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Flathead Co. official under fire for making reference to "Whitefish Nazis"

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WHITEFISH -

Whitefish City leaders are requesting two Flathead County planning board members step down after using references to "Whitefish Nazis" during a recent public hearing.

Some board members say the Nazi comments violated principles of civil dialogue, while others maintain the comments are protected by free speech.

In a video from the May 10 Flathead County Planning and Zoning meeting, Board Member Rita Hall can be heard referring to Whitefish governing officials as "Nazi's." 

"We are copying Whitefish rules and regulations so we have the Whitefish Nazi's overseeing what we are doing here," Hall said in the tape. "Excuse me for stepping on anyone's toes. But even so, the Whitefish Nazi's are watching us very very carefully,"

Whitefish Council member Frank Sweeney says Hall's attitude does not allow her to be fair and clear and they don't want her making decisions that will affect the city of Whitefish or its constituents.

"We need to adjust here and think about what this represents, what those words represented in terms of the attitude, the predisposition and, quite frankly, the prejudice towards the City of Whitefish and what its constituents and citizens desire," Sweeney said.

Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld and the six members of the Whitefish city council sent a letter on June 6 to Flathead County Commissioners asking for the removal of Hall as well as board member Greg Stevens, who was said to have used profanity earlier in the meeting, from the planning board or require them to recuse themselves decisions that would impact the City of Whitefish.

Commissioner Phil Mitchell, who represents District 1 in the northern part of the county where the City of Whitefish is located, says that letter was received.

He says he read it over and it is now in the hands of the County Attorney. He also says though he wasn't at the meeting he has seen the video.

"People have a freedom of speech to say what they want to say within reason, just as your radio station, TV station, newspapers have," Mitchel said. "You know people have a right to freedom of speech, but we also have to be cognizant of being polite also, to a point. So that's where we're at with it. I do not know what our response is going to be."

Mitchel was asked if he thought the request for Hall and Stevens removal was reasonable.

"I don't think these people are biased. I think they're frustrated with how Whitefish doesn't work with anybody."

Although Sweeney says he agrees that all have the right to free speech, he believes that for an elected official to refer to a city governance, member of the public or anyone coming before them for a judicial decision as a Nazi, is not a free speech issue.

"Even if she was completely mad about what Whitefish wanted and frustrated and everything else, the analysis or analogy that she was trying to make makes no rhetorical sense whatsoever and it's totally inaccurate." 

This comes at the same time as Whitefish Real Estate Agent Tanya Gersh's lawsuit progresses against the founder of a neo-nazi website for what she claims was an Anti-Semitic harassment campaign launched against her and her family.

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