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Church expels Paradise sewer board over gun incident

by CHUCK BANDEL
Valley Press | August 10, 2022 12:00 AM

In a story that already has nearly as many twists and turns as the Idaho side of Lolo Pass, add a new hairpin corner to the Paradise Sewer saga.

In this episode, entitled “Lee-Annie Get Your Gun”, or “Pistol Packing Mama, Lay That Pistol Down”, a new controversy has erupted and left the Paradise Sewer Board without a place to meet, albeit temporarily.

And the latest twist to the ongoing saga did not even involve a sewer board action.

Last week, the board received a letter from the chair of the Plains/Paradise Methodist Church stating the group would no longer be allowed to rent the church’s Paradise clubhouse because one of the anti-sewer activists, Paradise resident LeeAnn Overman, had attended July’s meeting with a sidearm in a holster strapped to her hip.

The letter, signed by church Chair Judy Stephens stated “the Church Council has decided that they will no longer allow the Paradise Sewer Board to use the church clubhouse for their meetings.”

The letter continues “willfully violating posted rental policy, namely bringing a firearm into the building, makes this decision necessary and non-negotiable.”

Stephens did not return a message from the Valley Press asking for clarification of the policy, which Overman and board members claim was an unfair decision without the church knowing the details behind the sidearm violation.

Overman says she wore the sidearm in response to an alleged threat by a local resident who had apparently attended an earlier meeting.

“This guy has been going around town saying he is going to kill five people he had on a list,” Overman said. “I put my pistol (a .22 caliber weapon) on my hip to protect myself and my friends, some of whom were on the list. This was in no way related to any sewer board business and hardly anyone at the meeting knew I had it on”.

Overman said she has spoken with local law enforcement and was told she did nothing illegal, in part because of Montana’s open carry law which recently went into effect and allows citizens attending public meetings to be armed.

“I have a right to protect myself and my friends,” Overman said. “This was a legitimate threat of which the police have been notified. If the church wants to blame someone, they can blame me but it was not related to any matters concerning the sewer project”.

Terry Caldwell, a current member of the sewer board and a past president of the organization, agreed that the church’s action were out of line.

“This (not talking to us) is not a very Christian way to do things,” Caldwell said. “I think it’s also un-American.”

Caldwell said he and other board members were not informed of the decision until well after the meeting.

“I wish they (Methodist church) would have talked to us before they made this decision, it is a pretty liberal thing to do,” he added.

The banishment from the clubhouse, which is a building separate from the Paradise church building and is on church property, resulted in the board having to move its next meeting back to the Paradise Water District building, a smaller, less suitable place due to space and facility limitations.

Water District member Katy French said the district would waive usage fees that would normally be charged to the board for the next meeting, a decision the district made at their meeting last week.

An ironic twist to the issue lies in contentions from both sides that proper notice was posted about the meeting and its content. A key part of the sewer opponents in fighting and ultimately halting the proposed $4.5 million sewer project was that proper notice was not given or properly posted for many of the sewer board’s meetings in previous years.

Those notices, once they began to be posted, were often put on a recipe style white card, written in pencil, and posted at the local Post Office. Pressure from sewer opponents eventually brought about slightly improved public postings.

In the current matter, the church maintains it had posted notices about no firearms being allowed on the premises, but board members and other opponents say they did not see the single notice that was posted in the hallway of the clubhouse.

Overman went so far as to allege a church employee who opened and closed the building for scheduled meetings, tore down some board meeting notices.

“This lady is the same person I caught tearing up sewer meeting notices in the past,” she alleged. “Judy should have talked with me and others before making a judgment on the situation. It is my right to carry a firearm to defend myself, especially if a threat is present”.

Overman said he spoke with Sanders County Sheriff Tom Rummel who said she “did everything right, I have a right to protect myself and others around me”.

The new state law allows open carry in most public spaces, although property owners can post notices saying firearms are prohibited as part of their rights.

Overman, meanwhile, is standing by her gun.

“This fellow was going all over town telling people he was going to start killing people and he was at the last sewer meeting for no reason”.

The person making the alleged threats has been recently contacted by law enforcement authorities and has been kicked out of one Paradise business for allegedly making such threats.

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