Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Whitefish responds to inflammatory rhetoric

| November 1, 2023 12:00 AM

In his letter to the editor (Class action suit against Whitefish moves forward, Oct. 26) Paul Gillman made numerous misrepresentations of fact and even went so far as to publicly disparage a city of Whitefish employee. This letter is intended to respond to Mr. Gillman’s misguided and inflammatory rhetoric and set the record straight. 

Two things should be noted initially. The first is that Mr. Gillman is not an impact fee expert. In fact, to our knowledge, he has no professional experience calculating impact fees for any municipality, let alone one located in Montana.The second is that Mr. Gillman is not a plaintiff in the class action lawsuit pending against the city, yet seems to be the “man behind the curtain” in court and in the media.  What are the motives, who is benefiting here, and how?

In the summer of 2021, the city discovered an error in the calculation of water and wastewater impact fees that occurred between Jan. 1, 2019, and July 31, 2021, involving fixture counts assigned to single-head, standalone showers. The city publicly acknowledged the error and started an audit to determine what refunds were owed. Due in large part to Mr. Gillman’s efforts, a class action lawsuit was filed against the city while it was attempting to remedy the error. In the interest of promptly refunding fees, the city continued to move forward. 

In November of 2022, the city sent letters to individuals who its audit identified as possibly being due a refund. Mr. Gillman’s statement that the letters referred to “violations” of city policy is false. Mr. Gillman’s representation that the purpose of the letters was to intimidate or threaten people is false. The letters notified individuals of a potential refund and asked if they would like to proceed with an inspection to determine the extent of any refund owed. The city was trying to obtain information regarding installed fixtures so it could accurately determine refunds. For the city to forgo this due diligence would make it a poor steward of public funds. 

To be clear, while the letters asked individuals to contact Rose Elliott with questions, they were neither initiated nor drafted by Ms. Elliott. For Mr. Gillman to disparage, villainize, and make untrue statements about a public servant just trying to do their job is beyond the pale. Ms. Elliott is a valued employee who the city fully supports.  To say Mr. Gillman owes her a public apology is an understatement. If you have an issue, take it up with management.

In his letter, Mr. Gillman, again without the benefit of any professional experience or expertise, accused the city of violating state law by not using the Uniform Plumbing Code to size water meters. The state itself has confirmed the city’s municipal water system is not governed by the Uniform Plumbing Code. Mr. Gillman is well aware of the state’s position. It was clearly expressed in an email sent directly to him by the Montana Department of Labor and Industry in June of 2023. Mr. Gillman’s continued insistence that the city is violating the law despite clear guidance given by the state is further evidence of his questionable motives. 

One of the few factually accurate statements made by Mr. Gillman is that the federal district court issued an order certifying a class this September. Class certification, however, is not judgment on any of plaintiffs’ claims. A trial on the merits of those claims will be held next summer.  The city was ready to start issuing refunds this fall but due to the class certification, it can no longer do so. 

We can only guess at what motivates Mr. Gillman to continue to spread misinformation, target city employees, and champion a lawsuit he is not a part of. The public deserves better. 

John M. Muhlfeld, Whitefish mayor; Frank Sweeney, Whitefish deputy mayor; Ben Davis, city councilor; Andy Feury, city councilor.