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Mission Irrigation District restructures; evaporated Joint Board reformation underway

Mission Irrigation District underwent a major change in direction on April 21, as two new commissioners were sworn in and the district obtained new legal counsel.

The district also voted to align itself with the Flathead Irrigation District in an attempt to reform the Flathead Board of Joint Control or a similar organization that will work cooperatively to make decisions regarding delivery of water to irrigators from the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project.

District Chairman Jerry Laskody said that he hopes the changes will give irrigators a greater voice in their district than what has been permitted in the past. He said that his election in 2013 was the initial turning of the tide in the Mission District, as he unseated a 27-year incumbent. Laskody was out-voted 2-1 on most issues last year by fellow commissioners Paul Wadsworth and Jerry Johnson, who steered the district in support of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Water Compact. The compact would create a legal distribution of water rights on the Flathead Reservation and has created a firestorm of controversy for the past several years.

The board’s stance made a complete flip-flop to an anti-compact majority last week when Carol Lyons and Tim Orr were appointed by Laskody as commissioners after Johnson and Wadsworth were recalled in a special election a few days prior. Lyons will serve three weeks, until a newly elected commissioner will be sworn in. Orr will serve until 2015.

“Commissioner Laskody did not want to cast a shadow of favoritism on the election,” Mission Irrigation District Office Manager Johanna Clark said of the decision. Gene Posivio and Claudia McCready are running for the open seat currently held by Lyons.

The board’s first action was to fire law firm Browning, Kaleczyc, Berry, and Hoven, PC  which had provided representation since June 2013. After the recall election the district immediately issued a stop payment order for two checks worth approximately $40,000 that were supposed to pay for the law firm’s services. Clark said the district plans to ask for a detailed list of charges from the firm to see if there is any negotiating that can be done to the price tag for services.

The stop payment order will put the finances for the district in the black.

“For the first time in nine months we now have a positive balance,” Clark said. “... We are moving in the right direction.”

The commissioners hired the Metropoulos Law Firm, headed by Helena attorney Jon Metropoulos, who also represents the Flathead Irrigation District.

Metropoulos hopes the cost of his services will be less because at the meeting the Mission district voted to join the Flathead district in an attempt to reform the Flathead Board of Joint Control, or another similar organization.

“We would hope that the Jocko District would join,” Laskody said after the meeting. “If we get into individual districts then it’s a lot harder to coordinate what our legal positions might be on the litigation.”

The Flathead Board of Joint Control disbanded last year and the Bureau of Indian Affairs assumed control of the irrigation project, which led to higher costs and the layoff of employees, according to Laskody. 

“The collateral damage of this is that 10 good people lost their jobs and they were totally innocent in all this,” Laskody said. 

He said he hopes the reformation of a joint board can get the districts back on track.

“It’s been a real fiasco with these other districts behaving in a maverick fashion .... It’s been a tough four or five months,” Laskody said. 

On Monday Flathead Irrigation District Commissioners joined the Mission District in a press conference where they spoke out against the proposed Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Water Compact. 

Metropoulos had been scheduled to talk to state legislators on the interim State-Tribal Relations Committee in Pablo that day about the two districts’ positions. Metropoulos declined the invitation after he was asked by an opposing attorney to not talk about legal suits filed in regards to his clients’ positions. 

Metropoulos argued that he couldn’t speak about his client’s position without mentioning the suits. 

 

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