Advocating or educating? City of Bozeman responds to Public Safety Center legal complaint

Posted at 3:32 PM, Dec 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-10 19:12:12-05

BOZEMAN – Did the city of Bozeman violate the law by advocating for the passage of November’s ballot measure funding a new Public Safety Building?

Or did they simply conduct educational sessions to inform city residents of what the ballot measure would do?

The Commissioner of Political Practices has to answer that question and on Friday, Bozeman City officials gave the agency a response.

“From the beginning, the idea going forward about the Public Safety Center was that we educate the community about what this meant with the idea that they could make an informed decision when they went to the polls,” said City of Bozeman Mayor Cyndy Andrus.

The 25-page response sent by the city to the Commissioner of Political Practices lays out how the city set out to do that.

“We wanted to be sure that they could go to the website, that they could check their social media accounts, that they could attend public town hall meetings, go to the farmers market and everywhere the message was these are the issues that we’re facing with our public safety facilities and here’s how here’s one solution that the commissioners decided to put on the ballot,” said Bozeman City Manager Andrea Surratt.

The issue comes down to a matter of terminology – Advocacy vs. education.

City officials believe that education is what they did and that’s what they focused on. There’s another issue, however, deeper in this. The issue passed and work has to begin on it soon, and it can’t until this is settled.

“I believe we did the right thing,” said Andrus. “We were informed about that very bright line. When you educate, when you can advocate. We all understood that and I’m very confident that we did the right thing.”

“This is a problem, a community problem for decades,” said Surratt. “So our decision to put this on the ballot was timely. We think the construction needs to happen as soon as possible. We need to finalize the design. We have a lot of work to do to get these folks in the facility that has been approved by the voters.

The city’s response also includes more than 100 pages of sworn affidavits by several city officials and employees.

There is no word on when the commissioner will file a response.

MTN reached out to the Public Service Commissioner Roger Koopman who filed the original complaint, but he declined to speak on camera for this story.

Because of the need to begin construction, city officials request an expedited response from the Commissioner of Political Practices.

Click herefor a look at the city’s response.

Reporting by Chet Layman for MTN News