Two years ago, Ravalli County's conservative community gave birth to a puzzling constitutional initiative. Montana's sovereignty was under threat, it seemed. The state's geographic boundaries had been dropped from the Montana Constitution in 1972. Without them, how could we know that we are where we are?
Now it appears others in Hamiltonfed up, perhaps, with a Republican-dominated county governmenthave uncovered yet another geographic quandary straight out of The Twilight Zone.
Apparently, the city of Hamilton doesn't exist.
Bitterroot gadfly Michael Spreadbury sent a letter to Gov. Brian Schweitzer late last month claiming Ravalli County's seat is not legally incorporated. As evidence, he cited a public meeting from August 2009 during which, he claims, Mayor Jerry Steele said the city had no incorporation papers. Spreadbury argued that "no taxes, police force or any form of local government can exist in Hamilton" as a result.
Spreadbury further backed his allegation by claiming that James Hamilton, the city's namesake, annexed Hamilton to Missoula County in September 1890. Now there's a twist.
The only problem with Spreadbury's letter, according to Ravalli County Clerk Regina Plettenberg, is that Hamilton does exist. "Hamilton exists," she says, "because it exists."
However, Plettenberg also offered historic documents showing Hamilton's legal status as an incorporated city. A page from the Ravalli County Commissioner Journals, dated July 14, 1894, mentions the returns from a local vote on incorporation. "A majority of the votes cast in said election," the journal states, "were in favor of said incorporation."
Plettenberg also sent us a ballot from an election in Ravalli County in 1982. On it is a proposal to "eliminate all services, offices and departments now functioning in the City of Hamilton, Montana." The measure failed with 209 votes for and 723 against.
So Hamilton does exist, and can legally function as Ravalli County's seat. We have to hand it to Spreadbury, though. He's got guts. His letter concludes with a stern request for Schweitzer: "Reverting Hamilton, MT to Missoula County as annexed in 1890 and abolishing Ravalli County would support your oath of office and lawful operation of local governments."
Hand Hamilton over to us? That wouldn't be so bad. They've got great beer. But abolishing Ravalli County? Our heads hurt just thinking about it.