Movius, who started by saying he seconded everything Crago had expressed. Movius, who has also toured the building, echoed Crago’s words on the public’s opinion.
“The option you have chosen possess the most risk to the taxpayers,” said Movius, adding that there had been no public testimony in favor of the old hospital being remodeled.
Movius asked the commissioners to reconsider the resolution and refer the matter to a vote “which would show good faith.” If that doesn’t happen, Movius said it will mean “you don’t care what the people say.”
Movius said if the commission does not reconsider, the next step is to file a referendum petition stopping them.
Movius also said that no weight should be given to the off record public input all three commissioners recently said they had received when four options were presented through a series of public meetings as well as a public hearing more than a year ago.
Columbus resident Vivian Gerke also spoke, saying she seconded everything that Crago and Movius had expressed.
COMMISSIONER BERATES CITIZEN
Stillwater County Commissioners do not comment during the public comment portion of the weekly agenda meetings, saying they are unable to do so unless the matter is on the agenda.
At the conclusion of the Nov. 15 agenda meeting, Commissioner Jerry Dell told attendee Jim Movius he wanted to speak with him in a private conversation “just between you and me.”
During the meeting Movius had expressed his displeasure at the commissioners’ decision to remodel the old hospital.
The conversation between Movius and Dell after the meeting took place in the lobby of the first floor of the courthouse and involved Dell standing closely to Movius, pointing his finger in Movius’s face and saying “Just listen to me...you don’t know me...”
At one point Movius said “May I speak now?” to which Dell responded “No. You spoke in your letter.”
The conversation continued for a few minutes longer.
Later in the day, Movius told the News that he had stepped to the front of the room to shake hands with Commissioners Jerry Dell and Dennis Shupak when Dell said he wanted to talk to him in private.
“Out in the hall, not a very private place, Commissioner Dell accused me of calling him a liar in my letter to the editor published last week, and, as you witnessed, angrily berated a citizen,” said Movius.
Movius said he responded by telling Dell that he does not “believe that the commissioners have the skill sets and knowledge necessary to understand the risks involved in the remodel project.”
When asked about the incident by the News, Dell said his conversation with Movius was regarding the letter to the editor. Specifically, Dell said that Movius “insinuated” that he and the other two commissioners were liars.
“I take exception to being called a liar,” said Dell.
The portion of Movius’s letter that Dell referenced read as follows:
“I know no citizens in this county who are reticent regarding expressing their opinions publicly on matters of community interest, so I doubt that the commissioners were contacted by any, and if any, not more than one or two citizens, who, after numerous opportunities to express their opinion in public, chose to “hide in the bushes and off the record.”
COUNTY ATTORNEY, COMMISSIONERS CLASH OVER WORK AT THE OLD HOSPITAL
The Stillwater County Commissioners and county attorney exchanged contentious letters regarding work being done at the old hospital prior to the public announcement that it was going to be remodeled to accommodate county offices.
In a letter from Stillwater County Attorney Nancy Rohde dated Sept. 26, she addressed the commissioners’ request for her to review a proposed contract with Spectrum Group Architects to re-roof the old hospital.
Rohde stated in her letter that until her questions and concerns regarding the old hospital have been fully answered, it’s premature to even consider a contract with anyone regarding work to be done on the building.
That’s not to mention that according to Rohde, work was being done at the building prior to the public’s notification of the decision just two weeks ago, on Nov. 3.
Citing personal observations, Rohde states that “the interior of the building is undergoing a demolition process” and that a large part, if not all, of the existing ceiling tile has been removed, according to her letter. Additionally, it appears as if the old heating and fan system has is being removed, along with producing scrap metal. Electrical wiring and old cabling is being removed and a new heating system has been installed, she wrote.
Rohde also states that she was concerned that asbestos and mold conditions in the building “have not been adequately addressed” when the public questioned it or addressed in Spectrum’s contract.
“This type of piecemeal work cannot continue,” Rohde wrote. “First, it may be construed by the public and/or a court as an attempt to avoid the ultimate decision of which option the Board chose. Second, it may be construed as an attempt to avoid statutory constraints on monetary expenditures the local government is allowed to spend.”
Rohde also wrote “...piecemeal work could potentially be construed as a violation of Mont. Code Ann. 7-7-2304, the prohibition on division of contracts to circumvent bidding requirements.”
Rohde also referenced a September 2016 inspection of the old hospital in which a building inspector said a structural engineer should be hired to handle the roofing project, as opposed to an architect.
Rohde requested a list of county property that had been and was going to be “scraped from the building,” recycling receipts. Rohde also requested an inventory list of the medical equipment that was left in the building and where it is now.
Rohde concluded her letter with a request for it to be answered within 10 business days and that “failure to answer the questions posed here to my satisfaction and future questions that may arise either from the answers or future conduct my result in the need to seek an investigatory subpoena. If you choose to ignore my advice, I will not be able to represent you if future litigation were to ensue surrounding these issues.”
The commissioners responded by letter, dated Oct. 13, and stated “The commission was shocked by the letters we received from your office on September 26, 2016. We simply asked for your review of a contract in order to do repairs on a county owned building.” The letter went on to instruct Rohde to schedule an appointment with them to discuss the matter further.
Rohde answered with a follow-up letter dated Oct. 24 stating she was not available to meet with them during the time frame suggested and further stated her “questions and concerns mirror what the public has been asking for quite some time now. While I wish to have open communication, I am not referencing a personal meeting to review the letter. My questions and concerns need to be addressed in written format to avoid confusion, miscommunication or misinterpretation.” Rohde again requested answers within 10 business days.
Commissioner Gerald Dell told the News this week that Rohde’s questions have not yet been answered.
“As you can see from the commissioners letter of Oct. 13, 2016, we asked for a meeting with the county attorney on her letter of Sept. 13, 2016. In the county attorney’s letter dated Oct. 24, 2016, the county attorney declined to meet with the commissioners as requested. As of this date the September letter has not been answered.”
Commissioner Maureen Davey said she was “very surprises” to get Rohde’s letter, but says it’s Rohde who refuses to discusses the matter.
“The commission has asked to discuss the letter with her and she refuses. The county attorney is the legal advisor to the commission and will not speak to us. The Commission would still like to discuss the letter with her,” said Davey.
Rohde had requested the commissioners to answer her questions in writing.