Havre Daily News
Local officials and community members who met Wednesday with a federal mediator evaluating racial problems in Havre said they will form a human relations commission to address problems that arise in the community.
People who attended the meeting Wednesday said it went well, but others who were not invited to the meeting wondered why they were excluded.
The group was convened this summer by U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service mediator Grace Sage, who traveled to the area twice before returning Wednesday. Sage came on June 21 in response to a University of Montana School of Journalism story that appeared in several Montana newspapers, as well as a request by a community member. The UM article described mistreatment of Native Americans at Havre businesses, and prompted coverage of the issue by area newspapers.
In June and July, Sage met with Havre and Hill County officials as well as Rocky Boy and Fort Belknap government leaders.
Wednesday's meeting, from which the media was barred, was the second meeting of a group composed of both government officials and community members.
“It was a good meeting,” Rocky Boy tribal council member and state Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy said today. “There is going to be a human relations committee in the area to address the continued concerns of the news articles.”
Windy Boy said the group did not set a definite time frame or any type of membership rules for the proposed committee. The purpose of the meeting was, first of all, to get everybody to the table again, he said. Generally, the members suggested that the education community, the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce and other community members be invited to participate.
“It wasn't a meeting to solve the issues and present the issues,” Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera said today. The goal was to get “a human relations committee together to discuss the issues.”
Havre City Council member Tom Farnham was left bewildered. He came to the meeting after reading about it in the newspaper but was turned away. Farnham said Sage told him she only wanted people at the second meeting who had attended the first one.
“If it's a community problem, I feel the community should be involved,” Farnham said. He said he wondered why the City Council had not been invited.
Community member Gilberta Belgarde was also turned away. She said Sage told her she could call later to share her thoughts by phone. Belgarde had brought a copy of the UM story with her to discuss it. Chamber president Denise Ladenburg said she heard a chamber official had been disappointed that the chamber was not invited to Wednesday's meeting.
“If (Sage) has pointed out that there is a problem ... it was felt we want to know what the problem is and what the suggestions are to better our relationships,” Ladenburg said today.
Ladenburg said she was happy to hear the group that did meet wanted to involve the chamber in the future.
Hill County Commissioner Mike Anderson said the commissioners were not invited to Wednesday's meeting. Sage met with the commissioners individually in July and said she would follow up with them, Anderson said. The commissioners have not heard back from Sage, he said.
In July, Sage asked to meet with the commissioners in a closed meeting. The meeting had been included on the commission's agenda and, by law, was required to be open to the public.
“I was surprised that she wanted to do that,” Anderson said.
After a Havre Daily News reporter asked to be included in that meeting and said the meeting should be open, Sage decided to meet with the commissioners individually.
“We would not advocate violation of any law. That does not make sense,” Sage's supervisor, Community Relations Service deputy director Stephen Thom, said today. He said Sage may have thought the county has more than three commissioners when she asked for a closed meeting.
He said the meeting Wednesday may not have included more of the area's elected officials because that meeting would have to be open to the public. Mediation meetings are closed so that participants feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, he said.
Thom said Wednesday's visit could be Sage's last, or she could return if invited back by community members.
The Community Relations Service employs 40 mediators who work in about 120 communities across the country every year, Thom said.
The group that met Wednesday included Havre Mayor Bob Rice, Havre City Council member Jack Brandon, Havre Police Chief Mike Barthel, Szudera, Montana State University-Northern Chancellor Alex Capdeville, Windy Boy and community members Charlie Grant and Jim Treperinas.
Barthel and Treperinas declined to comment about the meeting. Others could not be reached for comment.
Sage declined to comment about the meeting and referred questions to local people who attended the meeting.