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Allen v. Lakeside Neighborhood Planning Committee

Supreme Court of Montana

August 20, 2013

DAVID G. ALLEN, ELEANOR M. ALLEN, JOHNATHON D. ALLEN, AARON C. ALLEN, KRISTY D. ALLEN, DARREN J. CLARKE, JAMES R. FRAME, ROXANNE M. FRAME, JOHN M. DAY, BILL B. BLOMGREN, CHARLES E. HARRIS, JUDY K. HARRIS, DENNIS THORNTON, DONNA THORNTON, JIM ETZLER, BEVERLY E. ETZLER, CHRIS M. RASMUSSEN, REMI C. RASMUSSEN, and JOYCE C. DAY, Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
LAKESIDE NEIGHBORHOOD PLANNING COMMITTEE and FLATHEAD COUNTY, Defendants and Appellees.

Submitted on Briefs: July 10, 2013

APPEAL FROM: District Court of the Eleventh Judicial District, In and For the County of Flathead, Cause No. DV- 09-843(C) Honorable Stewart E. Stadler, Presiding Judge

For Appellants: Tammi E. Fisher, Noah H. Bodman; Fisher & Bodman, P.C.; Kalispell, Montana, Richard DeJana; Richard DeJana & Associates, PLLC; Kalispell, Montana

For Appellee: Paul J. Nicol, Caitlin Overland; Deputy Flathead County Attorneys; Kalispell, Montana

OPINION

Patricia O. Cotter Justice

¶1 In December 2010, the Flathead County Commissioners approved and adopted a revised neighborhood plan prepared by the Lakeside Neighborhood Planning Committee. Numerous property owners in the Lakeside and Somers areas of Flathead County challenged the revised plan and now appeal the Eleventh Judicial District Court's rulings in favor of the Planning Committee and Flathead County. We affirm.

ISSUES

¶2 A restatement of the issues on appeal is:

¶3 Did the District Court err when it declined to void the 2010 Lakeside Neighborhood Plan and determined that no relief was available on Plaintiffs' claims regarding the destruction of public records and violations of Montana's open meeting laws?

¶4 Did the District Court err in determining a public meeting could not be held via a Yahoo email group?

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

¶5 In November 1995, the Flathead County Commissioners (Commissioners) adopted the original Lakeside Neighborhood Plan designed to address land use and growth in the Lakeside and Somers areas of Flathead County. As recommended by this 1995 plan, the Lakeside Community Council was created as an advisory board to address community issues pertaining to neighborhood plan development.

¶6 In March 2007, Flathead County adopted the Flathead County Growth Policy (Policy or Growth Policy). The Policy acknowledged the validity of existing neighborhood plans and the possibility that some neighborhood plans would require revisions to comply with the newly-adopted Growth Policy. The Flathead County Planning Board (Board or Planning Board) determined the 1995 Lakeside Neighborhood Plan required revisions and the Board authorized the rewriting of the plan. Consequently, in or around October 2007, the Lakeside Community Council created the Lakeside Neighborhood Planning Committee (Committee or LNPC) to assist with the update of the earlier plan.

ΒΆ7 Beginning in October 2007 and throughout the first year of its existence, the LNPC worked on drafting a new plan or revising the old plan. The Committee held numerous meetings, most of which were held in private residences without adequate notice or invitation to the public. LNPC also created a password-protected, private Yahoo Group website for the exclusive use of LNPC members. A separate public website was created but it contained limited information and material. While members of the Planning Board were invited to closed meetings and given access to the members-only website, it was not until complaints about the lack of transparency in the proceedings began to arise that the Flathead County Attorney advised LNPC that it was subject to the "open meeting" ...


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