By Tim Ravndal
Many citizens here in Montana have been working hard to maintain transparency in government. With Elected officials bound by the Constitution of Montana, they take an oath promising that they will defend the rights of the people while abiding by the delineated powers listed therein.
The Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) currently chaired by Brad Johnson is center stage regarding public duty and responsibilities of elected officials. The Montana PSC consists of 5 elected commissioners in an office that employs 35 people.
Recently, Northwest Liberty News broke a story regarding publicly released email exchanges from within PSC. The story opened up with claims of improper use of government email.
Commissioner Roger Koopman who served in the Montana Legislature for 2 terms, is at the heart of this story. Mr. Koopman has a history of taking on government when he sees failure in the duty of elected and appointed officials to the people.
Not long ago, Mr. Koopman challenged elected officials of Bozeman Montana for illegally working out of the city office to manipulate a bond election. In that dispute, Mr. Koopman made a connection to electioneering laws in Montana. Mr. Koopman and city officials ended that civil action in a plea agreement. In that agreement, city officials promised not to violate the law again.
The current issue on the table is questions of accountability within PSC, brought forward by Commissioner Koopman. Substantial discussions were held in an email exchange with those working within the PSC circle.
In that exchange, expenditures amounting to thousands of dollars by Chairman Johnson were questioned by Commissioner Koopman. In addition, some of the emails publicly released contain personal correspondence which is not illegal, but highly recommended against by policy.
Mr. Koopman in his quest for answers within the PSC as an elected official appear to be in proper order. The integrity of any office depends on the ability to have internal discussions between officials and those working within the government system.
Certainly all these exchanges are public information as this is a government entity. Under the Constitution of Montana Article II Sections 8 & 9, provide for the citizens the right to know and the right to participate in all actions by elected officials of the state.
Also in many cases, one must consider Article II Section 10 of the Constitution of Montana that provides for the right to privacy. Provisions of transparency cannot outweigh the right to privacy.
An undisclosed employee or acquaintance of PSC officials delivered a cash of emails that were drawn from Mr. Koopman’s official email account to Northwest Liberty News.
In the email exchange that is posted on Northwest Liberty News, Commissioner Koopman questions the performance of the duty by the PSC to the people of Montana. In the email exchanges there are several unknown or unidentified recipients included in that exchange that raise concerns of privacy.
Within PSC the commissioners recently hired a communications director to oversee the commissions public communication program. Communications Director Drew Zinecker, serving as an employee of the commission, is responsible for the integrity of PSC and to accommodate the public participation process guaranteed under the constitution.
According to Commissioner Koopman, he and others raised questions regarding the decision to hire Mr. Zinecker. Details to why Mr. Zinecker’s hiring was questioned but unanswered, remain with little or no information publicly available.
Mr. Zinecker working with Commissioner Pinocci have stepped up their opposition to Commissioner Koopman’s inquiry making claims that Commissioner Koopman has exited the realm of reality. We have heard many horror stories regarding the new trend of “Red Flag Laws” that are being implemented across the country. Mr. Zinecker is now claiming his position with PSC and his personal safety is now being compromised by Commissioner Koopman.
Commissioner Pinocci sent a letter to the PSC Chairman Brad Johnson and Vice Chairman Bob Lake raising concerns regarding the actions of Commissioner Koopman. The letter submitted by Commissioner Pinocci was tabled by Chairman Johnson. Mr. Johnson cites concerns over taking any further action outlined in the letter against Commissioner Koopman will escalate, harming internal administrative harmony. A copy of the letter is not available publicly.
Mr. Zinecker making claims of threats and intimidation went to the Montana Commissioner of Political Practice seeking help to put an end to Commissioner Koopman’s inquiry. Commissioner Jeff Mangan assured Mr. Zinecker that his office would take his complaint to the front of the line. Mr. Mangan is an appointed official by current Governor Steve Bullock.
With Brad Johnson gearing up to run for the office of Montana Secretary of State, he is not wanting to have a corruption anchor tied to him. Randy Pinocci is placing himself in position to take the Chairman of PSC if Mr. Johnson moves to Secretary. Either way, both will retain power in politics with the deals made and promoted by Mr. Zinecker.