The Billings Outpost

New school named for Ben Steele


The Billings Outpost

The School District 2 Board of Trustees voted unanimously Monday to name a new West End school Ben Steele Middle School following a last-minute petition drive in support of Mr. Steele, a World War II veteran and longtime artist and art teacher in Billings.

It was the second straight time the school board rejected a committee recommendation for naming a new middle school.  The board voted in January to name a new Heights middle school after Joe Medicine Crow, also a World War II veteran and a Crow tribal historian, drawing criticism from some members of the public that the board had failed to follow its own selection process.

But Monday’s unanimous vote drew a standing ovation from most members of a crowd of about 65 people who attended the meeting. Supporters of Mr. Steele said they had gathered about 2,000 signatures on petitions calling for naming the school in his honor.

Last Updated on Monday, 29 June 2015 15:43

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Water compact assailed

By BRAD MOLNAR - For The Outpost

During the recently adjourned legislative session, a “sleeper” issue that turned out to be one of the “Big Three” losses to the Republican majority was Senate Bill 262, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Compact, or treaty, (CKST), which was sponsored by Sen. Chas Vincent, R-Kalispell.

Senate Bill 262 was killed in the House Judiciary Committee twice, but by using now famous rule-changing techniques liberal House Republicans joined the Democratic minority to form a majority coalition. When the treaty passed the House on a 53-47 vote, Gov. Steve Bullock and Sen. Vincent had a signing ceremony. Sen. Vincent had voted against the compact in the 2013 session.

An earlier Billings Outpost story covered the costs, uncertainties and constitutional issues surrounding the passage of the CSKT Water Compact. Now a fight is brewing as the compact/treaty heads to Congress for a ratification vote.

In an invitation-only meeting at Billings’ Lexington Inn on May 21, a collage of activists and political leaders came together to hear about, and be asked to join, an effort to derail the CKST water compact using the tools at their disposal. Robert Fanning, a gubernatorial candidate in 2012, introduced presenters, who included the team of Lawrence Kogan, a Washington, D.C., attorney; Quentien Rhodes, a Montana constitutional attorney; and Elaine Willman, a nationally recognized expert on Indian law and history.

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 June 2015 13:43

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Police officer cited


A Billings police officer who was found to have committed justifiable homicide in two fatal shootings in two years is now the subject of an internal investigation by the Billings Police Department.

Police Chief Rich St. John said Officer Grant Morrison is being investigated after an anonymous complainant said Morrison has routinely been violating city codes in Laurel, where he lives with his family.

Laurel Police Sgt. Mark Guy confirmed Monday that Morrison, who lives barely a block from the police station near downtown Laurel, has been issued nine citations since March 2010.

All the citations were for violations of Laurel’s animal-control laws and three of them were issued for keeping pigs, which are prohibited in the city.

St. John said Kevin Iffland, the BPD’s captain of professional standards, is investigating to see whether Morrison violated the department’s policy manual regarding off-duty conduct.

The complainant accused the department of trying to sweep Morrison’s conduct under the rug, but St. John said he didn’t know anything about the allegations until receiving the anonymous letter in early June.

He said Iffland “is closer to being done than he’s not. Give us a week or so.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 25 June 2015 13:42

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3 vie for chairman

By BRAD MOLNAR - For The Outpost

On June 26-27 Republicans will swarm to the Red Lion Inn in Helena to choose the next chairman of the Republican Party and fill support positions. The chairman position is often described as “a pressure cooker job for zero pay – who would want it?”

It turns out that three men want it. Will Deschamps, of Missoula, is the current chairman and seeking re-election. Jeff Essmann of Billings is a former Senate president and Dan Happel is a former county commissioner of Madison County.

Republicans have enjoyed solid majorities in the Montana Senate and House yet lost on many of their core bills for the last three legislative sessions. A handful of Republican legislators formed a coalition to give the Democrats the majority on these bellwether bills. Many party faithful are looking for leadership that can give clear signals that the party so many have donated to, and worked to have in the majority, can deliver on its promises.

To that end the three declared candidates (more may emerge or be nominated from the floor) were given written questions and have submitted answers. Answers have been edited for length but the intention has been preserved.

By way of disclosure, I have been a member of the Republican Party Executive Committee and worked well with Mr. Deschamps. I have known and respected Jeff Essmann since he chaired the Yellowstone County Central Committee 20 years ago and have collaborated with him on recent legislation.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 June 2015 13:32

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