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Ever play in a pick-up game where an alleged baseline violation called a game-winning shot into question? “Did you see it?” a contestant asks one potential witness, then another. “You saw it, right?” If a ruling fails to emerge promptly, what began as a friendly match can quickly go sour.

Suffice it to say, this is why we have referees.

It’s kinda like trying to find truth in silly jurisdictional conflicts between warring government offices. When such a squabble drags out, sometimes even a ref isn’t enough. From the murky depths, an appeal springs forth and—joy everlasting—everyone around gets to bask in the pettiness of provincial politics.

Take, for example, a recent decision by the Whitefish City Council to appeal a May 1 court ruling that invalidated the town’s regulatory “donut” zoning, putting the matter before the Montana Supreme Court. In a 2005 accord struck with Flathead County, Whitefish was granted planning and zoning powers over land within a two-mile radius outside of city limits, thus creating the insidious pastry. On March 13, Flathead commissioners Gary Hall and Dale Lauman calculated that the city had abused its privileges so egregiously that the board rescinded the agreement with a 2-1 vote.

Representatives from Whitefish—that éclair enclave in the heart of Krispy Kreme country—balked at the county’s donut decision and challenged it in court. But, the city failed to convince local judge Kitty Curtis, forcing the question of whether to appeal her ruling onto the Council’s May 6 agenda. There, the board members acted on City Attorney John Phelps’ suggestion to press on, making their goofy donut a statewide issue.

Thanks, Whitefish and, by the way, you’re wrong.

Conceptually, Whitefish’s donut is certainly dense with information and glazed with convincing arguments about community planning goals, projected growth estimates and claims of who does what for whom. The political confectionaries even seem willing to sprinkle in vague data about city services afforded to homeowners in the donut. However, it all fails the final taste test, where we ask if donut residents can vote out the council members who wield power over their property.

The unavoidable answer of “no” summons democratic considerations that probably should be held as self evident—or something like that.

Instead, we have affluent Whitefish taking recession-stricken Flathead County to task in a judicial arena paid for by the people of Montana. If the court costs help convince the town’s oligarchy that it can’t purchase civil rights, then consider it money well spent—just don’t bet your bottom donut on that.


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