The Fairview City Council voted on Tuesday, July 7, to postpone the annual Old Timers Reunion and Summer Festival out of concerns for the health and safety of local residents due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The “Special Meeting,” which took place at the Fairview Senior Center, was open to the public and announced in advance by Mayor Brian Bieber.
After a lengthy discussion among council members and Mayor Bieber — as well as a spokesperson for the Old Timers festival committee and meeting participants — a motion was made to postpone the festival until at least the fall.
Councilmember Kevin Dahl made the motion, which “carried” by a vote of 4–2.
Fairview City Council members Mike Sannon and Keith Bieber voted against the motion. Mayor Bieber did not vote, per standard procedure.
In addition to Dahl, the following council members voted in favor of postponing the festival: Brian Renville, Jerrald Baxter and Lloyd Fugate.
Officially dubbed the “Fairview Old Timers Reunion and Summer Festival,” the annual event was scheduled for July 17–19.
A tradition in the northeastern Montana town for more than 70 years, the festival is known for its impressive grand parade, lively entertainment and good food.
The Fairview City Council did not vote to postpone or cancel the traditional Duck Race or 5K Fun Run.
Early during the meeting, Dennis Trudell read an official statement from the Fairview Old Timers Reunion and Summer Festival, which voted unanimously to postpone the event for a few months, at which point the impact of COVID-19 can be reassessed.
“We decided the health of the community is more important and voted to postpone the festival until the fall,” Trudell said.
Mayor Bieber asked Trudell if it is possible the committee will need to revote in the fall if nothing has changed with regard to COVID-19 restrictions.
Trudell responded he does not believe another vote will be necessary in the coming months if the coronavirus situation is unchanged.
“The festival committee already made their decision,” Trudell said tersely.
Bert Olson, one of the most vocal opponents of cancelling the festival, expressed his opinions at the beginning of the meeting.
“We know enough to make an informed decision,” said Olson, organizer of the Fun Run. “This ‘cancel culture’ is ridiculous. The responsibility is up to the individual. Our healthcare is our responsibility.
“Montanans have a natural social distancing that we already do,” Olson continued. “Here we are, about to make a decision to cancel another event. Enough is enough. What’s next? Are we gonna roll over and take it?
“You’re elected officials,” said Olson, turning to face the city’s mayor and council members. “You’re put here by our vote. Hopefully there is enough here to say, ‘We’re gonna have Old Timers.’”
Mayor Bieber responded, “If we have Old Timers, and two people get sick, and they cancel school, they’re gonna blame Fairview.”
From that point, people on both sides of the issue stood up and expressed their views about coronavirus, social distancing recommendations and current state government restrictions on holding large events.
“This is a scary disease,” said one woman in the audience. “It just scares me with my kids and grandkids, and my great grandkids.”
“There’s a power grab going on,” said councilmember Bieber, adding that elected officials need to do what’s right now, or citizens will not listen to them in the future.
“The swine flu’s coming next,” said the mayor. “They already tried the murder hornets, and that didn’t work.”
“It’s time to step up and take leadership,” said Olson, a U.S. veteran who noted he served in the Middle East during the early aughts.
To Vote or Not To
Mid-way through the meeting, it was unclear whether or not the Fairview City Council would vote on the fate of this year’s Old Timers Festival. A few members expressed their views the festival committee’s unanimous recommendation to postpone the event was sufficient.
However, the committee’s spokesperson and a citizen/participant reminded the council that it was merely a recommendation. Both said they came to the meeting because they expected the council to make a conclusive decision with a vote.
“I don’t think it’s our decision to have it or not have it,” said councilmember Bieber, who later voted against the motion to postpone the Old Timers Festival. “I feel like this is a town event. I wanna leave it up to the peoples’ choice.”
One audience member stood and said she felt the council would be “shirking its responsibility” if it did not vote on whether to continue with the festival, postpone or cancel it.
Councilmember Dahl, who made the motion to postpone the event, said he felt the council would be “shifting legal responsibility” if it did not hold a vote.
