Missoula County elected officials: We must work together to ensure justice for all

Protest
Protesters gather at the Missoula County Courthouse in May.

On May 25, 2020, our nation witnessed the horror of George Floyd dying with a police officer’s knee pressed into his neck. Mothers everywhere, from Minneapolis to Maine to Missoula, winced hearing a dying man call to his own.

This act is but a snapshot of hundreds of years of oppression. Much of the United States was built on stolen land with stolen labor, and these centuries old crimes still echo today, across generations. As your Missoula County elected officials, we share a vision of a just future, yet do not pretend to know the exact path forward.  Though some of us have faced discrimination, we have all benefited from structural racism. Much of our knowledge of racial injustice comes from shared stories rather than personal experiences.  Nonetheless, we are committed to amplifying and including the voices of those who do understand.

We embrace the right to peacefully protest, encourage our citizens to exercise their right to peacefully assemble and speak their minds, without violence. Across the country people from every walk of life are saying — loud and clear — ENOUGH.  We hear you and agree with you.

We are willing to listen and to take further action.  Some of the steps we’ve made to examine and address inequality in our local criminal justice system include rolling out our comprehensive jail diversion plan, launching our prosecution-led diversion program and reforming our pre-trial system.  We’ve invited the National Native Children’s Trauma Center to inform criminal justice employees of the devastating impacts of historical trauma of Native people and teach us the practice of cultural humility. As a county government, we’re proud of our relationship with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. We are committed to understanding why American Indians are disproportionately represented in detention and what additional steps we can take to address historical injustices.

We have people working exclusively on equity issues in our public health department and at the Partnership Health Center clinic. And we understand all our work must be considered through an equity lens. Even so, inequality persists and we must address it now.

There is a lot of work to be done and, as your elected officials, we shoulder the burden of change. This work must be perpetual, so we are making a sustained commitment. We expect that you will hold us to account and appreciate your involvement. Please join us in this effort.

Over the course of the past two weeks, in the midst of violence and devastation, we also saw unlikely alliances and witnessed acts of unprecedented solidarity and kindness: the organizer of a conservative rally invited a Black Lives Matter activist to the stage; law enforcement professionals denounced the actions of racist officers; a sheriff and his deputies responding to a call for security, instead joined the march with protesters; a stalwart row of blue uniforms in Texas took a knee in honor of those who’ve been slain and those who marched.

Robert Kennedy said each time a person “stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

Let’s keep working together — starting with ripple —  so that the tragic events of last month mark the end of the long night of injustice for people of color in our community and signal a new day, one that honors the legacy of George Floyd, and all who came before him, by implementing — not just promising — justice for all.

Signed,

Alex Beal, Missoula County Justice of the Peace
Dave Strohmaier, Missoula County Commissioner
David Wall, Missoula County Auditor
Erin Lipkind, Missoula County Superintendent of Schools
Josh Slotnick, Missoula County Commissioner
Juanita Vero, Missoula County Commissioner
Kirsten Pabst, Missoula County Attorney
Landee Holloway, Missoula County Justice of the Peace
Shirley Faust, Missoula County Clerk of Court
TJ McDermott, Missoula County Sheriff
Tyler Gernant, Missoula County Clerk and Treasurer

*A version of this post was also submitted to several area news organizations

Missoula County offices to start reopening to the public June 1; here’s what you need to know

cropped-missoula_county_courthouse1.jpg

Missoula County offices will begin to reopen to the public on Monday, June 1, with precautions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Precautions will look different in various buildings depending on the volume of foot traffic and interaction with the public. In general, facilities will have floor markings to indicate 6-foot spacing, plexiglass or other barriers between staff and the public, and hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes available for use. Staff and members of the public will be strongly encouraged or, in some offices, required to wear cloth face coverings in situations where social distancing is difficult.

Buildings also will have self-check stations set up for employees designed to review potential symptoms of COVID-19 and reminders to not report to work if they have symptoms. To facilitate this, employees will use designated entrances and exits that are separate from those the public use.

Reopening information for public-facing Missoula County departments is listed below. Guidelines and protocols are subject to change as the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve.

