Twin Bridges council: Library, fences, sex trafficking
TWIN BRIDGES – Town council Attorney Lori Harshbarger had a lot to say at the October 9 meeting of Twin Bridges town council.
First, Harshbarger explained to the council the findings of Attorney General (AG) Tim Fox on the long-standing issues between the town council and the library.
Several years ago, Harshbarger said, storm damage to the library prompted a dispute between the library and the council on who was responsible for fixing the damages and who got insurance money to cover these damages under the inter-local library agreement.
A court case evolved from this dispute and was kicked up to Fox for his opinion. Fox and others couldn’t come to any agreements on the case for some time, Harshbarger explained, but the bottom line on the case boiled down to this:
• The library building was donated to the town, according to deeds that say so. Hence, the town owns the building.
• The library can use this building for a free, public library.
• Does the mayor have the authority to remove library board members? After a year and a half of jockeying back and forth in the AG’s office, the AG decided the law was not clear on this. The mayor may suspend non-elected town officials doing town business, such as the clerk, marshal and others, but not the library board officers.
•The library board can revise the inter-local agreement, and the town can sign. The town will be reviewing the agreement.
Harshbarger also discussed the fence issues that the town dealt with throughout the summer, and a possible ordinance to avoid such problems in the future.
She shared Billings’ ordinance, which required a town permit to construct any fencing, along with fees associated with this permit.
Harshbarger said the town would have to work through a “lot of stuff” in order to enact a similar ordinance, but suggested this could be a remedy for fence problems.
Town council members Scott Holbrook and Nolan Frandsen looking over the ordinance talked about how this could be an answer, how if neighbors can’t come to terms with a proposed fence, it wouldn’t get built.
Harshbarger also discussed a recent League of Cities convention where she received information on sex trafficking.
“If you think we don’t have it here in Twin Bridges, you’re wrong,” she told council. “It operates anywhere where there is a truck stop, a railroad or a highway.”
Harshabarger went on to describe how an Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) detective discussed how sex trafficking works: How young women or men were lured into this, how websites advertise for “services” and how these people were moved around to various locations to clients on the websites.
“It’s all about the money,” she told the council. “And it was my duty to pass along this information.”
Harshbarger said being aware of this was a step towards preventing it.
One clue, the FBI detective said, was a driver holding a passenger’s driver’s license, (possibly a sex trafficker ferrying a victim around ).
Also, residents could have their children get involved in sex trafficking without their knowledge. Keeping children away from social media at night, so they can’t be lured out by strangers involved in sex trafficking, and having fathers validate their children, especially their daughters, were key elements of keeping youngsters from getting tangled up in sex trafficking.
The town council is considering a contract with the Madison County sheriff’s department to provide law enforcement on a contractual basis in Twin Bridges. The contract would be like what other communities in the county have already signed on for, offering law enforcement on an hourly basis, with no charge for events that the sheriff’s department has traditionally covered, like homecoming or the county fair. The county was hoping to have Twin Bridges’ contract approved prior to their Tuesday, October 16 meeting, but the council opted to review the contract and discuss some issues with Harshbarger before giving the contract a nod at a special meeting on Monday, October 22. Undersheriff Phil Fortner said doing things this way would reduce the county budget by $50,000 - $70,000 annually, but the commissioners wanted this done.
In other business:
• Council approved having Great West Engineering begin a storm drain effort for 6th Avenue. “This is just getting it started,” Frandsen said.
• Undersheriff Phil Fortner reported that things were fairly quiet in Twin Bridges in September. Fortner also noted that the burglars who’d been robbing homes and outbuildings in Twin Bridges and Sheridan were caught in Harrison. Four individuals were charged with drug use and theft. However, this same crew had been in and out of the Butte jail repeatedly, and getting them behind bars for property crimes was a tough row to hoe He also called meth – one reason this crew was stealing – “a horrendous problem.”
• Maintenance Supervisor Sam Novich reported that his department had winterized the town’s fire hydrants, and will fill potholes and grade with good moisture. Work on the new shop was also progressing.
• Town councilman Joe Willauer reported that Winston Rod Company had received a $24,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant, matched by a $26,000 of the company’s own money, to expand their marketing and operations – an important asset to the town. The grant was facilitated by the Headwaters Resource Conservation Development, of which Willauer is a part.
• A preconstruction meetings about the waterline to be bored under the Beaverhead River to replace the line that broke in August at the county fairgrounds was to be held on Nov. 5 at about 2 p.m. with the county commissioners.