by Travis Mateer
With rivers flowing and tourists scheduling their summer retreats to Big Sky Country, I think it’s a good time to introduce readers to a former Highway Patrolman and current County Commissioner, Roman Zylawy. The image above is from this 2016 Missoulian article about Zylawy’s retirement. From the link (emphasis mine):
At 52, Zylawy has spent the last half of his life working the 75 miles of treacherous interstate in Mineral County, where the population edged above 4,000 for the first time just six years ago.
By coincidence, 2010 was the year Zylawy, one of the most familiar names in these parts, took the plunge into local politics when he ran successfully for county commissioner. A Republican, he was elected to a second six-year term this November, winning handily against independent candidate Mike Curtin with nearly 70 percent of the vote.
Zylawy announced his resolve to retire from his state job, contingent upon re-election, at a heated commission meeting in June during the first week of a contentious strike by sheriff’s office workers.
He did it in response to criticism that while the county was busy fighting a proposed raise for 16 deputies, dispatchers and detention officers it said it couldn’t afford, Zylawy enjoyed the fruits and benefits of a full-time job. But it was no spur-of-the-moment decision.
“When I ran for commissioner (in 2010) I kind of thought in my head that if I get re-elected then maybe I’d better decide to put more time into one or the other instead of trying to do both,” Zylawy said last week. “It’s a part-time job with Mineral County, but if the people voted me back in I thought I owed it to them to be there more and have all the time in the world to dedicate to that.”
Now that we know Commissioner Zylawy is no stranger to criticism, let’s take a look at a headline this former Highway Patrolman helped make earlier this month with the words that came out of his stupid mouth about his female colleague. From the link (emphasis mine):
Mineral County citizens are outraged at their county commissioners after sexually inappropriate remarks made by two county commissioners surfaced last month.
In between gavels during a public meeting on Jan. 20, Commissioners Roman Zylawy and Duane Simons appeared to make a series of comments about a female colleague’s body. When the pair realized their conversation was being recorded, they ended the conversation and Zylawy said, “I’m just saying what I heard on the news.”
Once Zylawy realized he was busted by the presence of technology recording his words, he tried to protect himself from the inevitable fallout, but failed miserably. Now the tension at County Commissioner meetings is getting so bad, it seems like just a matter of time before violence breaks out.
Here’s the video from the Commissioner meeting on February 24th if you want to watch the dysfunction for yourself:
The public anger in Mineral County is serious, and the fissures between civic institutions, at least from my outside perspective, are growing. How does any of this get resolved without outside intervention? I don’t know, but something needs to happen, and fast.
Earlier this week I challenged a hero narrative masquerading as a community debrief event after an attempted armed robbery in Idaho last Saturday turned into a lop-sided gun battle in the street outside the St. Regis Travel Center, leaving one suspect dead. During that event, and in this Clark Fork Valley article, Sheriff Funke is VERY appreciative of Montana State Trooper, Shawn Smalley, who is seen here accepting a safe driver award.
And here’s a quote from the CFV article, which follows the terrible smell Sheriff Funke had to deal with during his first few weeks in office (emphasis mine):
This wasn’t the way Funke expected his first 10 days to go, but one can see the collaboration and camaraderie already primed. Funke’s knowledge of the area and knowing the people as well as he does is a plus for him in this position.
“I can call up Shawn (Sgt. Shawn Smalley of Montana Highway Patrol) and say ‘Hey, we’re short this shift. Would you mind letting your troops know?’ and he will but he usually stays on late himself to be there if needed,” he said.
Staying late? Does that mean overtime pay? How important IS this relationship between the Mineral County Sheriff’s Office and Highway Patrol? Maybe this Facebook post can help readers understand this supportive relationship:
The contentiousness over financial compensation for law enforcement’s dangerous job is something I became acutely aware of after hearing one of our own Missoula County Commissioners (I won’t say which one) describe to me, in person, a deep frustration that Lance Jasper’s law firm was enabling the Missoula Sheriff’s Office to sue the County for millions in parity pay.
When I was covering that parity pay issue, and wondering what kind of Bell I had wrung, I was told explicitly by Mr. Bell to not have ANY kind of contact with his office OR ELSE! I take threats from parasitic lawyers trying to bankrupt TWO counties in Montana very seriously, so I’ll note my feet were firmly on the PUBLIC sidewalk when I took this picture of Lance’s law office, the same one right next to the old Poverello Center location downtown, where I used to work.
While lawyers do their lawyer stuff, I’m going to finish off this post with doing some storytelling stuff, because stories are, in my opinion, the essential way in which we humans relate to the world.
The brief story I got last summer from someone who once wore a badge didn’t put Roman Zylawy in the best light, considering the tip-off he gave Mineral County Sheriff Deputies about an in-coming drug shipment resulted in a botched drug-bust that MISSOULA County had been preparing to make. Whoops!
Don’t worry, thanks to the connective tissue of lawyers like Lance, the ties that bind Sheriff Offices in Western Montana appear to be quite strong. So strong, in fact, they might just be coming after County Commissioners to create a Constitutional crisis poor Judge Vannatta may want to end his career on by the time this is all done.
If you appreciate the context I’m providing in my regional coverage of Mineral County, please consider making a financial donation at my about page. And stay tuned for this Sunday’s Week in Review, it should be BANGIN’!
Thanks for reading!