Clerk and Treasurer’s Office, Missoula County Courthouse First Floor, 200 W. Broadway

  • The office will open to the public Monday, June 1, with limited staff.
  • In-person services will be by appointment only. This includes motor vehicle registration, renewals and transfers, property tax payments or changes, and requests for birth certificates and other records.
  • Residents can call 406-258-4847 to make an appointment. Customers are encouraged to complete services online at missoulaclerk.us whenever possible.
  • The office encourages no more than one person to attend an appointment but will make accommodations for parties of two, such as a buyer and seller.
  • A maximum of four customers will be allowed in the office at one time: two at the open appointment windows and two in the waiting area.
  • Customers will be required to wear a cloth face covering to enter the office.
  • Hand sanitizer will be available for customers, and staff will wipe down pens and other items between customers.

Clerk of Court’s Office, Courthouse Second Floor

  • The office will open to the public Monday, June 1, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with limited staff.
  • In-person services will be by appointment-only by calling 406-258-4780.
  • The office requests no more than one person to attend an appointment but will make accommodations for marriage license applicants to appear together.
  • A maximum of three people will be allowed in the customer service area at a time.
  • Those with appointments should wait in their vehicle until called to limit congestion and must maintain physical distancing of 6 feet in the customer service area. Tape markings on the floor will indicate 6-foot distancing.
  • A cloth face covering is strongly encouraged for all customers. Disposable masks available upon request.
  • Hand sanitizer will be available for customers, and staff will wipe down pens, counters and other items between customers.
  • Only one person will be allowed in the public search area at a time. Customers should call 406-258-4780 to request admittance.
  • Marriage applicants may continue to apply for marriage licenses online, without an in-person visit.
  • Self-represented litigants are encouraged to continue to submit paperwork by email, fax, mail or drop box. The regular fee for email/fax will be waived.
  • Attorneys in cases not yet available for e-filing are encouraged to continue to submit pleadings by email, fax, mail or drop box. The regular fee for email/fax will be waived.
  • Email: clerkofcourt@missoulacounty.us
  • Fax: 406-258-4899

Commissioners’ Office, 199 W. Pine St.

  • Commissioners will continue to hold their public meetings virtually via Teams through June.
  • The public can check the commissioners’ schedule for information ahead of each upcoming public meeting.
  • Staff check email, mail and voicemail each day.

Community and Planning Services, 127 E. Main St.

  • Staff will begin transitioning to work at the office on June 1, though the office will remain closed to the public through that week and no in-person services will be offered.
  • Starting June 29, the office will open to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday.
  • Members of the public are strongly encouraged to wear masks when visiting the office, and disposable masks are available if needed.
  • Guests will need to use the self-check station and sign in (including date and contact info) to assist with contact tracing, if necessary.
  • The info desk will be staffed from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily to field questions from the public about zoning, permits, land use, projects or plans and can be reached by phone at 406-258-4642 or email at zoner@missoulacounty.us.
  • The department encourages the continued submission of documents and forms electronically when possible.

County Attorney’s Office, Courthouse Fourth Floor

  • The office will open to the public on June 1, with the majority of employees working in the building.
  • Hours will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Staff may work staggered schedules to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
  • Social distancing and other measures will be in place, and the office will modify its lobby and conference rooms to accommodate 6-foot distancing.
  • Staff and visitors are strongly encouraged to wear cloth face coverings. The office will have disposable face masks for those who need them.

Crime Victim Advocate Program, 317 Woody St.

  • The office will open to the public Monday, June 8, with limited staff.
  • Telephone-based services are strongly encouraged.
  • In-person services will be by appointment, except in cases of an emergency. This includes applications for orders of protection and other advocacy services.
  • People can call 406-258-3830 to make an appointment.
  • The office encourages no more than one person to attend an appointment but will make accommodations for parties of two.
  • A maximum of two clients will be allowed in the office at one time.
  • Clients will be required to wear a face covering to enter the office. We will provide you with a paper mask if you do not have your own.
  • Plan to maintain a 6′ distance from staff when visiting the office and/or when attending court with an advocate.
  • Hand sanitizer will be available for clients, and staff will wipe down pens and other items between customers.
  • For general information, visit www.missoulacounty/cva

District Court, Courthouse Second and Third Floors

  • District Court, which is a function of the state, will begin conducting in-person hearings throughout June. Those with questions should contact their attorney or the courts for additional information.

Elections Center, 140 N. Russell St.

