The Chickens Come Home to Roost
Broadwater County Commissioner Faces Charges
By Tim Ravndal
Over a period of multiple years, the citizens of Montana’s Broadwater County have sought accountability from County Commissioner Laura Obert. In those efforts, there have been many legal questions raised but those questions have been stymied by a system that is often overwhelmed with cases from across the county. Broadwater County Commissioners
In 2012, citizens of Broadwater County brought forward a felony fraud case against the county. In that case, DES coordinator Bill Fleiner was charged with illegally using tax dollars in his position to benefit Paradigm Inc., a company he owned. Commissioner Obert was serving at the time but she failed to admit any accountability on the case. DES Coordinator Bill Fleiner was convicted but the sitting elected officials avoided any accountability.
Broadwater County Commissioners were again brought to court by then Commissioner Franklyn Slifka, claiming the rights of the people were being violated. Charges filed in First District Court in 2013 named Commissioner Laura Obert and Commissioner Elaine Gravely and alleged violations of open meeting laws were prosecuted.
From as far back as 2015, Commissioner Obert was challenged in open meetings over questions of conflicts of interest and continued open meeting violations. In those complaints, County Attorney Cory Swanson also faced a conflict of interest situation in trying to bring relief to the citizens.
Mr. Swanson spent a substantial amount of time trying to persuade Montana Attorney General Tim Fox to take action, per Montana law. Mr. Fox and his staff partially reviewed the case but failed to take any action on behalf of the citizens of Montana.
Finally, in July 2019, Attorney General Tim Fox agreed to appoint Gallatin County Deputy County Attorney Marty Lambert as a Special Assistant Attorney General and Special Deputy Broadwater County Attorney to look into the case. The citizens of Broadwater County breathed a collective “sigh of relief” to finally have an official inquiry into the matter.
On May 21, 2020 Mr. Lambert filed action in First Judicial Court in Broadwater County. Mr Lambert brought forward a motion to start proceedings in Cause # ADC-2020-24. In a motion to the court, two official charges are now filed against Commissioner Laura Obert.
In the first charge, it is alleged that under 45-6-301MCA Commissioner Obert stole funds belonging to Broadwater County. Under this law, Mrs. Obert is facing a fine of up to $50,000.00 and/or 10 years in prison.
That charge is associated with multiple complaints regarding a conflict of interest complaint. Allegedly, Commissioner Obert and her husband, Brian Obert, used her authority under the commission to fund a business titled “Montana Business Assistance Connection.” Brian Obert is the executive director of that economic development corporation. Additionally, there is a documented claim where Commissioner Obert obtained commission pay that was not authorized by the citizens of Broadwater County.
The second charge brought forward is an allegation of violating 45-7-401 (1) (c)MCA, Official Misconduct.
The charge brings forward multiple recorded incidents where Commissioner Obert exceeded her authority as a commissioner. While serving in her official capacity as Commissioner, Obert allegedly took personal advantage or advantage for another and voted to create and financially support a Targeted Economic Development District. The TEDD is being administered by the Montana Business Assistance Connection under the direction of Brian Obert. Under the second count filed in court, Commissioner Laura Obert, if convicted, could face a fine not to exceed $500.00 or be imprisoned in the county jail for up to 6 months or both.
The case will now move forward and Commissioner Laura Obert has been summoned to appear in court on June 5th 2020 @ 9:30AM on the above referenced case .
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