Havre Daily News
Havre-Hill County Historic Preservation Commission volunteer staffer Keith Doll has resigned last week after several months of conflict with commission chair Lou Lucke.
His letter of resignation, submitted Friday, was brief and did not explain his decision to step down.
"As of today, April 21, 2005, I am resigning (as historic preservation officer). I am also resigning from Havre/Hill County Historic Preservation Commission for obvious reasons," his letter said.
Commission secretary Rachel Lopez followed Doll's letter with her own letter of resignation, dated Friday. Lopez moved from Havre over the weekend, but she also cited frustration with Lucke.
The commission now has two members, Lucke and Debi Rhines, down from the five members and one staffer it should have. Infighting has delayed efforts to fill two vacancies, a city appointee and an at-large seat on the commission. Lopez was a county appointee.
"In a way it's unfortunate, and on the other hand, perhaps we can bring things to more order," Lucke said today of the resignations. "We'll certainly miss the enthusiasm and the vitality, but I hope the new members can make it up and I hope we can live within the laws and rules of order now."
The three commission members, Lopez, Lucke and Debi Rhines, had come together last week to resolve some of the sources of conflict between Lucke and Doll. They clarified who sets meeting agendas and who can call meetings.
But the reunion Thursday wasn't without rancor. Lopez several times called on Lucke to resign.
She said in an interview Friday that she thinks the squabbling between Lucke and Doll could have been avoided had Lucke been more forthright about his decision to take on more responsibilities. When Havre City Council member Emily Mayer Lossing was the historic preservation officer, Lopez said, Lucke had left the setting of agendas and scheduling of meetings to her.
Lopez praised Doll's work in reaching out to the Hi-Line's many communities, including residents of Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, as well as his quick action getting lamppost banners hung in Havre.
"Apparently, this was a thorn in theside of one Commission member and the former HPO," Lopez wrote. "Perhaps they felt threatened by the fact that they are unable to achieve the type of community support and consensus building that Keith was creating."
Doll could not be reached for comment today.
Lopez's attempts to have Lucke resign were met with opposition from Rhines.
Rhines warned Lopez that the commission members had better learn to work together or Mayer Lossing would place "golden handcuffs" on them.
Mayer Lossing, who revived the commission in 1999 and then stepped down as historic preservation officer earlier this year, has said she may try to disband the group if it doesn't follow proper procedures.
Mayer Lossing declined to comment today.
Doll and Lucke both claimed the right to set the agenda and call meetings. In fact, each had called for a meeting at 7 p.m. on Thursday, one to take place at the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce building, the other at the Vande Bogart Library at Montana State University-Northern.
Gina Bishop, deputy Hill County attorney, told the Havre Daily News the commission's charter gives the chair the right to set agendas.
Rhines and Lopez attended the meeting at the library called by Lucke. Jim Magera, who is expected to be the city appointee for a vacant position on the commission, also was there. Doll was not. His letter or resignation was dated Thursday.
At the meeting, commission members agreed that the chair should set the agenda. They also agreed that the historical preservation officer and the commission chair could both call special meetings.
At Mayer Lossing's suggestion, they approved language for their charter that requires all members to conduct themselves ethically.
They also compromised on another point - allowing more voting members and nonvoting ex officio members to join the five-member commission.
Doll has advocated adding nonvoting ex officio members from each of the county's nearly two dozen communities as well as expanding the commission's voting membership. Lopez said Doll's efforts to draw in outlying communities and to involve Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation was a first for the commission.
But Lucke disagreed with Doll's methods, which Lucke said circumvented the board.
On March 14, Doll went to the Hill County commissioners asking them to approve adding more members to the commission. The commissioners agreed, but a week later they rescinded the decision.
County Commissioner Mike Anderson said the commissioners later heard from Lucke that the decision to add more members hadn't had the full support of the board.
Lopez said there was consensus that adding members was a good idea, but there had been no formal vote.
"Lou, who is versed in parliamentary procedure, was able to manipulate the situation," Lopez said Friday. "We never took a real vote." Lopez said Lucke, as chair, should have asked for a motion to approve adding new members when it was clear the idea was supported by a majority.
The county commissioners told Doll to get a vote from the board, so he called a special meeting for March 29.
Once again, Lucke said Doll was not going through the proper channels. The Preservation Commission's charter says that the chair calls special meetings.
Lucke went to the March 29 meeting and delivered a letter saying that the meeting was illegal because he hadn't called it. He refused to chair it and said that any decisions made at the meeting would not be valid. Commission members Rhines and Lopez, as well as several community members interested in joining the commission stayed and talked about changes they would like to see.
Rhines said Thursday that the March 29 meeting should be looked at now as "information sharing" but not as an official meeting.
Tensions arose Thursday when Lucke proposed inviting the city and county attorneys to attend regular meetings. He said the administrator for the State Historical Preservation Commission made the suggestion.
"If we were focused on historical preservation instead of political agendas, we wouldn't need the city and county attorneys," Lopez said.
She vented frustration throughout the meeting, including over the language for a new charter Rhines had drawn up as a compromise between Doll and Lucke and with the input of Mayer Lossing.
"This resolution is totally different," Lopez said. "I don't know what to say. I'm totally disgusted."
The commission also learned Thursday that Todd Hanson, the new owner of the Heritage Center, has offered the commission office space in the building, which resolves another dispute between Lucke and Doll. The preservation office was formerly located there.
Doll had advocated accepting an offer from Debbie Vandeberg, excecutive director of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, to use some space at the chamber office. Lucke was looking for space at Montana State University-Northern.
Lucke called the offer a godsend today. "It's that space that's really going to matter," he said.
The commission has a lot on its plate, including getting city and county support for Thursday's compromise and filling commission vacancies.
Magera presented some ideas about projects the commission can take on, such as promoting a brochure that highlights historical post offices.
May is Historic Preservation Month, and Rhines said the commission should do what it can to promote that.
Rhines also said she would approach Havre Mayor Bob Rice this week about adding to the next City Council agenda the nomination of a city appointee.
Vandeberg and Ron VandenBoom have applied for the commission's at-large position. Applications for that position will be accepted until April 30.