Posted on

terms on the Billings City ….


terms on the Billings City Council. The one defining issue of the race seemed to be the Metra, with many residents voicing concerns that Jones and Pitman were rushing privatization of a facility that had been operated by the county previously.

Pitman, having been beaten by Morse in the primary election in June, has announced that he’ll run as a write-in candidate.

Private Phone and Public Records Jarussi obtained the cell phone records from Pitman, according to the lawsuit filed the day the county accepted the private management bid from OVG 360, a subsidiary of the Oak View Group.

Jarussi’s case file includes a call log from Pitman’s cell phone records, which shows several calls made to numbers or individuals associated with Oak View during the bidding period. According to the lawsuit, county officials who will award the bid are barred from communicating with any company that may be bidding on the project so as to avoid collusion or even the appearance of a conflict.

Jarussi asked for the same phone records from Jones, but Jones has so far refused to turn over the same records, arguing that he does not take the phone reimbursement from the county nor does he have a county-issued phone, and that material on his cell phone is private.

However, Jarussi said in the suit that if a government official conducts public business on personal equipment, that equipment or records could be subject to a public records search.

The issue isn’t isolated to Yellowstone County or a commissioner: Legislators in Montana frequently use their cellphones and non-government email addresses to conduct business, but use a standard disclaimer like this: “Legislators are publicly elected officials. Legislator emails sent or received involving legislative business may be subject to the Right to Know provisions of the Montana Constitution and may be considered a ‘public record’ pursuant to Montana law. As such, email, sent or received, its sender and receiver, and the email contents, may be subject to public disclosure, except as otherwise provided by Montana law.”

For example, an examination by the Daily Montanan reveals that of the 150 Montana lawmakers, 55 have email addresses that are not ones provided by the state. While nine lawmakers have no public emails, 55 – more than one-third – have non-government email. Both parties have members that have private email addresses, including 21 Democrats and 34 Republicans.

Chief In-House Yellowstone County Deputy Attorney Jeana Lervick has argued that Jones’ right to privacy and the contents of the phone should keep any communications from being turned over. However, Lervick has also suggested that, a judge could appoint a special master to review call logs and texts, to ferret out the ones that are not personal.

“Commissioner Jones’ cellular phone is in no way funded by taxpayer dollars. It is his personal phone and is utilized at times by members of his family including his wife. It would not be expected that every call or text made by him, or his family would be subject to scrutiny by the public. In this regard, in theory disclosure of the full range of calls and messages could give rise to any number of potential privacy issues including but not limited to HIPAA violations,” Lervick wrote.

Jarussi countered that Jones made the decision to use his private phone for public business, pointing to email in which Jones gave his private cell phone numbers to people associated with OVG. One of the emails said, “I am interested in talking to you about our facility.”

Jarussi’s lawsuit asks Yellowstone District Court Judge Michael G. Moses to void the contract because it violated Montana’s public participation laws “and was in violation of the Commissioner’s fiduciary duties owed to the taxpayers and citizens of Yellowstone County.”

“OVG and the Board also violated the ‘no contact’ provisions … by their continuous and collusive communication during relevant time periods,” the lawsuit states. “This court can and should declare the pending RFP invalid … and should declare OVG’s response to the RFP disqualified from consideration or acceptance by the county.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *