By Michael Heins
Hill County Commissioners attended the 2000 MidWinter session of Montana Association of Counties (MACo), Feb. 7-11, in Great Falls.
The commissioners focused on the budget report, by laws and any new membership during the first two days. Tuesday's meetings also covered oil and gas issues for related counties as well as local government structure and funding, district court and funding, and mental health.
The commissioners were involved in a series of workshops Wednesday on topics that ranged from personnel issues to commissioner redistricting.
The governor's committee on disaster preparedness (DES) met Thursday.
DES meets once a year and concentrates on different disaster preparation issues such as tornadoes, floods or chemical spills. This session helped commissioners work as incident commanders to help learn how to take better charge in the case of a county wide disaster.
DES worked with the Hill County Commissioners about two years ago during a severe flood in July, according to Commissioner Pat Conway.
"The main topic for the DES meeting was the Columbine incident," Commissioner Doug Kaercher said. "This presentation lasted two and a half hours and the main objective was inform the county commissioners how to jump through the hoops in case their county faced a similar issue."
Finally, Friday's meeting covered a wide ranged of topics such as the ergonomic assessment, which OSHA is trying to push through congress now.
This meeting gives the commissioners a chance to learn what it is all about and be ahead of the curves before the standard is passed.
The Montana Safety Bureau Services also covered issues such as what to do on compliance issues and what services they offered in safety training.
Finally, MACo Information and Technology (IT) and MACITA committee led small group discussions about what is most important to provide access by citizens, staff, other counties, businesses, and any other significant constituencies of the courthouse to local government services. The idea is to network more courthouses together so they can more easily communicate, courthouses in other counties can be on other programs making communication more difficult.
"This will also also provide better access for local citizens to local government," Conway said. "Some examples are Hill County's web site allows citizens to register to vote or to cast an absentee ballot."
Each group developed and recorded a list of priorities to implement internal and external "e-government" and "e-commerce" in courthouse. Each group completed its work and reported its IT implementation to the audience at the end of the meeting.
Each of the Hill County Commissioners covered different aspects of the MACo convention.
Kaercher covered the information and technology committee and Commissioner Kathy Bessette covered the agricultural committee.
"They tried to split up and cover as much of the topics as possible, so they can get the best out of the conference," Kaercher said.
"The midwinter meeting of MACo and the next annual meeting in September creates good interaction between the counties and a good effort to find resolutions to present to the next Legislation," Conway said.
Bessette agreed with Conway.
"Working together as a whole and focusing on Montana's economy as a whole (is important)," Bessette said. "I thought this was more pertinent. Commissioners shared experiences and the method to solve these issues. The speakers spoke as commissioners and not bureaucrats.
"They did not tell you how to do it, but shared their experiences on how they dealt with the issues themselves."
"The workshops were a great way to learn from other people's experience and how they deal with the problems and issues throughout the various counties," Kaercher said. "I really liked the interaction with other elected officials."