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Debate about future management of MetraPark returns for the new year
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Debate about future management of MetraPark returns for the new year

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MontanaFair

The midway during MontanaFair at MetraPark on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021.

The public will have a chance to offer their thoughts and ask questions later this month about whether management at MetraPark should be privatized. 

Yellowstone County Commissioner John Ostlund called for a public hearing to be set for Jan. 18 to give county residents and others interested in MetraPark a chance to weigh in on the management debate. Commissioners will vote Tuesday morning on whether to approve having the hearing. 

"We have a lot of questions that need answered," Ostlund said. 

Ostlund's fellow commissioners, Don Jones and Denis Pitman, expressed support for the idea but wondered at the timing and the manner for doing it. The county began discussing the possibility of privatizing management at MetraPark in November. 

Commissioners in November issued a request for qualifications and information from private groups interested in managing the county's events facilities. On Jan. 18, the county will issue a request for quotes, asking private groups what they would charge and how they would manage the complex. 

At each step in the process the public has a chance to weigh in, Jones said.

Jones defended the process, saying the county is on parallel tracks exploring the future of the park's management. One track is the request for information and quotes from potential management companies. The other track is an organizational analysis of MetraPark that studies how it's managed, how it's run and how it's viewed by users.

That study was approved by the county at the end of November and is currently underway. 

"People keep saying, 'Look at it,'" Jones said, referring to the differing management options. "And that's what we're doing, we're looking at it."

Pitman took issue with Ostlund's intent. Ostlund's hope is that the hearing will give the public a chance to ask questions of the commissioners and hear the commissioners' responses. 

Pitman argued the governing body holding the hearing isn't allowed to respond to questions or comments from the public. Rather, elected officials respond during a meeting's public comment period, when members of the public speak to items on the meeting agenda.

Ostlund maintained that it was the opposite and that public hearings were designed specifically to allow for elected officials to be questioned by the public and provide responses. 

Regardless, it appeared the commissioners were open to scheduling the public hearing. 

Yellowstone County is nearly two years into a master plan process that could dictate a major overhaul for MetraPark. A master plan for the complex, once completed, will guide what happens to MetraPark and Jones sees that as an opportunity to look at various management options for the future, including privatization.

In early November, Jones stated his desire to investigate privatizing management, which caught some members of the community by surprise. The idea was presented as a move to formally request proposals from private groups or companies interested in managing MetraPark and many had expected a less formal information-gathering process first.

The issue became contentious enough that it's spurred an effort to recall Jones.

County resident Martin Connell submitted a petition with the Yellowstone County elections office at the end of November to initiate an election to recall Jones. Connell has until the end of February to collect the 15,000 signatures needed to get it on a ballot.  

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