Shortly thereafter, a decision was made to call city attorney Kaitlin DeCrescente.
She offered her advice, recommending that Fairview focus on what permits are required for the various events. DeCrescente pointed out the city might have to withhold certain permits if the festival were cancelled or even postponed.
Ultimately, the city attorney concurred that a vote was wise, if not vital.
“It certainly doesn’t hurt to vote and have that memorialized,” DeCrescente advised the Fairview City Council over the phone.
“It is our responsibility to look out for the community,” said councilmember Renville. He spoke at length about the possible legal consequences that might ensue if someone developed COVID-19 symptoms as a result of attending an event sanctioned by the city of Fairview.
“My feeling...it’s just not worth it,” Renville said.
Mayor Bieber, who was not required to vote on the motion that followed, appeared to concur with Renville.
“We’re all adults,” he said. “I think we can all suck it up for a year.”
Finally, councilmember Dahl courageously made a motion to “postpone the Fairview Old Timers Reunion and Summer Festival.”
The motion passed 4–2. However, the Duck Race and 5K Fun Run were not impacted by the council’s decision on Tuesday night, July 7, 2020. The city council voted to postpone, until at least the fall, the Fairview Old Timers Reunion and Summer Festival.
Thanks to a generous donation from Grace Ellwein and her son Earl, the Sidney Parks Department will expand its handicap accessibility project at Veterans Memorial Park.
The Ellweins donated $7,000 to the city’s “Take Part In Our Parks” project.
Spearheaded by Parks Superintendent Stephanie Ridl, the project was developed to improve handicap accessibility at Veterans Memorial Park.
“They wanted to donate a bench and a plaque in memory of Arch,” Ridl said, referring to Archer Ellwein, known as the “Voice of the Eagles.”
Grace and her son Earl also wanted to improve accessibility to the park for everyone.
Ridl said $1,150 of the donation is for a bench and plaque. The remaining amount will go toward laying a concrete path from the north end of the park to the seating side of the stage area.
“We do that type of concrete work in-house,” Ridl said. “If there is any money left over, we’ll connect the seating area near the bathrooms.”
Ridl said she launched “Take Part In Our Parks” because of a lack of handicap accessibility at Veterans Memorial Park. The Sidney Parks superintendent reported she has raised more than $62,000 in private donations since the project began a few years ago.
“I named [it] ‘Take Part In Our Parks’ because it’s a donation project,” Ridl said. “It’s people in our community who have donated anywhere from $20 to thousands of dollars. And it’s all happening because of these donations.”
Pointing to the recent $7,000 donation from the Ellweins, Ridl said their generosity will give more people access to the park, particularly the stage and seating area.
“I’m extremely grateful to the family contributing to the ‘Take Part In Our Parks’ project,” she said. “It’s these helpful donations from our community that have allowed the project to near its completion.”
The lack of social gatherings and other side effects of the coronavirus pandemic is also disrupting for the young missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serving in Sidney.
They used to spend much of their week before COVID-19 teaching others about God and prophets, while performing 10 hours of community service. Under current conditions they are trying something different.
Scott L. Howell, president of the Dakota Mission, is a university administrator on leave from Brigham Young University.
“I thought it would be helpful for our missionaries during this time of social distancing to get out in the fresh air and do something meaningful like take photos of headstones in cemeteries for genealogy purposes,” said Howell, a former sexton of a small cemetery and an amateur genealogist.
One of the missionaries currently serving in Sidney, Elder Cordell Clinger from Genola, Utah, said: “When people are far from their ancestors’ graves and want to remember them, it will be a benefit to be able to connect the families together online.”
Currently, missionaries in the Sidney area have photographed thousands of headstones and uploaded them to the BillionGraves website. The online portal enables other volunteers to transcribe the information so that interested family and genealogists may electronically access information and photos of headstones from the comfort of their own homes.
Readers who are aware of any small/private cemeteries in the area they would like photographed, can contact the Sidney missionaries at (701) 317-2309.
