In a recent article published in the Daily Inter Lake (Aug. 20, 2018, “More Changes Proposed for U.S. 93 South Plan”), Mayre Flowers of CommUnity Consulting (former executive director of Citizens for a Better Flathead) accused the Whitefish City Council of failing to encourage public participation and went so far as to indicate that the city violated the public’s right to participate given last minute changes to a pending land use application that would have amended the city’s growth policy. On behalf of the city, I am compelled to respond to these accusations given our standing commitment to providing an open and transparent decision-making process for all matters that come before our council.
The Montana Constitution requires that the public be given notice and a reasonable opportunity to participate prior to the city making a final decision on a matter that is of significant public interest.
The city went to significant lengths to both encourage public participation and to ensure the public was afforded ample opportunity to be informed and be heard in a meaningful manner before the Council made a decision on the application referenced by Mayre Flowers. The Planning Board, after providing notice, held three public hearings on the proposed growth policy amendment. The Planning Board discussed at length and carefully considered the public comment received but ultimately reached an impasse with respect to a recommendation that the council either adopt or reject the proposed growth policy amendment.
Even though it was not required by law to do so, the City Council held two public hearings on the application before deciding to deny the proposed growth policy amendment on Aug. 20. Between Planning Board and City Council meetings, almost 10 hours of public comment was taken and over 100 written comments were accepted and reviewed. The changes to the proposed growth policy amendment made by the applicant during the public process were made in direct response to the public comments. While the applicant did make changes to address public concern with certain aspects of the plan after the council closed the final public hearing on Aug. 6, the city published the revisions on its website, continued to accept written comments, and invited public comment at the beginning of its Aug. 20 regularly scheduled meeting.
Even though it is within my discretion as mayor to impose time limitations on public comment to preserve the council’s ability to conduct efficient and orderly meetings, I have rarely done so out of respect for public input and due process. As is shown by the hours of public testimony received by council on the proposed growth policy amendment, the city is heavily invested in hearing the public’s voice.
The city of Whitefish will continue to honor, support and encourage open public debate and transparency on all matters that affect our community. We encourage our residents to engage and participate in their local government, because at the end of the day, good government requires active public participation.
— John M. Muhlfeld is mayor of Whitefish