Written by John Plestina
A consent decree approved by a federal judge mandates the Wolf Point School District to reduce the number of school board members to six, creating five districts with nearly the same number of residents and one at-large position.
It came about as a result of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union that could cost taxpayers as much as $300,000.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit in August 2013 on grounds that voting districts used to elect trustees were apportioned in violation of one person, one vote. The ACLU argued that school district elections favored white voters in the district with a majority of Native American enrollments.
U.S. District Judge Brian Morris approved the settlement Wednesday, April 9.
Under the agreement, all Wolf Point trustees, including those elected in the upcoming May 6 election, will have to run again in May 2015.
Currently, board members are elected at large.
The five people who are elected next year will each flip a coin to determine who will serve the three three-year terms, two two-year terms and one one-year year position.
“If [the ACLU] had come to us before they had filed the lawsuit, something could have been worked out. They didn’t give us a chance,” Roosevelt County Superintendent of Schools Pat Stennes said, adding that the ACLU did not contact her or the Wolf Point School District prior to filing the suit.
“The plaintiffs chose to file a lawsuit. If they would have come to this office and the school district first, we would have tried to reach a settlement. Their route ended up costing the school and the county a lot of money. And that is money that could have been spent on the kids. It seems to me, that you should go to the local authorities first, then take the lawsuit route if no resolution is found,” Stennes said.
Wolf Point School District trustee chairman Martin DeWitt concurred. He said the legal fees the school district and Roosevelt County must pay to an attorney from Georgia who represented the ACLU is a little over $190,000.
“There are additional costs to Roosevelt County and the school district that include legal fees [incurred by the county and school district] and travel expenses,” DeWitt said.
He estimated the cost to the school district and county will be between $30,000 and $50,000 for each entity.
“It could be another $100,000 for the community,” DeWitt said.
The total burden totals between $250,000 and $300,000.
“That’s the part that’s truly unfortunate for the taxpayers,” DeWitt said.
He said the added expense could reduce what the school district could do for children.
“I just wish somebody would have let us know upfront,” DeWitt said
The ACLU said the school district resisted settling.
“One of the questions I would ask them is why they fought the suit when they were out of legal compliance,” ACLU of Montana communications director Amy Cannata said.
“This problem in Wolf Point has been going on for quite some time,” ACLU of Montana legal director Jim Taylor said.
He also said the school district did not want to resolve the matter.
The ACLU filed a motion for summary judgment.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 April 2014 13:33
Written by John Plestina
Twenty-seven people who say they were arrested, but not charged, during the Wild Horse Stampede in July 2013 attended a fact-finding meeting hosted by the U.S. Department of the Interior Wednesday, April 16.
Angela King, a Bureau of Indian Affairs Internal Affairs investigator from Bismarck, N.D., interviewed each of the 27 people in private.
The investigation is the result of allegations that Fort Peck Tribes Department of Law and Justice officers picked up intoxicated people on the streets in downtown Wolf Point July 12-13. Several said they were held overnight without charges in an outdoor holding area at the tribal jail in Poplar. They all said they were never charged with any offenses.
There are records of 29 people being picked up, but several of the people who were detained alleged the actual number to have been more than 50.
All of the people who were detained are Native American. Some of the people attending the meeting told The Herald-News they were not drunk when they were picked up. Others acknowledged intoxication, but said they were not causing trouble.
There were also allegations made at the meeting that males and females were not separated in the outdoor holding area and that there were no restrooms. Several people said porta-potties were brought to the site later.
Mary Cleland, who said she is a tribal court lay advocate but not an employee of the Fort Peck Tribes, brought the complaint to the Department of Interior. She said King told her the complaint was authenticated.
Cleland said a class action lawsuit is likely, but she could not comment on some details until a later date.
She said more investigation is coming, but was not specific.
“They did this to the Jews. They can round-up dogs. These are human beings,” Cleland said. “It is inhumane.”
Several people arrested said the Wolf Point Police Department made some of the arrests.
Wolf Point Police Chief Jeff Harada said city officers provided an agency assist for tribal police and made fewer than 10 percent of the arrests.
