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Recently, the Federation of Missoula County Employees (FMCE), Local 4846, became very concerned after reading the results of an investigation initiated by county commissioners into Missoula County’s Justice Court Department 1 and Judge Marie Andersen.

As a union, one of our roles is guardian of the rights and best interests of our members. After much consideration, and in no small part in response to the conditions documented in Missoula County’s report (wasted resources and poor working conditions — conditions that have yet to be corrected), the FMCE is placing our support behind Alex Beal for Missoula County Justice Court Department 1 Justice of the Peace.

Alex Beal is committed to ending the cycle of high staff turnover and lack of training currently burdening our members in Justice Court Department 1. Alex Beal supports and encourages the idea of a unified court manager for both Justice Court departments, which was a solution noted in the letter written to Judge Andersen by our county commissioners.

This is an important step which would go far toward creating a working and healthy supervisory environment for our members. With this solution, evaluations and hiring could be conducted fairly and openly by an employee hired by the county (and subject to it policies and procedures) instead of an elected official, allowing for working conditions in line with our collective bargaining agreement.

The FMCE is confident in Alex Beal’s ability to lead the push for change, as well as his desire to work closely with Justice Court Department 2 to improve working conditions and restore Justice Court operations as a whole.

Judge Beal has made a commitment to make Justice Court a court of record, where transcripts of all court proceedings will be compiled and kept for reference, a step the FMCE feels is long overdue. Residents of Missoula County should also consider this a step forward, as it helps hold elected officials accountable for what happens in their court. The ability to review accurate records of the court proceedings is a cornerstone of the legal system.

The FMCE did not make this decision hastily. Traditionally, FMCE remains out of politics. This time, we felt we had no other choice given Judge Andersen’s repeated failures in Justice Court Department 1. FMCE members who work in Justice Court Department 1 are not the only ones affected by Judge Andersen’s concept of management. Many other departments within Missoula County are affected, as well as the citizens of Missoula County.

FMCE encourages voters to visit the Facebook page of Judge Alex Beal for JP, where you will find links to summaries of the county HR investigation, and you can decide for yourself if conditions there are what you want to pay for and support. If not, FMCE encourages you to support Alex Beal in November’s election for justice of the peace in Missoula County Justice Court Department 1.

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William Van Horn, president, and Amy McGhee, vice president, write on behalf of the Federation of Missoula County Employees.

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