The 4-3 vote came following a June meeting where some commissioners said the image resembled an LGBTQ Pride flag.

The proposed rebranded Montana State Library logo presented to commissioners on June 15, 2022.

The 4-3 vote came after multiple library staffers and members of the public spoke in support of the proposed logo, which designers said was meant to signify a prism. No one who spoke during public comment at the meeting, which was held via a video call, voiced opposition to the new logo.

The redesigned logo was unveiled at a June meeting by the Milwaukee-based design firm Hoffman York. The state library’s total contract for the redesign is $298,000, paid from the state library’s private trust rather than from taxpayer dollars allocated by the state Legislature.

Hoffman York has been working on the logo in collaboration with library staff and commissioners for over a year, a process that included multiple rounds of interviews and group brainstorming about possible imagery. Though the design received positive reviews from library staff in May, the commission members debated the logo during the June meeting, with some commissioners saying they were worried it would spark political blowback because of its rainbow imagery. 

In a briefing memo prepared in advance of Tuesday’s meeting, library staff members argued that colors and rainbows are “found throughout nature” and are also commonly represented in many corporate and state brands, including the logos for tech companies Google and Microsoft, as well as the Montana Department of Commerce and the Montana Arts Council.

Commissioner and Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen joined commissioners Tammy Hall, Kristin Kerr, and Robyn Scribner in voting against adopting the logo Tuesday. In comments to their fellow commissioners and library staff this week, none of the commissioners mentioned the rainbow colors of the prism as their basis for opposition. Rather, Hall and Scribner said that the logo did not include imagery of books, without which they said the public would not understand the library’s work.

“[I]t has nothing to do with colors, it has nothing to do with the prism. I’d like to make that clear,” said Hall. “I do not see ‘library’ in the design. And I have shared this with, I’d say, probably close to a hundred people, and the number one comment is it doesn’t say ‘library.’”

Hall was the first commissioner to mention the proposed logo’s possible association with the LGBTQ Pride flag at the June meeting. At the time, she said the logo would be “setting us up for a very unnecessary battle politically.”

 

Hall and the other commissioners who opposed the logo also suggested that, in the future, the state library should work with the office of Gov. Greg Gianforte to ensure that the redesigned logo is complementary to other rebranding efforts happening in state government. 

Some pro-logo commissioners and library staff said Tuesday that the logo accurately represents the library’s mission, which includes maintaining public databases, presenting property and natural resource records, and supporting public libraries across the state.

“We are much, much more than a stack of books,” said Sharon Hardwick, the state library’s human resources specialist, during the public comment period. “We are resources, information, directories, maps, technology, government information, natural heritage information and education … I can’t think of a better representation of what the state library is than a prism. A single point where information enters, and exits as a full spectrum of services and resources that truly create a greater state of knowledge.”

Commissioner Dalton Johnson, who voted in favor of the logo along with commissioners Kenning Arlitsch and Peggy Taylor, also urged his fellow members to think broadly about the library’s purpose. 

“We are not your traditional library,” Johnson said. “I ask each of you to expand your thinking by imagining an alternative future and going beyond what is safe, stale and culturally determined norms.”

After a motion to adopt the logo failed, some library staff and members of the public observing the meeting expressed their disappointment via written messages typed in the meeting’s virtual comment section.

“While I understand and accept the Commission’s decision, I would like to express my disappointment in today’s vote,” wrote Amelea Kim, a Lifelong Learning Librarian with the state library.

“I am also disappointed in today’s vote,” said Star Bradley, a research librarian who works at Montana State University. “It seems like a waste of time and money to go through this process all over again.”

State Librarian Jennie Stapp told commissioners on Tuesday that the state library has so far spent roughly a third of the total $298,000 allocated for the redesign. The remaining funding was intended to go toward a coordinated brand rollout to communicate the redesign to the library’s users and stakeholders.

The commission did not decide on a list of next steps for the rebranding process after its Tuesday vote. Commissioner Arnzten suggested creating a subcommittee of library staff and commissioners to guide the redesign going forward. That approach, she said, could provide “a healing method” after disagreement between some commissioners and staff.

Arlitsch, the commission’s chair, concurred and said he would work with Stapp to bring a proposal to the commission.

The library commission’s next scheduled meeting is Wednesday, August 3.

Mara Silvers headshot white background

MARA SILVERS

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Mara writes about health and human services stories happening in local communities, the Montana statehouse and the court system. She also produces the Shared State podcast in collaboration with MTPR and YPR. Before joining Montana Free Press, Mara worked in podcast and radio production at Slate and WNYC. She was born and raised in Helena, MT and graduated from Seattle University in 2016. 

 

JULY 5, 2022 
MainStreetMontana.com
BY: 
 
DailyMontanan.com

 

 

Before YWCA opened its Hardin shelter with four one-bedroom apartments for victims of assault and domestic violence in May 2021, victims from across Big Horn County had to travel to the YWCA in Billings for emergency shelter services.

Just 50 miles away, the YWCA shelter in Hardin has been full ever since it opened.

“One of the biggest struggles for victims is having to choose their community and their family versus being safe,” said Nancy Old Elk, a victims advocate at YWCA Billings and former rural victims advocate in Big Horn County. “Adding the shelter was a huge step forward for services there. Now people don’t need to leave their family, their community and take their kids out of school to go to another county to get resources just to be safe.”

Old Elk and other victim services advocates from across the state presented issues their clients face with the criminal justice system to the Criminal Justice Oversight Council on Tuesday, and advocates highlighted inequities in services in rural versus urban areas as one major area state programs need to address.

Some counties, like Gallatin, have a system-based victims program through their county attorney’s office that can see 2,000 or more cases annually, according to testimony at the hearing. Gallatin’s Victims Services Program can provide a wide range of assistance from referrals when officers arrive at an assault scene to advocacy for victims when setting plea agreements and in sentencing hearings.

However, many rural communities across Montana do not have programs through local government offices and rely on community-based organizations like YWCA and the Friendship Center in Helena to advocate for victims in the courts and to find shelter accommodations.

The Department of Corrections Victim Services Bureau, whose six victim liaisons work 5,500 to 6,000 cases a year, is designed to pick up cases at the sentencing stage or later. However, with the lack of systemic programming in many rural counties, they often become involved in cases from the beginning in underserved areas. Advocates said clients in these areas often experience multiple barriers to participating in the court system.

“There are areas in Montana where there just aren’t services, and that’s where we’ve seen gaps, and for some clients, a barrier of access is access to basic needs,” Tawny Rogers, a state victim liaison with the Board of Crime Control, said. “The court system may be moving as it’s supposed to; however, the victim is unable to participate in the system as she doesn’t have childcare or a job that allows her to take time off.”

Advocates also reported that the taxing process of litigating their assaults leads to many of their clients feeling re-victimized. Victim services providers say this makes their presence in each step of the criminal justice process vital for victims to have their voices heard in court hearings and plea agreement negotiations.

According to Gina Boesdorfer, executive director of the Friendship Center in Helena, clients who have already worked with the criminal justice system are less likely to engage again than those who have not experienced previous victimization. She also said it is not unusual for victims to see two to three years go by from their initial assault to their sentencing and restitution hearings.

“We have clients who prepare for trial, relive their trauma in preparation, brace themselves to face their offender in court and know that their credibility and integrity is likely going to be attacked as a part of that process,” Boesdorfer said. “The message a lot of our clients receive going through the process is that the victimization didn’t happen, that they’re not believed and that it wasn’t as severe as they thought it was. When they do have a concern about the process, they’re afraid if they complain it will impact the outcome of their case.”

Rogers said there is no state funding dedicated specifically to victim services, and all of their funding comes from federal grants, which have been declining over the past few years. The Crime Victims’ Fund in the Victims of Crime Act saw a surge in funding at its record high of $4.4 billion in the 2018 fiscal year and has decreased each year since.

“Victim service providers understood that it was likely going to go back down, and we are seeing a decrease and asking for stabilization from the state so we can continue providing at the same rate we’re at,” Rogers said.

In 2020, Montana became one of 10 states to receive a $500,000 discretionary grant through the Office for Victims of Crime’s State Victim Liaison Project, which the Board of Crime Control is using to identify gaps in services through a statewide needs assessment. The first year of work shows up to 300 gaps in services, with continuity of care across counties emerging as a top priority. With their call for state funding and collaboration between system-based services and community-based organizations, advocates hope more rural areas can increase their access to shelter and legal services to be on par with larger counties.

“What they’ve created in the Bozeman and Gallatin area is a wonderful set of resources, and it doesn’t exist in a lot of other places,” Rogers said. “We’re studying where our greatest needs are and what will be a bang for our buck out there. We need more resources to be available because as the money goes down, so does access to services for victims.”



 

 
JUNE 23, 2022 
MainStreetMontana.com
BY:  
DailyMontanana.com

 The Clark family of Billings, Montana. The family will be featured in an upcoming documentary series about mental illness made by Ken Burns. Mary, Maclayn and Joe Clark sit on a couch in their Billings home. (Photo by Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montanan)

 

Mary Clark stepped up to the desk at the Emergency Room in a Billings hospital. The receptionist asked what brought her there.

She could barely choke out the words. She was shaking and tearful.

She recalls having to tell them, she brought her elementary-age son, Maclayn, in because he wanted to kill himself.

Like most people there, the Clark family had not begun the day expecting a trip to the emergency room. But now, looking back, the moment was probably inevitable – a combination of agonizing nighttime conversations and school staff who had been persuaded that Maclayn seemed normal, happy and surrounded by friends.

