October 9, 2013 | Volume 100 / Number 40

St. Marie Facts Not Hard To Find; Report Them

“This reporter” as Nick Chiechi calls himself, attempted last week to report activity “on both sides” of the St. Marie issues. Unfortunately, his reporting is lopsided and prejudicial to those owners who somehow do not fit into his imaginary category of “29 percent folks” or the “bedrock bill paying residents (taxes and water/sewer, too.)”

It is irresponsible for Nick Chiechi to report that only 29 percent of unit owners in St. Marie pay their bills. If he wants to report “factual data,” why doesn’t he tell the Courier readers the truth? Why doesn’t he tell them that DTM Enterprises, LLC, is current on all their water/sewer and tax bills, and that their Village fees are all paid up through July 31, 2013? Why doesn’t he tell them that they spent over a quarter of a million dollars in St. Marie this past year on research, restoring and repairing buildings, and paying taxes? Why doesn’t he tell them that NSM, LLC, has paid about the same amount, and that Valley County and the North Valley County Water and Sewer District have benefitted greatly from these added revenues? That’s two of the biggest owners in St. Marie that are paying their bills.

I wonder if Nick Chiechi realizes how detrimental it is to the progress of St. Marie to espouse attitudes and policies that have helped St. Marie crumble over the past 30 years. Are his “29 percent” happy with the way they are “running” St. Marie? Are his “29 percent” happy with the pot holes in the streets and the leaky roofs in the school buildings? Why does Nick Chiechi suppose that anyone would be the least bit interested in owning property in St. Marie when they come to the realization they are not allowed to vote on matters that affect their own property rights? Why would anyone want to pay fees to an organization that accepts fees from them, tells them, through their registered agent, that they are not delinquent and then won’t allow them to vote in the election?

Nick Chiechi claims in his article to present “factual data” and “legal rulings.” What is legal about a board that only counts 75 out of 440 official votes cast at an election? What is legal about a board that is comprised of directors that were put in place as a result of a 2009 amendment that illegally deprives a majority of the members of the association of the right to vote? What is legal about an amendment affecting voting rights that was passed without a vote of the membership?

Here are some “factual data” and “legal rulings” for you, Mr. Chiechi, since that is what you pride yourself in!

St. Marie Village Association is registered with the Montana Secretary of State as a public benefit non-profit corporation in the state of Montana.

There are state statutes that strictly regulate what a public benefit nonprofit corporation may and may not do.

Montana Code Annotated 35-2-224 states that a public benefit nonprofit corporation cannot pass an amendment that would alter the voting rights of a particular class of members without allowing that class to vote on the amendment.

In 2009, the board of directors, without a vote of the membership, passed an amendment that says only those members who are all paid up on every single unit they own are allowed to vote.

The passage of this amendment violated state statute (MCA 35-2-224), and, through it, many owners were robbed of their right to vote in St. Marie Village.

You, Mr. Chiechi, may ask, “How does that rob them? All they have to do is pay their bills and then theycan vote!” Ah, but it is not so simple as all that.

Suppose an unlucky buyer buys a unit with back Village fees owing on it. Those back Village fees are passed on to the buyer. His purchase immediately puts him in the class of “delinquent member,” and because of the 2009 amendment he has no voting rights until he pays all the accumulated back fees of all the previous owners of his unit as well as his own current fees. Unfortunately, this is not just a hypothetical situation. It happens all too often in St. Marie, and many owners become disenfranchised from the moment that they become an owner. If progress is to happen in St. Marie, owners must be allowed to have a say in matters that affect their property rights.

Fortunately, the founders of the Village of St. Marie had enough foresight to set up the Protective Covenants for the Village of St. Marie. The Protective Covenants protect the property rights of the owners. The Protective Covenants allow, in section X, for a majority of the owners to make amendments at any time to the Covenants.

This is exactly what a majority of the owners did. Nick Chiechi called them “a small group” but they own the majority of the units in St. Marie and hold over 60 percent of the voting power as defined in the Protective Covenants. What they did is documented and recorded at the County Clerk and Recorder’s Office as Document #151736, for anyone that cares to read it.

The Protective Covenants were established before the Association was ever formed. The Covenants created the Village Association to carry out the business of the Village in accordance with the purposes and intents of the Protective Covenants. To be legal, the Village Association, its board, and its bylaws must operate in harmony with the Protective Covenants and the rights of the owners.

I would like to challenge Nick Chiechi’s quote that “others are trying to break up the Village Association.” Who is trying to break up the Village Association? Is Mr. Chiechi trying to break up the Association with his negative reporting, so that only those who are arbitrarily designated as “bill payers” are allowed to participate? Certainly the majority of the owners are not “trying to break up the Village Association.” What they are trying to do is to get the Village Association to operate in harmony with the intents and purposes of the Protective Covenants. All it takes is 50 percent plus one of the owners to amend any part of the Protective Covenants. If the majority had wanted to break up the Village Association, they could have voted to dissolve the Association and start over, but they didn’t. They realized that an association is needed to run the business affairs of the Village. They also realized that the Association was not operating in the way it was originally intended to operate, as a public benefit nonprofit corporation. Therefore, it was the intention of these good people to put the Association back on the right track so that progress could be made in St. Marie for the benefit of all and not just for the benefit of a select few.

What the people of Valley County must understand is that by slander and accusation Mr. Chiechi and his ilk have demeaned the very town that they live in. If St. Marie didn’t have such an unsavory reputation, honest investors would invest in the town and build it up out of its blighted condition. If St. Marie stays in the shape that it’s in, the good people of Valley County will be deprived of millions of dollars in tax revenues. This is the legacy of the bunk that he has been reporting and supporting.

So, please, Mr. Chiechi, report honestly, responsibly, and fairly. If you want to understand the facts, they are not too hard to find. Do not be a spreader of rumors. Publish only the facts.

Diana Frantz lives in St. Marie.

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