Corruption: Gallatin County Health Board is Refusing to Hand Over Public Records

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Stand Up Montana has requested a Freedom Of Information request of the Gallatin City-County Board of Health. Initially, there was dialogue between our group and the Board of Health, as the timeline we have provided in this letter will show. However, they have stopped communicating with us, which now adds to our intense distrust of them and their entire COVID-19 response. It appears to us that this isn’t about our health at all, but about their control.

Currently, the Gallatin County Board of Health is using businesses to push their illegal mandates. This is creating intense fear and division, and fear isn’t healthy. They are a Health Board, but their policies are hurting people.  Suicides are up, domestic violence has spiked. How is this acceptable? Meanwhile, the Health Department is hiding behind falsities of supposed science. They are telling us that there will be massive deaths, but in Gallatin County, as of January 4, there were only 38 (fewer than that of the flu). The state of Montana as a whole had 436.

We began our inquest for information about the Health Board’s COVID-19 response and their policies, but have been stonewalled by Marty Lambert, Matt Kelley, Damian Guillen, Tracy Knoedler, Lori Christenson, Steve Custer, Mari Eggers, Christopher Coburn, Buck Taylor, Becky Franks, I-Ho Pomeroy, and Seth Walk.

We sent our first email on September 28, 2020, with an email to Damian Guillen:

Under the Montana Public Records Act § 2-6-1001 et seq., I am requesting all electronic communication, personal cell, and email correspondence related to the county COVID directive, from April 1, 2020 to present.

If access to the information I am requesting will take longer than a ‘reasonable’ amount of time, please contact me with information about when I might expect copies or the ability to inspect the requested records.

If you deny any or all of this request, please cite each specific exemption you feel justifies the refusal to release the information and notify me of the appeal procedures available to me under the law.

Damian responded within 2 hours, saying he would forward to the appropriate persons. Days went by without a response.

Finally, we again emailed on September 30, 2020, asking a timeline

Damian replied back stating

Since I do not process these requests I am unsure of the time they will need to gather the information. The department handling your request will reach out if there are any concerns of potential delays.

Again we responded the same day “Hi Damian,I would like to get this information as soon as possible. All the contacts on this list can simply forward me any COVID related info to my email.

Six days later, we finally got another response…

I am following up on your request. After speaking with IT and the County Attorney’s Office, we are asking if there was a specific topic regarding COVID that you wanted us to search, for instance a local health rule or the governor’s directive. The amount of time this request would require from the County will surely surpass the $200 fee that is noted in the resolution attached. If you are able to provide a more specific topic or a shorter list of people it would be more timely and cost effective. Once we receive a response in regards to a specific topic we will be able to provide you an estimated cost to process your request upon receiving payment.

We then wrote two follow-up emails, again informing them of their duty to preserve public records and surrender them when officially asked and explaining what, in particular we wanted as it relates to COVID-19.

The Health Board representative then followed up with another email, again requesting we narrow our search to something very specific (narrowing their target) and reminding us (again) that we’ll need to pay them. Please note that we never balked at paying them.

We followed up on October 13,

Dear Damian,

To further clarify my public records request previously submitted regarding COVID 19, I would like the electronic communications, including personal texts and email, regarding the following:

1.) Related to the crafting, adoption, and enforcement of Governor Bullock’s Health Directive of 7/15/20, including after adoption.

2.) Related to crafting, adoption, and enforcement of the Gallatin County Health Rule, passed 7/24/20, including after adoption.

3.) Related to MaskUp program development and implementation.

4.) Related to complaints outside the adopted County Health complaint system. 

The email went on, “The rules and enforcement impact the lives and livelihoods of all Gallatin County residents. Citizens need to have transparency regarding the crafting, complaints outside the formal complaint process, and enforcement of adopted state directive rules.

Public records are critical to transparency. If any of those named in this records request has deleted or destroyed texts or emails, they are expected to retrieve destroyed records..or, if unable, to disclose what they have destroyed.”

There have been communications between our requestor, County Attorney Marty Lambert:

Oct. 16th- Email from Damian; he forwarded our email with the information to the appropriate person (most likely Matt Kelley). We responded and told him thank you.

Oct. 22nd- Email from Damian regarding expenses. The expenses outlined did not include personal communication (texts, emails) between board members. We asked if there was a quote for that info and clarified that we wanted to see those records’ costs first.

Oct. 23rd- Email from Damian. He said he forwarded my response. He says he’s unsure about the texts. I responded the same day and told him I would wait to hear back regarding the texts.

Oct. 27th- No response from Damian. We sent an email checking in. He responds and says he hasn’t heard anything but will be in the office tomorrow (Oct. 28th) and look into it. We emailed back a thank you.

Nov. 2- We did not hear from him, so we emailed Damian checking in again. We ask if he has been in contact with Marty Lambert. We called Marty Lambert and filled him in on the request I filed. Marty claimed he had not heard of it until now. He sounded annoyed and said he would look into it. We forwarded Marty all communication we’ve had with Damian since September 28th.

Nov. 5th- Email from Damian. He said he was out of the office for a bit and that he hadn’t personally spoken to Marty but knows he’s working with their staff to accommodate my request. I sent an email back the same day and informed Damian I just spoke to Marty, who did not know my request. we got no other response from Damian.

Nov.6th- Email from Marty. He said he had not heard of the RR until we talked.

Nov.8th- Email to Erin Arnold, Gallatin HD personal county attorney. We let her know of our request, and asked why the emails are being withheld.

Nov.9th- Email from Erin Arnold to us; Arnold said Marty is assisting the HD with its response and Marty will respond to us this week.

Nov. 13th- Email to Marty. We requested that he look at the timeline of my records request. Marty responded, stating that he had to get county IT to help with emails, and he needed to review emails for attorney-client privilege. I asked for some clarification on one of my requests.

Nov.15th- Reponse to Marty. We clarified stipulation 4.

Nov.20th- Email from Marty. He asked us to call him as soon as we get his email. We called, he was busy, so we left a message.

Nov.23rd- Email to Marty. We left a voicemail stating that we had not heard from him, and would appreciate a call or email.

Dec. 1st- Email to Marty. Again we checked in with him to request information or communication.

Dec.13th- Emailed Marty again. We again requested the records. We got no response, and have not been able to get a response since.

This story is clearly one of the unelected bureaucrats versus the public. The despots have something to hide, and we aren’t going to let them get away with this. Note that Gallatin County Commissioner Joe Skinner is not on the list of the records request. He has been against the mandates all along. There has been some talk of bringing the Gallatin County Commission into this, along with Gallatin County. The county pays the Health Dept wages and is thereby a part of this, for not stopping it. 

Our organization, standupmt.org, and our supporters are tired of all this nonsense. All this foulness needs to be brought to the surface. People need to smell the deception, the rank lies, and hidden untruths need to be brought into the light. People are suffering at the hands of these unelected people. Many citizens are out of work for no good reason. This breeds desperation on the part of the community, which has been reported by law enforcement, suicide hotlines, and addiction counselors.

People are up in arms, tired of the incredible fear that is breeding in our communities. The rise in attempted and completed suicides are rising. Each of us reading this knows of someone that is no longer with us, because of suicide. This is a virus and we have never doubted it, but it’s not a deadly one to most of the people in our state. The control that is being attempted is insidious. Where will it stop? We tell you, it will stop by the voices of the citizens of this great State of Montana.

Lord, we pray for the veil and clouds to be lifted from the eyes and hearts of these people that have their hands on the throats of the citizens. Lift their hands and open their eyes at the same time. 

[Op-Ed Submitted by Stand Up Montana]




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