Fort Peck Tribes chairman A.T. Stafne and law and justice committee chairman Rick Kirn did not respond to requests for comment.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 April 2014 13:31
Written by John Plestina
Pictured is Wolf Point High School Athletic Director Mike Erickson accepting a check for $1,000 from Laura Krauth to benefit Tim Zimmer.
When a fire swept through a single-wide mobile home in Oswego Friday, March 28, the homeowner lost everything he owned. Now, the Wolf Point community is giving back to the longtime “Voice of the Wolves.”
KVCK radio announcer Tim Zimmer not only lost his home, he suffered burns and was transported by ambulance to the Northeast Montana Health Services - Wolf Point Campus. He was later flown to a larger hospital and has since been released.
Zimmer has been the announcer for Wolf Point Wolves’ basketball and football games for nearly 30 years.
“I wanted to do something for him,” Wolf Point High School athletic director Mike Erickson said.
Erickson, WPHS cook Laura Krauth and other people who are involved with the recent Wolf Point Invitational Boys’ and Girls’ Basketball Tournament wanted to help Zimmer. Krauth set up an account at Wolf Point Federal Credit Union to raise money for Zimmer.
The annual non-school-affiliated tournament donated $1,000 for Zimmer.
The tournament attracts teams from throughout northern Montana, includes divisions that range from fourth-grade through high school. Games were played at Wolf Point High School and Frontier, Northside and Southside elementary schools.
“It’s just something we felt was important; to give back to someone who has put so much into support for our teams and community over the years,” Erickson said.
To make donations to help Zimmer, money may be deposited into the account at Wolf Point Federal Credit Union or people may contact Krauth at WPHS.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 April 2014 13:29
Written by John Plestina
Wolf Point’s police officers will begin receiving higher pay that reflects the average number of hours they work and back pay following approval by the Wolf Point City Council Monday, April 21.
The council accepted recommendations from the city’s personnel, policy and wage committee, now comprised of mostly new members.
Police officers had requested that the city pay them an additional four hours for every 14-day period, giving them pay for every hour they work. Officers will be paid an annual salary based on 2,184 hours worked per year, effective April 1. That amount would be divided by 24 twice-monthly pay dates. The new rate is an increase from 2,080 hours.
The traditional 40-hour work week with overtime paid above 40 hours applies to most workers, but federal law allows for law enforcement officers to work up to 86 hours during 14-day periods without overtime pay. Federal law considers it a work period, not a work week.
At the beginning of the council meeting, Lt. Brian Erwin asked for a decision for the wellbeing of the community and the city’s employees.
The council also approved a PP&W committee recommendation for retroactive pay adjustments for officers to reflect 2,184 hours worked per year rather than the 2,080 they were receiving. That dates back to 2005 for one member of the department and 2006 for another. Others have worked for shorter time periods. Chief Jeff Harada is exempt from the changes.
The amount owed to the officers is discounted by 33 percent and does not include the current year. It also does not include former members of the department.
Before the vote was taken, city councilman and PP&W committee chairman Rollie Paulson said, “We’d like to recommend that we do make it right, and we would like to recommend that we pay the 66 percent of their pay up to the end of last year, 2013.”
“The officers will be happy with 66 percent,” Erwin said.
Paulson said funding for the back pay will not come out of any budgets other than the police budget.
The council also gave formal approval for the recent hiring of new animal control officer J.T. Szymanski.
In another matter, the council approved a 1.6 percent health insurance premium increase for all municipal employees with no change in the available insurance options. The city offers four plans.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 April 2014 13:26
Written by Herald-News
A Wolf Point woman has been charged with aggravated assault after inflicting non-life-threatening injuries on a man with a knife Tuesday, April 15.
The Wolf Point Police Department identified the woman as Thelma The Boy, 34.
Officers responded to a residence on the 300 block of Custer Street at 6:12 p.m. for a report of an aggravated assault that involved a knife.
Police reported that an adult male was stabbed in one of his legs and was transported by ambulance to Northeast Montana Health Services Wolf Point Campus.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 April 2014 13:25