LDS Elder Sam Nielson is a communications specialist with the Bismarck, N.D. Mission.
The chamber was packed at the Sidney City Council meeting on Monday evening, July 6.
Apparently, that was a problem. At the close of the meeting, the council discussed and approved a suggestion to close, until further notice, upcoming Sidney City Council public meetings.
The decision centered on COVID-19. Citing the health and safety of city council members, the mayor and city staff, the council agreed by “consensus” to close its next meeting to the public, including — presumably — the press.
No official motion was made to close future meetings. There is some speculation that doing so without a vote is improper. However, the council agreed, and Mayor Rick Norby confirmed, the next scheduled Sidney City Council meeting will not be open to the public. The public will be allowed to participate virtually through Facebook, it was noted.
The meeting began with a presentation by James Brower, manager of the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project (LYIP), concerning whether the city should erect fences along the local canal.
A 4-year-old boy drowned after falling into the canal on June 19, 2020. The child, Trace Hilburn, fell into the canal shortly after noon on a Friday. He reportedly was found about a half-mile upstream by Sidney Police and at least one Richland County Sheriff’s deputy.
Hilburn was placed in the back of a Sidney Police Department vehicle and taken to nearby Sidney Health Center. However, he was later pronounced dead after medical staff were unable to resuscitate him.
Brower led his presentation with a recap of the canal’s history — dating back to the turn of the 20th century and Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. Brower addressed whether it is the government’s responsibility to ensure the safety of citizens near, at and around the canal.
At issue is whether a fence should already have been in place to prevent tragedies like Hilburn’s drowning. Specifically: Should the city of Sidney be responsible for erecting a protective barrier to minimize the likelihood of a similar accident occurring in the future.
Brower began his presentation with some historic context. He told a story about Teddy Roosevelt, who listened to input from local farmers while visiting the area more than a century ago. They reportedly informed the president the local soil was good, but there was insufficient year-long water for farming.
“There was a few ranchers and cowboys who tried farming,” Brower said, as he summarized the history of the canal running through the area before it became Richland County.
That’s when Montana passed laws to form a federal reclamation act, Brower explained, noting the act made it clear that every “local area” in the United States was required to reimburse the federal government for “any money” borrowed to improve the surrounding community, including for an irrigation project.
Roosevelt declared, according to Brower, that any money borrowed from the federal government should be used “for the purpose of protecting” people, whether from drought or for safety reasons.
Brower went on to state that any and all fences erected along the canal must be at least 25 feet from the “irrigation ditch.” He said the law does not currently require fences along the canal because it’s economically infeasible to maintain them.
Although he acknowledged the Federal Bureau of Reclamation owns all of the land, “right up to the ditch,” Brower said the federal government is not responsible if someone falls in.
“The irrigation ditches are not liable from a drowning,” Brower said. “We’re looking at what options we can use to try and make it more difficult to fall into the canal.”
The LYIP manager noted so-called “ledges” that form along the canal — where soil builds up and weeds grow — are actually false. There is no support beneath them.
Brower told the council and the audience he offered to assist Trace’s family in their efforts to erect a fence in order to prevent future deaths.
“I offered to help the Hilburns [in] requesting permission to run it 25 feet from the canal,” Brower said. “I believe this meeting is to try and come up with some good ideas of how we can discourage people from falling in.”
After an audience member suggested construction of the fence should begin at the trailer park where Trace was when he fell into the canal, Mayor Norby requested permission to represent Sidney if such discussions ensue. A motion was made and approved by the council to allow Norby to represent the city.
The tenor of the meeting changed when a youth spoke up. Later, the youth identified themself as a cousin of the now-deceased boy, Trace Hilburn. The youth asked why no action had been taken previously to prevent such a tragedy.
That question prompted a discussion about access. Fences erected by private homeowners reportedly impede LYIP crews from mowing and clearing weeds along the canal and on “false ledges,” Brower explained.