That changed when a school staff member heard Maclayn say that he wanted to kill himself.

That was several years ago, and Maclayn’s mental health has improved, but his story, his mental illness and his experiences are about to be shared with the entire world – literally. He is one of two Montana people profiled in Ken Burns’ latest documentary, “Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness.” The Clark family will be featured, along with counselor and advocate Kee Dunning of Billings. Gabe Peaslee of Miles City is also a part of the documentary.

The two-part series will air worldwide at 7 p.m., on PBS, on June 27 and June 28.

 

In addition to airing on PBS, the Billings community is holding a screening at the Alberta Bair Theatre on June 27 and 28. The event is free, but tickets must be reserved. More information can be found here.

 

 At first, sharing Maclayn’s journey through mental illness and finding help was the farthest thing the Clark family had in mind. But it was Maclayn himself who insisted if his story could help just one person like him, then he needed to tell it.

“We live in Montana and that means we didn’t want to air our dirty laundry and what we were going through,” Joe, Maclayn’s father,  said.

Mary and Joe worried about Maclayn being bullied, teased or ostracized for sharing.

“If my story can help one person, then I wanted to do it,” Maclayn said.

 

When the darkness came

Mary and Joe Clark remember those long, sleepless nights.

They began before bedtime, usually around 7 p.m.,  and lasted sometimes into the early hours of the morning. As Maclayn would wind down, his young yet old soul would start wondering and worrying. What’s my purpose? Why am I here? I don’t want to die, but I don’t want to live.

Maclayn also said the hardest words any parent would hear: That God had made a mistake by putting him on earth.

These weren’t the kind of thoughts Joe and Mary had expected from a third-grader, even one who seemed more sensitive and philosophical than most.

Mary, who works at the same school, asked counselors, staff and teachers, but they all reported a normally happy kid with lots of friends and good social interaction. The child in school didn’t seem to square up with the child at home.

The nights would become longer and more severe. Sometimes Maclayn would sleep in Mary and Joe’s room so they could keep an eye on him. Sometimes, one of them would sleep in his room. The entire family  seemed to ebb and flow with how Maclayn was doing.

And no one really seemed to have answers.

At first, Joe and Mary had resisted the idea that their son could be struggling with suicide. After all, he was only eight.

“I don’t remember getting to the ER,” Maclayn said. “I remember when I did get there, they swarmed me, put me in a gown and an isolation room.”

After getting to the emergency room, Mary felt a little relief that they’d get to see a psychiatrist and it would expedite the problem.

“He saw the fear in my eyes,” Mary said. “I don’t think he realized that if he said that he was thinking about suicide that he’d be in the hospital… As parents, we should have been more proactive about asking the question, but we kind of thought that if you asked it, you’d be putting the idea into their head.”

The trip to the ER started a new crisis of its own. Psychiatrists in a place like Montana, even in the largest city in the state, have huge waiting lists and so do many counselors. The soonest they could schedule an appointment was four months out.

That triggered the “mama bear” instinct for Mary, and she called every psychiatrist she could find, getting on the cancellation list.

They looked for counselors, too. At first, the medications didn’t seem to work, or they tried different medicines to help Maclayn.

They met with five or six therapists, never finding a fit until, in a moment of desperation, Mary called their pediatrician.

“Have you tried Kee Dunning?” the doctor asked.

 

The ‘Kee’ to success

Kee Dunning also plays large in Burns’ new documentary. A licensed therapist in Billings, Dunning worked for years as a therapist with Tumbleweed, an organization that helps at-risk and homeless youth.

Mary called Dunning to set up an appointment. The call to schedule an appointment lasted an hour-and-a-half.

“I was bawling my eyes and she instantly got us,” Mary said. “It was life-changing.”

“She saved my life,” Maclayn said.

And that’s something the family is absolutely certain of: Dunning saved Maclayn’s life and brought the family closer. During an hour-and-a-half interview with the Daily Montanan, Mary, Maclayn and Joe sat on the couch, talking about the struggles of mental illness. And Maclayn, now 14, said he tells his parents everything. Everything.

“She gave us methods and homework to try outside of counseling,” Mary said. “Most of the other counselors didn’t have any methods to use outside of counseling, it was all about the work in those moments.”

They learned to talk directly about what Maclayn was feeling – to alert friends and family if thoughts of self harm start taking root. Maclayn has a “safety tree” – a network of family and friends he can call, visit or talk to, day or night, even if his parents are not immediately available.

“I think my mindset if something goes wrong is that nothing good can come of not saying something. It’s good to talk about the day,” Maclayn said.

That has led to an uncommonly deep relationship between a teenager and his parents, but also the entire family has grown closer.

“We’ve been through so much and he knows we will fight for him,” Mary said. “We’re on his team.”

