Miles City mayor tapped by Gov. for DEQ board


      MILES CITY - Miles City Mayor Joe Whalen was appointed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer to the Montana Board of Environmental Review.

      An announcement dated Feb. 10 was posted on the state web site, but the mayor only learned recently that the news had been made public.
The seven-member board deals with appeals from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) based on statute, decisions and administrative rules. It is an arm of the governor’s office, Whalen said.
     Members serve four-year terms.
Three of the members need specific expertise. Whalen was chosen for his experience with local government planning. The board members also need to be from the different areas around the state.
     “It’s really an important role to play, especially for southeastern Montana,” Whalen said.
He added that it is a forum for redress for citizens who feel they were unfairly treated by the law or staff.
     He said the decisions are removed from politics and are focused on “the rule of the law.”
Whalen has dealt with the DEQ fairly frequently as mayor, so he is familiar with the department’s duties.
     He was contacted by the governor’s staff the beginning of January and was told that the governor had been impressed with what he’s been seeing in the last couple of years. Then Whalen was interviewed for the position in mid-January. 
     During the interview, Whalen wasn’t sure he wanted the position because the board deals with contentious issues, and he questioned the time it would take and the work load that would be involved.
     “My first and foremost responsibility is as mayor,” Whalen said.
     He also was concerned about any possible conflict of interest, in the slim chance that the city were to appeal a DEQ ruling. If the situation arose, he would simply recuse himself from the vote.
     He was notified he was chosen early last week.
     Despite his reservations, he strongly believes that when an executive — whether it be a mayor, governor or president — asks you to serve, you serve, he said.
     His first meeting with the board will be March 27, where the board will have an orientation and get down to business. The board usually meets no more than six times a year. It is possible it will meet more times this year. 
     Sen. Keith Bales has sponsored a bill this legislative session to disband the board, so the future of the board is uncertain.
     Before coming to Miles City to open Miles City Books and News, Whalen was the general manager of Dakota Internet Access in Williston and worked with Smith & Hawken of Mill Valley, Calif. before that.
     He studied animal science, agriculture business and agriculture education at Reedley College, CSU-Fresno, CSU-Chico.

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