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Montana primary ballots this year present an opportunity for voters to audit the structures and powers of their city and county governments through a voter-initiated review process that occurs every 10 years in all 56 counties and 127 incorporated municipalities. This review focuses on legislative and executive branch functions, with the potential to shift the balance of power between the two branches. Forms of government can be restructured based on the review’s findings, including options like the commission-executive or commission-manager forms, among others. A town meeting form is also available for towns with less than 2,000 residents.

If voters approve a review for a particular government, a study commission will be elected to review potential changes and suggest solutions. After two years of study, the commission will propose changes, and voters will have the opportunity to accept or reject these proposals. The process is funded by a property tax levy, with funding levels approved by local governments. Jurisdictions experiencing change, such as population growth, are more likely to undergo a local government review as their needs evolve.

In Bozeman, there is an organizing effort by a group called Represent Bozeman to support a city government review. Goals include implementing ward elections and representation for city commission members, supporting full-time City Commission positions, and shifting power dynamics between elected officials and appointed city staff. A similar effort is taking place in Billings, led by David Goodridge, who feels that the City Council has ceded too much power to appointed staff. Goodridge advocates for a vote to bring about change and a review of the local government structure.

Efforts to conduct local government reviews are not intended to be a referendum on the actions or policies of elected officials but focus on how the government operates regardless of who holds office or staff positions. The intent is to examine the structure and functioning of local governments and make necessary changes to suit the evolving needs of cities and counties. Montana state statute lays out various forms of government that can be considered as part of the review process, providing jurisdictions with the flexibility to redefine the details and duties of their governments and staff.

Residents in communities across Montana are considering a local government review for their respective jurisdictions with the goal of improving representation, power dynamics, and efficiency within local governments. Through this process, voters have the opportunity to shape the future of their cities and counties by electing study commissions, suggesting changes, and ultimately deciding on proposals put forth by the commissions. The review process provides an avenue for communities to evolve and adapt to changing needs and circumstances, ensuring that their governments are best equipped to serve the public interest.

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