  • The Elections Center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and providing voter services with social distancing and sanitation measures in place. Voters should expect longer wait times for voter registration, ballot replacement and other services.
  • The Elections Office must receive ballots by 8 p.m. Election Day; postmarks are not sufficient. Elections staff encourages voters who have not yet mailed their ballots to drop them at the Elections Office through June 1 or at a drive-thru ballot drop-off on Election Day.
  • On Election Day, voter registration and other services will be in the large green building on the east side of the lot, with voter parking and drop-off at the same end of the lot. The west end of the lot, closest to Russell Street, is exit-only and right-turn-only on to Wyoming Street.
  • All voters in line at 8 p.m. on Election Day will be served.
  • Drive-by ballot drop-off will be available at five locations across the county from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Election Day:
    • Missoula County Fairgrounds
    • Lolo Elementary School
    • Bonner School
    • Seeley Lake Elementary
    • Frenchtown Fire Station

Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, 3400 Captain Rawn Way

  • Museum will open to the public on June 1 with the reduced summer hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with the 10 a.m. to noon reserved for vulnerable populations. The museum will also be open from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
  • Only 10 visitors will be allowed inside the museum at any given time.
  • Signs and floor markings will indicate 6-foot distancing where necessary, and a plexiglass barrier will be installed at the front desk.
  • Visitors will follow a one-way traffic pattern while viewing exhibits.
  • Museum will close an hour earlier than normal for cleaning and sanitizing.
  • Visitors are strongly encouraged to wear cloth face coverings, and staff and volunteers will wear them when in public areas of the museum.
  • The museum will provide a sign-in sheet for visitors to assist with contract tracing, if necessary.
  • Starting Monday, June 15, small groups of 25 people or fewer will be allowed for programs outside on the grounds with proper social distancing. The number of visitors inside the museum will continue to be limited to 10. Social distancing is strongly encouraged.
  • HMFM will start accepting book and artifact donations by appointment only on June 15.
  • Volunteers can resume activities on Wednesday, July 13.
  • Groups of up to 50 can gather on the grounds with social distancing starting July 13.
  • The museum plans to resume all normal activities when the state enters Phase Three.

Justice Court, Courthouse, First Floor

  • All court hearings other than trials, order of protection hearings, and landlord/tenant possession hearings will be held by conference call or video. Parties should not appear in court unless a judge or clerk instructs them to.
  • Anyone who receives a ticket should contact the clerk of court at 406-258-3470 to schedule an initial appearance.
  • Anyone physically appearing in a courtroom must use cloth face coverings. The court will provide disposable masks for those unable to provide their own.
  • The court will not begin conducting criminal jury trials again until July, at the earliest. Civil jury trials will not resume until September, at the earliest.
  • The court is officiating weddings again under limited circumstances.
  • Upon request, initial appearances, trials and other proceedings will be available to the public via Zoom.

Public Works, 6089 Training Drive

  • The main office in Missoula will be open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays starting Monday, June 1.
  • No more than two customers at a time will be allowed in the lobby. The department asks that when visitors see more than one customer inside that they wait in their vehicles until a customer leaves.
  • Signage will be in place to help customers adhere to social distancing while inside. Public Works recommends that customers wear masks, and a limited number of disposable masks will be available upon entry.
  • The Seeley Lake satellite office also will open to the public June 1, but by appointment only. Please call 406-396-8148 to make an appointment.
  • Public Works inspectors will resume all inspections, including interior inspections, starting June 1. The department encourages on-site customers and contractors to wear appropriate PPE during the inspection and follow social distancing guidelines.

New parking regulations in effect for Clark Fork River recreationists

Milltown parking and river access map
Map showing where parking is permitted to access the Clark Fork River near Bonner. 

If you’re planning to float or otherwise recreate on the Clark Fork River near Bonner this summer, county and state officials ask that you follow new parking and river access guidelines aimed at promoting safety and consistency and providing a better user experience.

Missoula County commissioners adopted a resolution in March prohibiting parking along parts of Juniper Drive and Tamarack Road in Bonner (see above map). Located near popular but undesignated, informal river access points, the two roadways had grown increasingly congested in recent years, posing safety and nuisance concerns for nearby residents, emergency vehicles and the public.

Instead, the county is working with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to encourage recreationists to park and access the river at the Confluence Area of Milltown State Park. Once you enter the parking lot, signage will direct you toward river access and other amenities. Park admission and parking is free for vehicles registered in Montana and $8 for out-of-state vehicles. (Montanans already pay for state park access when they register their vehicles in the state.)

“There have long been safety concerns surrounding river access and parking congestion along Tamarack Road during the busier times of the floating season,” said Chet Crowser, director of Missoula County Community and Planning Services. “The commissioners’ resolution and efforts to redirect river access and parking to Milltown State Park is another great example of collaboration between Missoula County and Fish, Wildlife and Parks to address safety concerns and provide a better recreational experience for the public.”

