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Peck wants answers before co-op center moves


Business and government leaders met Monday to discuss how to reverse the state's decision to move the Montana Cooperative Development Center from Havre to Helena.

The group, including the center's advisory board, decided to recommend that Ralph Peck, director of the state Department of Agriculture, move the center to a permanent rural location. Some at the meeting specifically said Havre should be the center's permanent home.

Peck said today that he will listen to the recommendation as long as the board can answer some key questions, including who will provide liability insurance for the center, who will provide office staff and management and who will provide oversight for the center's operations.

"That's a dilemma. The advisory council is going to help us figure that out," Peck said.

The Department of Agriculture moved the center to Helena on July 1 from Montana State University-Northern, where it had been housed since its creation in 1999. Senate Minority Leader Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy, and Rep. Bob Bergren, D-Havre, met with Peck on June 30 to discuss keeping it in Havre or moving it back as soon as possible.

Peck said part of the reason the center was moved to Helena under the Department of Agriculture was to provide additional management, oversight and accountability for the center. The same support service would have to be met if the center is moved out of Helena, he said.

After a two-hour meeting Monday, the group that met in Havre came up with three recommendations: appoint a board of directors as quickly as possible, provide management support so it can operate effectively, and move it out of Helena.

The advisory board will present those recommendations to a meeting Peck has called for July 16.

John Magyar, general manager of Hill County Electric and Triangle Telephone Cooperative, said at Monday's meeting that the Hill County Electric board has approved housing the center at the cooperative in Havre.

"My view has always been Havre has a difficult time maintaining things, a difficult time keeping things," he said. "This makes absolutely no sense to me. Anything can work anywhere if you want it to. It won't work anywhere if you don't want it to."

Rick Stevens, assistant general manager at Hill County Electric and Triangle Telephone, said the cooperative doesn't intend to provide oversight, just a location.

Peck said today that isn't enough. For the center to work, some group will have to provide that oversight.

"If someone says, 'I'll provide space,' that's great. That's a start. But they will have to provide management support too," he said.

If answers to those questions can be provided, he would support moving the center, he said. But not before they are answered.

"The advisory council has some work to do," he said.

Walter Coffman of the Montana Council of Cooperatives, who is a member of the center's advisory council, said that the different cooperative organizations in the state might be able to come together and provide funding for the center.


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