When the Jefferson County commissioners voted March 19 to restrict public access to county offices and buildings to minimize the risk of exposure to and the spread of COVID-19, they acted with urgency — and, as a result, with no public notice.

At the time, County Attorney Steve Haddon stated a preference for the proper 48 hours’ notice of a pending action, but didn’t contest the decision to act quickly and doubted the commissioners would face repercussions given the circumstances.

The Monitor editor John Blodgett, who was also present and asked how he felt about them proceeding without giving notice, also did not contest it.

State law wasn’t reviewed or quoted at the time, but a statute does support the commissioners’ unnoticed action that day. Montana Code Annotated 2-3-112 grants exceptions for notices and other public participation requirements, including when a decision “must be made to deal with an emergency situation affecting the public health, welfare, or safety.”

“What was done certainly met the definition of something necessary to protect public health,” Haddon said by email after being shown the statute.

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