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City considers settlement in Public Safety Center lawsuit

Posted at 4:20 PM, Apr 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-20 18:20:09-04

BOZEMAN, Mont. – After six months of legal battle, the City of Bozeman is considering a settlement regarding the Public Safety Center bond lawsuit.

The settlement would include $22,000 dollars to cover legal costs the suit’s plaintiff, Roger Koopman, has incurred. It would also require a banner to be placed on the city’s website during elections where voters can get information regarding ballot issues.

City Manager Andrea Surratt said the decision to consider a settlement came simply because the city cannot delay the project any longer due to the funds coming from bonds that have not been issued.

“We have scraped the barrel, so to speak,” said Surratt. “We need to go, we need to make sure this project gets going.”

In November, a $37 million dollar bond was passed by two-thirds of Bozeman voters to build a Public Safety Center that would house city police, fire, municipal courts, and victim services. A couple of days before the election, however, Koopman filed a complaint saying that city officials advocated for the bond issue instead of purely educating the voters.

The complaint went to the Commissioner of Political Practice, then to the city’s ethics board before landing before the 18th District Court. All three governing bodies dismissed the claims that the city advocated for the bond.

So why settle? The answer is because Koopman still has the option to appeal to the Montana Supreme Court, which Surratt said could delay the project a year and cost $2 million.

Up until now, the city has been using money from other projects to keep the design process moving forward with the hope of bidding the project in early 2020, but because it has taken months, those funding sources have dried up.

“There is not another set of funds to keep adding to,” said Surratt.

The city commission will still have to approve the settlement amount because the money is pulled from the city’s general fund. Surratt said if the commission does decide to move forward, it is a “business decision.”

“It is never an admission of anything that we did wrong,” said Surratt. “We have definitely proved ourselves in three venues, happy to prove ourselves again, but we just really need to go.”

“Well, obviously we can agree to disagree on what they did wrong or did not do wrong,” said Koopman. “That is where negotiation comes in and where the settlement has been developed.

Koopman said over the course of the lawsuit, 25 different people have given to the cause, all who he plans to repay if the deal comes through. In a release, he said he felt like it was time to move forward.

According to the city attorney, the city has never paid a settlement after a case was dismissed.

The commission’s decision will happen on Monday night during the weekly City Commission meeting.