Town Hall organizers throw editor out of meeting for asking one question
A half-dozen members violated my rights and their very own guidelines for open meetings - no one defended my right to speak or stay
I asked a simple question at the second Town Hall meeting Saturday at the high school and was immediately swarmed and asked to leave the Community Room.
After announcing that the Land Use Committee had an opening on its board, Town Hall organizers started taking nominations from the people in attendance, as if that was as far as they should go. During the Q&A session, I simply asked how someone from the community can become a community leader.
I was shouted down and swarmed by several people who really invaded my personal space, especially ringleader Chaney Okert who was inches from my face telling me this was not the right time for my questions. (This was interesting because Chaney has the ability to communicate with me at any time and in any way for two years now and never even gave it a try. Now, she jumps in my face. If a man had done that to her, he would have been arrested and cited.)
I was then ushered into the hall where at least six of the organizers surrounded me and started charging me with the usual unfounded third-hand accusations and outright lies.
It was a brilliant move for them. While keeping me diverted from their meeting, they were able to go back in the Community Room and run the brainwashing program with no fear of facing any real questions or challenges.
Knowing they set me up, I sat in the hallway and made my cases and, of course, got no response when I presented facts to these people.
The ones who accosted and distracted me kept asking me to mend fences and open a dialogue and all that civilized stuff. But I pointed out that I sent literally dozens of emails and made countless phone calls to these board members, maybe 100s, over the last three years and never heard back from any of them. I sent emails to members of several boards, elected officials, the state Attorney General and some I forgot over the last 12 days and received zero response from any of them.
Now we are in this vestibule Saturday at the school and they are asking me to open a dialogue, seconds after they whisked me out of the Community Room.
By the way, their actions towards me and many others violate everything in regards to their ridiculous "Gracious Space" communication guidelines. (http://www.ethicalleadership.org/gracious-space.html)
Gracious Space is based on four tenets:
1. SPIRIT. 2. SETTING 3.INVITE THE STRANGER 4. LEARN IN PUBLIC.
These were suggested by the Chamber Clique who organize these meetings yet don't adhere to their own guidelines.
The "spirit" they use towards me and many others is simply not there. They are a cloistered society much like the old Freemasons and overtly attack those who might confront or try to join them. They have threatened my advertisers, thrown my newspapers in the garbage and spread wild lies about me personally in a very real and aggressive way. None of them has the guts, professionalism or personal ethics to talk to me directly because they know I will shoot down their vicious lies with undeniable facts.
(That is why they, as a group, stopped commenting on the Beagle Facebook posts. Every time they made a comment, I presented cold, hard facts they could not deny and suddenly, POOF!, all their posts went away and they organized another meeting to circle the wagons and mesmerize a gaggle of well-meaning-but-misled citizens.)
Anyway, Setting has to do with having a place where people feel comfortable but by packing these meetings with all their supporters, they effectively chill out anyone who might want to present an conflicting idea. Removing the editor just proves that.
Invite the stranger is their worst violation. These people are unapproachable. I sent 37 emails to the chamber of commerce and left 46 voicemails when we were just starting out and BEFORE I was turned into an ogre and
As for all the chamber's sub-organizations, it is difficult to contact anyone, know when the meetings are or, sometimes, who is even involved! (See my previous posts or just go visit the Chamber website
https://bigfork.org/doing-business/chamber-of-commerce/). Don't take my word for it. Pretend you are new in town and you want to make contact with these people. It is difficult if not impossible.
After finally tracking down John Lang, who is the board president of one of these clandestine organizations, he actually advised me not to start a newspaper! At least he was honest. Thanks, John.
Back to inviting the stranger and listening to different views: Someone at Saturday's meeting actually said this at the beginning! That they should listen to everyone's opinion and learn that we can succeed with compromise and sometimes just have to "agree to disagree."
Yet that was far from the case, as I explained earlier. (To be clear, I was sitting down against the back wall with my camera and laptop surrounding me. She leaned over and literally inches from my face while a few of her supporters surrounded us.)
I'm sure if I hadn't left, cops would have been called because that is how cowards do things.
The last tenet is Learning in Public, yet the only "teaching" is coming from a group of people with an agenda, whether you agree with it or not. Again, as long as they got to sail through without any hard questions, they were happy and funny and so insightful and well-intentioned.
I asked one simple question, and they turned into a mob of intimidation and distraction to eliminate the evil ogre from the group. If I am the ugly ogre, I would say this: Anyone who has faced the lies, backstabbing, threats, blackmailing, name calling and ostracizing I have faced, would become an ogre. Anyone would.
