Commissioners discuss AG opinion on Ennis Schools

VIRGINIA CITY – At the end of their regular meeting on Tuesday Madison County Commissioners held a general discussion concerning the Montana Attorney General’s opinion regarding the Ennis School District’s use of adult education funds and how the school district and county might proceed in moving forward.

“I want to emphasize that I’m trusting that this will be in a positive direction,” said commissioner Jim Hart.

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock issued an opinion earlier this month that stated the Ennis School District had used adult education funds to improperly finance their new school buildings. The opinion has the weight of law unless challenged in court or addressed by new law at the Montana Legislature.

Bullock’s opinion was in response to Madison County Deputy Attorney Chris McConnell’s request for clarification on the legality of using adult education and transportation funds to build a new school. His request for an attorney general’s opinion in the matter came at the behest of the county commissioners.

In deliberating on how to proceed, Hart noted that the commissioners have received several suggestions from around the community to request an audit of the Ennis School District to get a transparent presentation of information about what has transpired in recent years.

Commissioner Dan Happel commented that all sides of the issue seem to have a different opinion on how things were handled, whether proper notifications were given, and how the opinion from the Montana Office of Public Instruction should be interpreted.

“I think the only fair way to determine exactly what happened is by conducting a full audit,” Happel said. “If both sides are saying that things were not disclosed, that audit should put that to rest.”

Commissioner Dave Schulz said the best thing for the school district to do is have a fresh start as it relates to the audit.

“Having a new start with a fresh set of eyes is going to look at this in a totally fresh manner,” Schulz said.

Madison County Deputy Attorney Chris McConnell was present during the discussion and recommended the board write a “strongly worded letter of persuasion” to the school board explaining their obligation in the matter.

“We believe it is the school boards responsibility to have this done, not only for themselves but for their taxpayers and their voters,” McConnell said.

Hart made the motion that commissioners take McConnell’s advice and submit a written request to the Ennis School Board for an audit, with a request for response within five days of the next school board meeting. Dan Happel seconded the motion, adding that the third-party auditor should be selected with the consent of both the commissioners and the school board, and the motion carried.

The next regular commission meeting is scheduled for Feb. 28 in Virginia City.

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