Guest Opinion

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 19, 2008

Livestock producers who have been following the activities of the Board of Livestock are well aware of concerns and frustrations I have expressed at meetings over the past three years. It’s gotten to a point where I feel compelled to set the record straight.

Members of the Board of Livestock sign an oath when we take office. We are legally bound to represent the livestock industries which fund the vast majority of the department’s work, and our mandated mission is to serve the livestock industry, and protect animals from theft, disease and predators. We are appointed by the governor, but must follow all Montana laws and rules. Under the law, the board as a group constitutes the department’s director. It has functioned successfully this way since 1885, before statehood, as a genuine citizen representation form of government.

Throughout the 11-plus years that I have served on the board, hardly a day has gone by without my receiving phone calls from livestock producers all over the state. I have always welcomed feedback and questions, but over the past three years, the number of calls expressing concerns about the department has increased steadily. And more and more, the inquiries are extremely difficult to handle. Why?

First of all, imagine that you’re one of the people who are supposed to be in charge, but you don’t know what’s going on. Then, imagine that you first learn from callers’ questions about decisions being made and actions being taken by the department which you know nothing about. And then imagine asking specifically about decisions and actions taken without your input by the department which you’re supposed to be helping to direct.

That is the Department of Livestock as it seems to exist today.

Morale and teamwork within the department itself have disintegrated before my eyes. I fear that the Board of Livestock no longer puts the needs and interests of Montana’s varied livestock industries or the needs of its employees as its highest priority. I am now deeply concerned about the integrity of the board and department.

The board used to function as a team. We didn’t always agree or have the same opinions, but we did always—always—stay in close touch and work together in an open and informed way. All board members were involved in and aware of events affecting the department. We made decisions openly and without decisions and actions being predetermined before board meetings. We followed the law and the rules that designate us, collectively, as the agency’s director.

Things have changed drastically over the past three years. I cannot get straight answers to important questions I ask of our chairman and our executive officer, including very basic questions about the department’s budget and spending status. Subjects proposed for meeting agendas are not being included, without explanation.

The Board of Livestock has been twisted so far out of shape that it’s no longer operating on behalf of the industry or as laws and rules envision and require. The historic role of the board as representing the industry in a democratic decision-making process has vanished, with authority now concentrating in the hands of a few. I face serious doubts about my legal obligations as a board member, and I cannot take responsibility for actions by the department which the board has not authorized.

The board as a functioning group is supposed to run the department, but members are effectively cut off from the ability to do this job. What’s going on, and who is running the department? I don’t fully know, and frankly, I’m more than concerned. As a livestock producer or concerned citizen, you should be too.

Meg Smith, Board of Livestock Member

Glen, MT