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Yellowstone County's Road and Bridge Department consistently builds roads that are unsafe and substandard, and the department is plagued by "chronic favoritism and cronyism," says County Public Works Director Bill Gibbs.

Yellowstone County commissioners have asked Dwight Vigness, the county's director of human resources, to get to the bottom of problems in the Road and Bridge Department after Gibbs severely criticized the department in a recent memo to commissioners.

Alleged policy violation Meanwhile, Teamsters Union Local 190, which represents employees of the county Road and Bridge Department, urged commissioners to investigate Gibbs, alleging that he has done a poor job of supervising the public works department and also has violated county policies.

Commissioners last week delayed a decision on hiring a new road and bridge superintendent to replace John Ostlund, who was elected to the County Commission last November. Bob Moats has been the interim road and bridge superintendent since then.

As pubic works director, Gibbs supervises the Road and Bridge Department, although commissioners have the final word on who is hired.

In a scathing four-page memo to commissioners, Gibbs claims that the Road and Bridge Department frequently builds roads that deteriorate quickly because they don't meet county design standards. Gibbs aimed much of his criticism at Ostlund, who worked for the department for 30 years before being elected to the commission.

Different ideas Part of the rift involves who will replace Ostlund as Road and Bridge Department superintendent. Gibbs favors promoting Gary Good, a construction inspector. Ostlund favors Moats for the job.

In his memo, Gibbs said Ostlund has a history of running the department as a "crony system designed to serve the friends of the superintendent."

As one example, Gibbs said the department improved a two-mile stretch of Mainwaring Road to serve a private development owned by a friend of Ostlund.

"At the same time, others (not friends or contributors) are told the county will not improve roads serving them, or we cannot improve the roads serving them at this time. Some have been required to improve old unimproved rights of way at their own expense," Gibbs said in the memo.

In the memo, Gibbs said he intends to "introduce a professional approach to the operation that has never been present. The results of not doing the work correctly became more apparent as time went on, despite the efforts of past management to cover up the failures."

Gibbs' memo does not address the question whether he shares some responsibility for allegedly substandard county roads because he supervises the Road and Bridge Department.

Ostlund on Friday denied the allegations in Gibbs' memo.

"There's not a word of truth in it," he said. Ostlund said he's confident that the investigation will exonerate him and others in the department.

Commission Chairman Bill Kennedy said the he wasn't aware of any tension between Gibbs and Ostlund until Gibbs' memo last week.

"We are going to look at the things that have been brought up," Kennedy said. "We issued a memo that will hold up on hiring a superintendent, and we will sit down with the board and try to rectify the situation."

Meanwhile, the Teamsters said Gibbs' criticism is off base, and he is the one who should be investigated for violating county policies.

"We are outraged by the scurrilous remarks made by Bill Gibbs questioning the competence of our members," said Joe Dwyer, secretary of Teamsters Local 190. "Teamsters Local 190 takes Mr. Gibbs' statements as a self-serving attempt to deflect attention from his own dishonesty and ineptitude," Dwyer said.

"We are proud of the quality of work performed by our members for the local community, and we are extremely offended that Mr. Gibbs accuses our members of building unsafe roads," Dwyer said. "Mr. Gibbs runs the department. He is ultimately responsible for designing and engineering county roads — our members follow the specifications he establishes.

Dwyer urged "a thorough investigation by the County Commission of Mr. Gibbs' conduct in office."

Gibbs was on vacation this week and couldn't be reached for comment.

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