Havre Daily News
A dispute between the Havre-Hill County Historic Preservation Commission's chairman and the organization's new staffer is threatening local preservation efforts.
Consider that in the past few weeks:
Commission chair Lou Lucke and volunteer staffer Keith Doll each have prepared separate agendas for a meeting set for 7 p.m. today, one to take place at the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce building, the other to take place at the Montana State University-Northern Vande Bogart Library.
Doll took a resolution to the Hill County Commission to add new members to the historic preservation commission. The county commissioners passed the resolution on March 14 and then rescinded it on March 21 after learning from Lucke that the resolution did not have the full support of the Preservation Commission.
Doll called a meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission on March 29. Lucke arrived, called it an illegal meeting, refused to chair it and left.
Preservation Commission member Debi Rhines said she is frustrated with both men. "I'm tired of the bickering," she said.
Rhines said she is worried about the possibility that the commission could lose its certification if things are not sorted out.
"The big loser here is historic preservation," she said. "Unfortunately, the city of Havre is not a big historic preservation community. You don't have people gunning to restore things."
The State Historical Preservation Office has also been drawn into the dispute and has asked the two sides to try to get along.
Lucke and Doll have argued over procedural matters as well as whether to add new members to the commission.
Lucke contends that only the chair can call meetings and set the agenda.
The commission's bylaws support him, as does the Hill County Attorney's Office.
The Havre Daily News contacted that office while trying to determine whether to publish Lucke's or Doll's agenda for today's meeting. Deputy County Attorney Gina Bishop said in a voice mail that according to the county resolution authorizing the Historic Preservation Commission, the chair sets the agenda.
"The chairperson can delegate that to another person," she said, "but it's ultimately the chair's responsibility."
Doll said in an interview Monday that the March 29 meeting was legal and that as the staffer, who is also a voting member of the commission, he schedules meetings and sets the agenda.
He said that in the past, when Havre City Council member Emily Mayer Lossing was the staffer, she did so.
So far, county and city officials have tried to stay out of the fray.
But the city of Havre has an appointment to make to the preservation commission, which is made up of two city and two county appointees. The preservation commission appoints an at-large fifth member, a position that also is vacant.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice said today that he will set a meeting with the Hill County commissioners to air all the issues before the city makes its appointment.
Jim Magera is the expected city appointee, Rice said today.
Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher called the conflict on the Preservation Commission "growing pains."
The growing pains have caused one Hill County Commission procedural hiccup. The commission passed and then rescinded Doll's resolution adding members to the commission.
County Commissioner Mike Anderson said Wednesday that when Doll presented the resolution, the commissioners never asked if he had the support of his board.
"We assumed that he did," Anderson said. "It was our mistake."
Lucke said in a letter to the Historic Preservation Commission a week after the resolution was rescinded - the same letter that informed the board it was holding an illegal meeting - that Doll had "deceived the County Commission" and others.
Doll said he would not comment on anything Lucke had said.
Rhines said she plans to attend the meeting Doll scheduled today at the chamber building. Chamber executive director Debbie Vandeberg has offered the Preservation Commission an office there and Rhines said she appreciates the offer.
Rhines said she will suggest adding Vandeberg as the commission's at-large member at today's meeting. Ideally, the commission would wait to have its city appointee, but the bylaws don't require it, she said.
If Lucke does not attend the meeting, however, Rhines said it may be difficult to take any action. The bylaws require that the chair lead the meeting.
The state agency that oversees the commission is hoping the commission will resolve the problem internally.
In March, Doll called on Rolene Schliesman, a program coordinator with the State Historic Preservation Office in Helena, to settle the dispute.
Schliesman replied in an e-mail she copied to Lucke and others, "I received your voice mail regarding who is in charge, the HPO (historic preservation officer) or the Historic Preservation Commission Chairperson.
"First, I strongly recommend you and Lou work together. Both positions are as much about service as they are about leadership. Cooperation between you and Lou will strengthen the preservation commission and show the public you are putting preservation concerns first.
"Second, the structure of the commission is up to the local government and should be spelled out in the preservation ordinance and/or the preservation commission bylaws," she wrote.
Doll and Lucke also have argued over Doll's decision to move commission materials to his home.
Doll said Monday that the move was temporary and was made with the permission of a state administrator.
Schliesman said she was informed about Doll's decision to use his home as the historic preservation office temporarily. She said she told him it was fine as long as it was understood as temporary.
Eventually, "It needs to be in a more public place so the community has access to him," she said.
Mayer Lossing said Wednesday she fears she will be forced to destroy her own creation, the commission, unless it shapes up.
Mayer Lossing said she thinks Doll has not been following the rules.
She was responsible for reviving the commission in 1999. She resigned as officer Jan. 31 after holding the position for nearly five years to open a preservation business that offers walking tours as well as consulting services.
"I founded that (commission) as a gift to Havre and Hill County and my intent is to fix the problem," Mayer Lossing said. "These little feifdoms need to stop because we have got to start learning how to be a community again."
Mayer Lossing said today she had been considering introducing an amendment to the resolution that authorized the Preservation Commission that would clarify how a commission member or staffer could be removed from a position. She has now decided not to.
She met with Rhines on Wednesday. They agreed an internal policy would be a better way to clarify the roles and responsibilities of commission members and the staffer, Mayer Lossing said.
"I'm an elected official that sees an issue that has the potential to become a large problem and I'm trying to do my best to prevent that from happening," Mayer Lossing said.