Lets move on.
The most ironic and explicit display of a complete and utter lack of concern for what members of the community really want came when they showed the results from a community poll they took and presented.
The number 1 issue by far was AFFORDABLE HOUSING.
Yet Okert could only say that it was a complicated, long-term issue that is beyond the means of their group. They did mention having affordable housing for summertime workers so their tourism-based companies can reap even more money.
I can say that I sat in on several meetings where affordable housing was brought up. I once presented an idea that would unite and help the entire community: The VFW has moved into it new location and the former property is for sale. It is seven acres on four tiers with frontage on Hwy 93. The asking price is extremely reasonable and, with the right combination of private-public resources, we could use that as a place for affordable office space and different types of housing running up the hill. I know it can be done because I helped do one before. This would help our local veterans, pull together hundreds of community members and businesses, provide living quarters for folks like our brave volunteer firefighters, singles who are just getting started, and couples who are retiring or newlywed.
Seconds after I said this, Chase Avrill, the son of a local lodge owner and self-anointed prince, actually said out loud, "The last thing I need is more land."
I said, "I thought we were talking about affordable housing for residents." The meeting ended seconds later with Okert, the self-appointed founder and presiding queen of the newly formed Bigfork Economic Development group (society) pointed at her wristwatch to, again, shut me down.
When speaking with Montana West Economic Development Director Jerry Meerkatz later that day, he actually said, "Chaney warned me about you and sometimes our reputation precedes us."
So, he actually admitted that A: Chaney told him negative things about me before I ever met him and; B: That he used that to decide who gets to sit at the table when ideas are discussed and the money is doled out; and C: That Okert is providing her expertise to line her own pockets when the director's job come up.
That's how your economic development works around here: Kiss ass and fall in line and get ostracized anyway or come in with lots of cash and get even more by kissing ass and buying your way in.
(Much more on this issue later. Let's just say the state pays an out-of-state company $7 million a year to create a marketing plan that spends ZERO dollars in Montana! So, tourism-based businesses get into these tourism groups, monopolize the spending, enjoy the increase in tourism dollars, and don't pay a penny for it. That's what this group is trying to do, folks. I wish my businesses could do that!
So, how does this help the economy of regular folks? The seasonal workers still get minimum wage, all the taxes and fees go into improving and maintaining the services for tourists, and the guy who lives three blocks away can't get a pothole filled.
Regarding the affordable housing issue, one lady whose heart I believe is in the right place, told me that there are committee(s) working on the issue. To which I ask, then why doesn't anyone know about it? Especially the people who need the affordable housing? Or the editor of the only independently owned newspaper in Flathead County and the only one that concentrates only on Bigfork? She walked away.
Anyway, after Affordable Housing, the second most popular item on the list was "full-time amenities," again, not an issue even discussed at the meeting, unless it happened when I wasn't there. (The editor of the local paper missed about 30 percent of the meeting just for asking a legitimate question.)
Let's put another lie or misunderstanding about my stance on Incorporation, a Community Council or any other group that can improve and preserve the nature of Bigfork: In years past, I have reported on this issue four times and sat on two similar boards myself. I am a fiscal conservative who wants to bring government and finances as close to local control as possible.
In this case, I am actually TELLING PEOPLE TO GET INVOLVED WITH THE PROCESS! I am also presenting them with reasons why they should and this second town hall meeting reinforced that.
Even after seeing the results of the poll, the Community Foundation for a Better Bigfork's Grand Poobah (go visit the website. No names, no meeting times. Just a phone number that was never answered the dozens of times I called or left voicemails that were never returned. Even If I am a lunatic jerk, look for yourself. https://bigfork.org/doing-business/community-foundation-for-a-better-bigfork/)
This man, who surely believes in what he is doing spending, drum roll, $100,000 a year on projects, actually talked about adding parking downtown and connecting the river walk trails to downtown! It's like they are tone deaf to their own poll results.
Regular folks I talk to want AFFORDABLE HOUSING, and full-time amenities like ballfields, gutters, sidewalks, crosswalks, firefighters, EMTs, law enforcement, traffic signs, street maintenance and other things that cities and community councils are supposed to provide.
The individuals who are running these Town Hall meetings are not concerned by these issues.
Local charities like The Food Bank, Threads, the library, Arts Center, theater groups, movie festivals, senior center, ACES, and dozens of others can't even smell that kind of money.