“If we want to increase safety, we’ve got to remove obstacles,” he said, alluding to fences put up along Holly Street to keep vehicles from driving into the canal.
After listening to a brief exchange of questions and answers between the articulate youth and the thoughtful LYIP manager, Mayor Norby said the city could not afford to pay the costs of erecting a fence along the entire canal. Sidney is not legally required to do so, according to the LYIP manager.
The Sidney City Council voted to move forward in exploring how it might encourage private companies and other parties to fund a safety barrier along portions of the canal that run through the city.
• The council voted unanimously to approve an option to add a new insurance provider — Global Family Heritage — in addition to AFLAC, for city employees.
• Purchase of a $3,000 computer app called iCompass, to supplement online meeting agendas and eventually allow the council to livestream meetings to the public, was unanimously approved.
• Police Chief Mark Kraft requested approval to hire officer Max Fletcher full time; the city council voted unanimously to confirm Fletcher’s hiring.
At the close of the meeting, Sidney City Clerk/Treasurer Jessica Chamberlin asked council members to consider returning to social-distancing practices and close the next meeting to the public. Citing the packed audience at the July 6 meeting, Chamberlin and others expressed their concerns it is impossible to enforce the six-feet-apart recommendation for limiting the spread of COVID-19.
Tami Christensen of Ward 3 added, due to other local event cancellations, it would be a good idea to close the next few council meetings to the public.
Kysa Rasmussen of Ward 2 agreed it would be prudent to close the next few meetings to public in-person access. However, no motion was made to do so; and no vote was held on Monday night, July 6, to limit public access to future Sidney City Council meetings.
After the meeting, Mayor Norby was asked to confirm whether a vote was taken to close the next Sidney City Council meeting to the public.
“You don’t have to have a motion on something like that,” Norby said.
The mayor referred to the decision to limit public access to the next Sidney City Council meeting as a “consensus.”
The Richland County Health Department is announcing four additional active cases of COVID-19 in Richland County residents. This brings the total case count to 28; 16 of the total cases are recovered, and 12 are active [as of July 10].
New, Active Cases
Case 28: A female in her 50s who is not hospitalized and is isolating at home. The case investigation is ongoing and contact tracing has begun. The case was a household contact to a positive case. The individual became symptomatic while undergoing quarantine.
Case 27: A female in her 40s who is not hospitalized and is isolating at home. The case investigation is ongoing and contact tracing has begun. The case was named as a close contact to a positive case. The individual became symptomatic while undergoing quarantine.
Case 26: A female in her 20s who is not hospitalized and is isolating at home. The case investigation is ongoing and contact tracing has begun. The case was named as a close contact to a positive case. The individual became symptomatic while undergoing quarantine.
Case 25: A female between the ages of 11 and 19, who is not hospitalized and is isolating at home. The case investigation is ongoing and contact tracing has begun. The case was found through contact tracing. The individual is not symptomatic, and was undergoing quarantine.
The Health Department continues to monitor more than 50 close contacts daily. The Health Department’s investigations show that residents could be doing more to follow COVID-19 preventative recommendations, particularly in regard to not going out when sick, staying home after being tested, and avoiding large gatherings.
It is imperative that Richland County residents follow instructions from the Health Department and healthcare providers.
• If you are not feeling well, particularly including symptoms of a dry cough, fever, shortness of breath, headache, and other cold-like symptoms, stay home until you feel better. This means that you do not go to work, do not attend regular activities, and cancel or postpone appointments.
• If you have been tested for COVID-19 for any reason, including preoperative testing, you must stay home until test results are received. This means that you do not go to work, do not attend regular activities, and cancel or postpone appointments.
• All residents should be practicing social distancing, including limiting the number of close contacts. This means avoiding large gatherings where social distancing is difficult. Wearing a mask in situations where social distancing is difficult is also recommended.
Together we can slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community. Please do your part so Richland County can recover socially and economically from this pandemic.
Stephanie Ler, RS, MPH, is the Richland County Health Department Public Information Officer.