Here in Helena, we think our city commission is embarrassing because they want to ban both cell phones and hands-free devices. It turns out we may not have it so bad.
The city of Great Falls just paid a cool half million dollar settlement to a local woman who, a judge ruled, was assaulted, beaten, falsely imprisoned–and deprived of all her Constitutional rights to liberty, speech, and participation in government–all because she made some comments that were critical of the city over what she saw as shady handling of an animal shelter contract.
It’s big news, but the Great Falls Tribune for some reason decided not to tell you the whole story. (They had the opportunity, but perhaps they wanted to keep on the city commission’s good side. It would not do to miss the big scoops like when the next pothole repair schedule would be released or how many parking tickets had been issued lately.)
Sure, the Trib wrote about it. But the sheer size of the settlement payment alone should tell you that this is not a story about a woman who was “escorted” out of a city council meeting for speaking longer than three minutes.
The citizens of this town and Ms. Susan Overfield, a local dog trainer who spoke up for homeless pets, deserve to have the full story told. It sure looks like the City settled up quick because it faced serious risk in this case of a much higher verdict.
Here’s what you won’t find in today’s paper.
Ms. Overfield attended a city council meeting and made some comments that were critical of the city’s decision to take over the animal shelter and award a contract to manage it to a group called the Animal Foundation. Several city officers and employees were Animal Foundation leaders or board members. Susan pointed out her concerns about conflicts of interest. Susan also raised concern about meetings, decisions and deals the city made on the contract without public knowledge. But it gets better. The Animal Foundation is headed by Bob James. His firm represented the city against Susan in this case.
So anyway Susan goes to the city commission meeting and gets up to testify. The mayor decides she’s said enough citing a “three minute rule,” and has Susan grabbed and dragged out of the meeting.
It doesn’t end there. The city then decides to prosecute Susan for assault and disorderly conduct for fighting back against the guys who forcibly removed her. But, the Tribune reports, a judge throws Susan’s conviction out saying she had a right to defend herself because she did not know the men were police officers. They were dressed in plain clothes. The court also ruled that this whole “three minute rule” people keep throwing around did not even apply here. So it is not accurate to report that Susan violated any rule. Judge Irigoin ruled that she didn’t. The facts prove in this case show that she didn’t.
Get this. It then came to light that the city attorney had publicly stated that it was important to prosecute Susan to prevent further criticism of the city. It’s all a matter of public record. Here’s the PDF document with the statement.
“…had the City failed to prosecute the case, it is likely that the City’s ability to maintain order at Commission meetings would have been further compromised and the City’s operation of the Animal Shelter would still be a subject of increased speculation and criticism.”
Things got creepy. Susan’s lawyers report that city employees started monitoring Susan. One maintained “a file” on her. They admitted bad mouthing her to others on email, and the shelter manager took down all the fliers about her training services.
So there is quite a bit more to the story than what you read in the paper, and the taxpayers deserve to know the whole truth. The Tribune story has the current mayor pointing out that:
“the incident occurred before he or anyone else on the commission was elected.”
That may be true, but there are city employees, department heads, contract attorneys and judges who were involved and are still around.
UPDATE: It seems we’re not the only ones upset about how this story is being told. If you’re interested in reading more about this case and Ms. Overfield’s incredible ordeal, head over to the conservative blog Electric City Weblog for their take.