As for one of these agencies, The Beagle has bent over backwards to support, ACES which just lost $200,000 in annual grant funding. I found out ACES lost the grant when a concerned parent showed me a story in the Flathead Beacon! Why didn't anyone from ACES go to the local paper to tell parents what was at stake? My mind boggles. Then, I received a couple of emails from ACES director and Chamber Board Member Cathy Hay.
I am checking with my attorney to see if or when we can release the emails but I can sum them up: She accused me of creating a conspiracy, of "raging," that I make people run from me, that I am mean-spirited and insulting, and WORST, that she, "certainly won't have kids around you," and that I am a "scary man." She also added that The Beagle should never run any information about ACES and that I should never set foot on ACES property.
I believe any normal person sees the implications of these heinous and slanderous accusations.
To give readers an idea of how I come to my stance on these people, let's present the facts.
1. I met Cathy Hay one time two years ago to ask if her students could submit Letters to Santa, so she has no first-hand knowledge of any of these accusations.
2. On several occasions, I volunteered any service The Beagle can provide to help the program because I believe in it. I was never contacted.
3. The Beagle has gone out of its way to get the accomplishments of ACES students in print and on social media. Don't take my word for it. Simply scroll through the Facebook posts and/or the website.
For the record, I have coached, advised and taught young people since the early 80s. I had teaching credentials in four states including Montana.
So here we have a woman, Cathy Hay who directs a public agency involved with very young kids, and sits on the board of another, writes a scathing email to the owner of the local newspaper and business without input from either of her boards and even at a time when The Beagle threw its entire weight behind her program.
She has obviously been told the increasing lies and distortions about me because she certainly hasn't witnessed any of this alleged behavior.
I tried to give her a chance by sending emails to every member of both boards asking for some clarity on their stance. Twice.
On Saturday, I gave it my best. She was at the Town Hall meeting. During a break, I walked over to her. She spoke with someone else, glanced at me, turned her back on me and pretended to talk to someone else while I stood silently for about four minutes until the break was over.
Imagine a woman so prejudiced against a man she doesn't even know and even when her program is in dire straits and jeopardy, would still alienate and eliminate a titanic form of support WITHOUT the consent of her board!
I still want to support the ACES program because I don't want to punish her kids because of her unprofessional, unethical and slanderous attack on me and despite the rude and dismissive lack of response from her board members. It is simply disgusting no matter who you are or what you believe.
Don't tell me to try and have a dialogue with any of these people. I have tried that for 2-1/2 years. Tell them to have a dialogue with me.
Back to the Community Foundation.
Here is the foundation's recap of its 2017 accomplishments: http://bigfork.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/2018-annual-report.pdf)
This is the list. Details are on the site: Downtown parking, adding more directors and members, expanding the trails system, bringing in the rodeo.
Wonderful! How does any of this help regular folks?
Some will say the rodeo was nice to get and I agree. But there are a few issues I have with this, too.
1. No one got into the rodeo for free. The reason the Chamber Clique wants the rodeo is to make more money for the Chamber Clique to spend on Chamber Clique projects.
2. I LOVE RODEO! Again, the Beagle was blocked from the planning, process and promotion of the rodeo. After we found out in other media (Did I mention that a Chamber Board member works for the Maury Povich-funded Flathead Beacon?), we still tried to volunteer any and all resources to help support the event.
All we got were cricket sounds. Not even a, thanks, we are OK, or even a press release. Look, if you hate me, fine, but if you purposely withhold information that can help your own cause and the Beagle's readers, you are either dismissive, angry and/or outright stupid.
Aside from the Town Hall meetings, I can say this as fact: In the days following my posts about this sham, two of my advertisers abruptly pulled their ads. It is especially ironic because The Beagle actually does business with these advertisers! We have NOT stopped doing business with them because we are not 9-year-olds.
MORE ATTACKS ON ME AND THE BEAGLE
I was told by four local businesses that they were told by Chamber Board members that they should not do business with me or carry The Beagle for free distribution. One of them even admitted on Facebook (I have archived the post) that she waited until I left the papers, then threw them away! This is so vile and disgusting I can't believe anyone would admit it.
In their attempt to injure me personally, they have screwed over every other paid advertiser, charity, nonprofit, church and anyone else who benefits from being on those pages.
Thanks Chamber Board Members for literally damaging your fellow community members and blocking commerce, which is what you are supposed to promote, according to you own 501c3 guidelines.
A pair of personal notes. I believe trying to run a person out of town and/or put him out of business is one of the most despicable and black-hearted things one can do. Yet these creeps go on Facebook and threaten to do just that! In public!