Missoula County Public Works has installed “no parking” signs along Tamarack Road and Juniper Drive from the junction of Highway 200 to the entrance of the Confluence Area. The Missoula County Sheriff’s Office will enforce the ordinance, which may include towing vehicles in violation. FWP will also post “no parking” signs along the entrance into the Confluence Area, as well as directional signage to help park and river users find the appropriate parking and access points.

Milltown State Park has 80 parking spaces, and a nearby stretch of road at the end of Juniper Drive not affected by the resolution can accommodate overflow and evening parking. There is no parking along interior park roads. While the park is open for day use from sunrise to sunset, the entrance gate is tentatively set to close at 7 p.m. due to COVID-19 concerns. This could change later in the season.

“Providing public access to the restored confluence of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers is one of the founding tenets of Milltown State Park,” said Michael Kustudia, Milltown State Park manager.  “This strategy provides easier and safer access to the public, protects river resources, and addresses traffic and safety concerns of the community. We know this first year will be a learning experience for both our staff and the public, but the end result is a better river experience for everyone.”

In addition to this collaboration, Missoula County and FWP also worked with Three Rivers Collaborative, Downtown Missoula Partnership and Destination Missoula to publish a new map and guide to recreating on the Clark Fork. It’s available online at https://destinationmissoula.org/downtown-river-map.

Missoula health officer updates order to allow more businesses to open

Health Department

Missoula Health Officer Ellen Leahy today issued an update to her April 24 order as part of the gradual reopening plan for Missoula County. The main updates to the order include:

  • Businesses and individuals providing grooming, beauty, body art, piercing, massage, spa and similar services to open Monday, May 11. These entities can open as long as they create a service plan that supports employee health screening,
    social distancing, face-covering use, and enhanced cleaning and sanitizing.
  • The limit on events and gatherings such as fairs, concerts, races and sporting events, and private parties outside the home was raised to 50 people. Events with 50 or fewer must maintain six-foot social distancing. This does not replace the governor’s requirement to limit groups to 10 people when distancing cannot be maintained.
  • Farmers markets may open for the sale of unprocessed agricultural products starting Saturday, May 23. The market must have a plan to support social distancing, including the flow of customers and limiting the number of people in the market at one time. Vendors must space tables six feet apart. Vendors, employees, and volunteers are required to screen for symptoms and have provisions for personal hygiene and enhanced cleaning and sanitizing.
  • Schools may hold graduation, providing that they have a plan to keep families separated by six feet and can limit the total number of people to 250 based on guidance for large gatherings. The schools must provide a plan to support social distancing, personal hygiene and sanitation.

The local orders will remain in place until the governor moves to Phase Two, or the health officer rescinds or modifies them.

Gov. Bullock’s announcement on May 7 regarding the opening of gyms, fitness studios, some pools, movie theaters, and non-tactile museums are not affected by the local order.

These facilities may open Friday, May 15, providing they can follow the requirements outlined by the governor.

“We are at a different place than we were on April 24 when the original orders were issued,” said Cindy Farr, incident commander with the Missoula City-County Health Department’s COVID-19 response. “We had nine active cases. We were still getting new cases of COVID, and we were following two dozen close contacts. We are now at zero active cases and haven’t had a new case in over two weeks.”

Farr adds that while the outbreak appears to be winding down that COVID-19 is still a risk. The health department encourages community members to practice personal and community protective measures. Monitoring for symptoms, staying home when sick, washing hands, social distancing, and staying home as much as possible are still prevention measures that matter.

Additionally, the Health Board’s recommendation for wearing cloth face coverings in public spaces can decrease community spread.

“Keeping cases down at this point comes down to behavior and contact tracing. We can do the contact tracing and provide guidance to our community, but we still need the community’s help,” said Farr.

“Behavior matters. Social distancing and helping businesses and organizations follow the provisions is not only helpful for them but helpful for the community.”

For detailed descriptions of what these businesses will need to do to safely reopen, check out the health department’s guide online at missoula.co/reopeningmissoulacounty. If you have questions about how the local orders affect your business or organization, please call 406-258-4755.

Health officer issues order for more gradual reopening in Missoula County

Health Department

Missoula Health Officer Ellen Leahy issued an order Friday providing additional guidance and restrictions to accompany the statewide Reopening the Big Sky plan Gov. Steve Bullock outlined earlier this week.

