Greenwalt, Vandersloot vie for BHC commissioner position

Candidates discuss county goals, possible jail expansion
Thursday, October 11, 2018

Photo by Andrew Turck

Linda Greenwalt (left), a candidate for Big Horn County commissioner, addresses attendants of an Oct. 2 forum held in the Hardin Historic Depot. Both she and opposing candidate Larry Vandersloot (right) want to wean Big Horn County from reliance on federal coal money.

Photo by Andrew Turck

Big Horn County Commissioner candidate Larry Vandersloot talks about his experience working for the City of Hardin during his introductory speech.

A forum held before a crowd of about 40 people at the Hardin Historic Depot on Tuesday, Oct. 2 offered Big Horn County commissioner candidates Linda Greenwalt and Larry Vandersloot the chance to show their qualifications for the upcoming general election. Moderator Gabe Scheidt asked them a series of questions ranging from the proposed Big Horn County jail expansion to long-term visions for the county.

Greenwalt is a candidate with 15 years of experience on the City-County Planning Board and the Fair Board. She has a vision for Big Horn County, and that is for it to be less dependent on coal dollars. She wants to promote the county and spur the development of new businesses and non-profits through seeking out grants and funding. Regarding the proposed jail expansion, Greenwalt said she has problems with it, but did not oppose the plan outright.

Vandersloot is in favor of “getting away from using coal royalties” as well, specifically where they are used for expensive or potentially redundant public works. With 34 years in public service in Big Horn County and experience in the role of superintendent of public works, Vandersloot has written and presented many coal grants in the past. His message was clear: the county needs to live within its means.

“I have the ability to negotiate a longterm contract with the city of Hardin,” Vandersloot said.

While Greenwalt promoted her role within the county government, Vandersloot said there’s no real difference between public service for either city or county government, and that, furthermore, the goal should be to bring all major players to the table in Big Horn County. Both entities, he said, can negotiate future large scale development projects. Both candidates agreed on this last part, citing the need for cooperation between the Crow tribal government, the City of Hardin, and county officials and representatives.

Regarding the issue of proposed expansions to the Big Horn County jail, neither candidate was completely in favor of the proposed plan, and both of them addressed the issue of the nearby 464-bed Two Rivers Detention Facility – currently vacant. Vandersloot sounded in favor of utilizing the facility.

“The county and the city have to work together with the Two Rivers Port Authority to get something going over there,” he said.

Greenwalt argued against the use of the facility, citing the issues with Two Rivers passing the State of Montana Code for detention centers. Among the many debated concerns, some claim the Two Rivers facility does not meet Montana State Prison requirements for ambient light.

According to a 2016 Montana Jail Standards Update, Chapter 19, Article 4 reads, “All inmate rooms/cells provide the occupants with access to natural light,” while Article 15 reads, “Each dayroom provides a minimum of 12 square feet of transparent glazing with a view of the outside, plus two additional square feet of glazing per inmate whose room/cell does not contain an opening or window with a view to the outside.”

However, these articles occur under the heading “Renovations, Additions, New Constructions only.” The Two Rivers Detention Facility was completed in 2007, and as Two Rivers Chairman Jon Matovich pointed out toward the end of the forum, “On the south end of the facility is a rec room that has daylight.” He went on to note, “One of the problems with the facility is people making claims against it that are not true.”