Commissioners conflicted on employment status

With the discussion of filling the open commissioner seat in Sweet Grass County, a new topic has begun to formulate: The classification of employment of the county commissioners. 

On March 30, 2006, Sweet Grass County commissioners signed a resolution making them full-time employees of the county. The resolution stated, “the duties and responsibilities of the Commissioners of Sweet Grass County have increased.”

What led to the resolution was Sweet Grass County becoming a Class Four county, demanding higher levels of responsibilities and duties, according to the 2006 resolution. The resolution also stated, “Commissioners will be in the office, at meetings or appointments Monday thru Thursday and one Commissioner will be in every Friday.” Despite being full-time, all commissioners are only required, by the resolution, to work four days a week. 

Bill Wallace, one of Sweet Grass County’s two sitting commissioners, said it’s imperative to the office that the commissioners are full-time employees. 

“Is it sit here everyday and work constantly? No,” Wallace said. “But it does require attendance when there’s something going on. A lot of times, people like you to be available.”

Wallace said he gave up working at his personal business to become a full-time county commissioner. Without the full-time pay, he would need to find another job to make up for the lost income.

“I’m not independent and wealthy,” Wallace said. “I still need a job. I still have to have the income. If we’re not going to have the income, I’ve got to find a job that replaces the income. I gave up my business to do this job. I tried to do both for a while, but it don’t work.”

Bob Faw, the other remaining, sitting Sweet Grass County commissioner, does not believe the commissioners need to be full-time employees.

“No, not since I’ve been here. Not even close,” Faw said. “I think you’ll get a lot better candidates to run for the position if it’s not a job; if it’s a way to serve the community.”

Faw said a large portion of why the county commissioners originally moved to full-time employees was because they were getting ready for the mine to come into the county. If the mine were to increase in employment, that’s something Wallace said would require full-time commissioners to help with, starting with an impact study. 

“But things have changed,” Faw said. “We’re night and day different in communication. People have our cell phone numbers, they can communicate with us. As far as I’m concerned, since my time here, no, it’s absolutely not.”

Of Montana’s 56 counties, 35 of them have full-time county commissioners. The two largest counties with part-time commissioners (Silver Bow County, No. 8 and Anaconda-Deer Lodge County, No. 26) are charter governments, meaning they work with city councils to govern their constituents. 

For more of this story, pick up a copy of this week’s Big Timber Pioneer on newsstands now, or subscribe online at bigtimberpioneer.net.

PHOTO CAPTION: A look at all 56 Montana counties, and the employment status of the county commissioners.

By STEPHEN KALB-KOENIGSFELD / Pioneer Staff Writer

 

 

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