The order enhances sections of the governor’s plan and provides for a more gradual reopening process. It intends to protect public health and Missoula’s healthcare hub, our communities, and our essential businesses, services and workers. It will also allow local public health to develop guidance for businesses during this transition.

The key components of the order include:

  • Events are limited to 25 people. During Phase One, which begins Monday, April 27, events and gatherings such as, but not limited to, fairs, festivals, markets (including farmers’ markets), concerts, sporting events, races and private parties outside the home must be limited to 25 people during Phase One. A 6-foot physical distance between participants must be maintained. If this distancing cannot be maintained, then these gathers are limited to 10 people, per the governor’s directive.
  • Salons, spas, body art, grooming and similar services must remain closed. Hair and nail salons, barbershops, spas, tattoo parlors, massage parlors and other businesses and individuals providing grooming, beauty, body art, piercing, massage and similar services will remain closed until Phase Two. Massage therapy affiliated with licensed physical therapy and chiropractor services is exempt from this requirement.
  • Retail businesses must take additional measures to reopen. Retail business, formerly deemed “non-essential” and required to be closed during the stay-at-home directive, may reopen to only curbside pick-up and delivery on Monday, April 27. These businesses may resume in-store services on Friday, May 1, if all the requirements below are met. The following requirements also apply to essential retail businesses that continued operations under the statewide stay-at-home directive:
    • At any given time, the maximum number of customers must be 50% of usual business capacity
    • Measures to protect customers and staff waiting in line at checkout counters, such as visible markers or signs denoting six-foot separation or temporary barriers, are in place
    • Staff have received training on practicing good hygiene, maintaining physical distancing, recognizing symptoms of COVID-19, and not reporting to work or remaining at work if experiencing symptoms;
    • Businesses must develop and implement an individualized plan addressing the requirements in the governor’s re-opening directive and this order. Businesses must keep the completed plan on-site and make it available to the Missoula City-County Health Department upon request.
  • Eating and drinking establishments must adhere to requirements to reopen. Restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos may reopen on Monday, May 4, as long as all the guidelines outlined in the governor’s directive can be met. The main difference here between the state plan and the Missoula County approach is that the guidelines outlined in the governor’s plan will be requirements in Missoula County. If establishments cannot meet these requirements, they must remain closed during Phase One. In addition, these establishments also must provide for at least 6 feet of separation between diners and groups of diners, including those sitting in booths.

These measures will remain in effect until the governor moves the state to Phase Two re-opening (the date for which has not been determined) or until this order is revoked or revised based on review of epidemiological data, testing availability and public health and medical capacity to control the spread of the virus and treat COVID-19.

To read the full order and access additional guidance, head to missoula.co/cvirus. If you have questions about how the local orders affect your business or organization, you can call 406-258-4755.

“We know that there are cases in our county that have not been identified and are concerned that we could see a spike in cases if we loosen restrictions too quickly and without a plan,” said Cindy Farr, incident commander with the Missoula City-County Health Department’s COVID-19 response. “We need to take a measured approach to reopening in Missoula for the sake of the public’s health.”

Farr also added that the measures, while delaying some openings, will help minimize the chances of future closures or workforce impacts if cases increase.

“What we don’t want is for businesses to invest in getting back on track, only to be affected again,” Farr said. “Taking the time, providing guidance and moving methodically is important.”

The health department recognizes that loosening any restriction is likely to contribute to case numbers but knows restrictions long-term are not practical. Working with businesses and the community to create a “new normal” in the era of the pandemic is essential.

Since Wednesday, the health department received more than 200 comments from community members, business owners and essential workers. About 90% of the comments asked for additional local measures, particularly to slow the reopening of the businesses that are covered in the order.

Under the governor’s directive, public schools in Montana will have the option to reopen starting Thursday, May 7. The decision to reopen will be up to individual school districts, including Missoula County Public Schools and other districts in the county. The Board of Trustees for MCPS, the largest district in the county, plans to make that decision on Friday, May 1.

Along with these measures, the department encourages community members to practice personal and community protective measures. Monitoring for symptoms, staying home when sick, washing hands, social distancing, and staying home as much as possible are still prevention measures that matter. Additionally, the Health Board’s recommendation for wearing cloth face coverings in public spaces where social distancing is hard may decrease community spread.

“Keeping cases down at this point comes down to behavior and contact tracing,” Farr said. “We can do the contact tracing and provide guidance to our community, but we still need the community’s help. It is going to take all of us supporting each other to keep COVID-19 down. We’ve weathered this storm as well as we have because of community thinking, and that’s what’s going to continue to matter.”