And, I am a human being with feelings and family. My friends and family see these posts. They cannot comprehend how cold-blooded these people can be. And my wife, Michelle, whose wings are waiting for her in Heaven, has to curl up in a ball when she finds out the kind of threats and accusations are made about me.
Here are some other, general lies: Though I am from California, I never ever lived in a big city. We left California to get away from it, not bring it with us. I was not born rich or spoiled yet I used the guidance of my parents, friends and adults to carve out a thrilling and fabulous life and profession filled to the brim with love, happiness and fulfillment. Any person who claims I go around in a rage and hate everything is a vile, cowardly, ignorant, prejudice, dismissive, heartless gossip who doesn't know anything about me or what I believe in.
What they HATE, is that I believe in sincerity and the truth and fighting to give victims a voice. When they don't like the truth, they attack the person.
They will say I am ignorant and uneducated. Yet I am college educated. They will say I am a liberal member of the mass media. No. I am one of a dying breed of journalists who did it right.
I stand for the flag salute, sing the National Anthem out loud, support many causes and especially Vets, anti-suicide groups and dog rescues. (We have five rescues living with us right now and I am sure a Chamber Board Member will try to tell our landlord so we have to get rid of two or three of them.)
The biggest and most important and outrageous lie is that I either don't support the Bigfork Community and/or I am blocking any attempt to draw the community together.
ABSOLUTE AND GIGANTIC LIES!!!
I want to make sure as many Bigfork residents as possible get involved with this process. My record, both personally and professionally, shows without a doubt how The Beagle and I have served this Eden on earth and we will never move out of Western Montana.
The Chamber attacks other businesses and even nonprofits.
In one case that I can prove through hard evidence, the husband of the Chamber Board President actually accused the VFW of over-serving a man who later fell down at his home and injured himself. There was even a veiled threat of filing a lawsuit. But why?
Because the Board President owns the saloon across the highway from the VFW's new facility, which serves food and alcoholic beverages. Anyone who says, "it was not the president, it was her husband," is just dodging the facts.
These people serve on a board with fiduciary duties outlined in the 501c3 paperwork. They are supposed to be community leaders, not gatekeepers.
I could go on but I have to make sure I can verify and corroborate all the accusations I will make in the coming months.
Here are some predictions:
* -- None of these cowards will reply to this or any other form of communication knowing that every time they open their mouths, I will insert their own foot in them and use their statements as evidence. They surely know that they will face civil and possibly criminal charges with every lie they make and that their 501c3 could be suspended. In two cases, I reported that a state regulatory agency actually removed all members of a board, conducted an audited member drive and board election, and barred those board members from ever serving on any board. An action I would love to see here.
(I have and will forward more information to the Secretary of State, The Department of Revenue, the Attorney General and several elected officials. There is also a federal agency I will contact. If anyone else has verifiable instances regarding the ethics and procedures of the members of any of these boards, please forward them to me. I have an out-of-area attorney collecting these facts and we will discuss if and when and why we will file civil charges against some or all of these individuals. I use an out-of-area attorney because if I used a Bigfork attorney, they could be influenced by the Chamber Clique or even be one of them.)
* -- While remaining silent in public, what they will do is attack me personally and behind my back and, sad to say, many otherwise good people will simply take their word for it. It is amazing to me that if anyone finds out they have been insulted behind their backs they immediately cry for justice and fair play and all that. Yet far too many people, when they hear gossip, simply accept it as fact.
MY FINAL PLEAS
After almost three years of silence on these issues, The Beagle took up this suicidal cause because I believe too many members do not have the best intentions for the general residents who make the town live. They also don't seem to care much for businesses who stay open all year and provide the bedrock goods and services we depend on to survive and/or make life better. Those are the people I am sticking my neck out for.
I will also promise that I will wrap up this coverage and opinion after I get it all out there and then, my job is done. If you are interested in getting involved in this Town Hall process, please do. If, like some who have contacted me, you want to create a committee of our own to make sure we can get our people elected to some of these boards, you better let me know you are interested because one man can stir the pot but only if the pot is full.
To those of you who have been bitching at me about these issues for three years, put up or shut up. Put it in writing. Come to a meeting we organize. Take an ad showing your support for a better, openly operated Bigfork. Start your own group without me!
If I don't get enough support (You can remain anonymous because I understand your terror of the Clique) I will simply stop my reporting and go back to covering ball games and dances and nonprofits and let these issues fade away.
We get the leadership we deserve.