That has helped them talk more openly with family and friends, as well as becoming advocates for speaking openly about mental health.

“We really want people to know there doesn’t have to be trauma to have mental illness,” Mary said.

She said they were a two-parent household, went to church and lived comfortably. They have two other children.

“It’s opened a dialogue with people. We probably should have shared our journey before,” Mary said.

And that’s what it is, a journey. There are good days and bad days. Joe said most people want to know: Is he alright now, without understanding that mental illness isn’t something that necessarily vanishes with medication or counseling.

“It’s really important to show kids going through this because it happens in every community and every walk of life,” Maclayn said. “You can’t walk alone. You need a therapist. I need medication.”

Dunning is a dynamic mix of extreme compassion and extremely straight talk. She doesn’t mince words. And you don’t sense her sincerity, you feel it in her hug.

“I just love them. And I am going to hold their feet to the fire,” she said. “I see them. And, I feel them.”

Dunning had been contacted about doing the documentary and she thought about which, if any of her clients, could be a good example.

“I did worry, but I also knew that he was ready to do this. And this was years of work, not just with him, but with the parents, too,” Dunning said. “This didn’t just happen over night.”

She said that dealing with mental illness and mental health is not about reaching a definite point, like being free of a disease.

“That’s really what I want people to get. We’re not done. We’ve only just begun,” Dunning said. “We can say our truth and have fears. We don’t have to live in such hurt. Why should we be ashamed if we’re depressed or raped?”

She said the most common misperception often begins with parents.

“They say, ‘Fix my kid,’ and I always ask, ‘How do you know they’re broken?’ They’re little mirrors,” Dunning said.

She also believes that a documentary like Burns’ can help others understand the depths of pain, and also the critical need of having more resources.

“This is a good reminder that they’re coming forward, when there is not enough resources,” Dunning said. “Kids are asking other kids to come forward now. The people in this film are telling people that it’s OK to come forward, to tell your story, to ask for help. Now, we’d better be ready.”

 

Maclayn’s purpose

It took just one meeting with the producers and staff of the documentary to convince Joe and Mary that participating in a documentary about youth and mental illness was right for them.

“They are remarkable individuals. They didn’t want to hurt any one of the participants even to help the whole society. That made us feel good,” Joe said. “They weren’t willing to tolerate a sacrificial lamb, instead they wanted us to be part of something bigger, though.”

For a bit even Mary and Joe couldn’t help but wondering if bringing up years of counseling and some still raw memories would traumatize Maclayn or cause more anxiety. However, it’s appeared to have actually made him stronger.

Depression, anxiety and feelings of isolation haven’t just evaporated, but the family has learned together how to manage them.

“That’s still an everyday occurrence,” Joe said. “But now we have the tools and equipment. It doesn’t eliminate the heartache, but you know you’re going through this everyday and there are a lot of people just like you.”

“In my everyday life, I feel a lot better,” Maclayn said. “I’m growing. It felt powerful to know that other people are going through the exact same thing, and I want others to know there are people going through this, too. When you’re in it, you think, ‘This is going to be the rest of my life,’ but it’s good for them to see me living my life.”

Throughout this process, Maclayn has learned plenty about himself. Strangely, he’s discovered that those big questions for an 8-year-old, for example, what is purpose in life, may just have its answer in being an advocate – a literal poster child – for helping others to seek help.

He’s also found an answer to one of those other questions.

“God doesn’t make mistakes,” he said.



 

 

June 23, 2022
MainStreetMontana.com
BY: 

 Montana State Prison. Keith Schubert/Daily Montanan.

 

The staff vacancy rate at the Montana State Prison has increased from 20% in January to 30% as of Monday, and employees are being asked to bear the brunt of the shortages through upcoming mandatory 12-hour shifts, according to an internal memo sent to prison staff on Monday.

“The Montana Department of Corrections’ Executive Team would like to thank you all for your hard work, especially over the past few months as we have struggled with staffing levels at Montana State Prison,” the memo read. “Due to vacancies, light duty, extended leave and a depleted workforce throughout Montana, MSP is down 79 positions.”

The 1,600-unit men’s prison in Deer Lodge requires 328 correctional officers to be considered fully staffed. In early May, the prison was forced to close down an entire unit — a move DOC officials said would ease staffing troubles by reducing the number of mandatory posts.

 

According to the memo sent to employees by top prison officials, shifts will run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. During the first week, correctional officers are expected to work three 12-hour days and will get four days off. During the second week, they are expected to work three, 12-hour days, one, eight-hour day and will get three days off. And all correctional officers working 12-hour shifts will be compensated for four hours of overtime pay for each 12-hour shift.

Rep. Greg Frazer, R-Deer Lodge, who works as a correctional officer at the prison, was on break at the prison during an overtime shift when reached by phone Tuesday night. “It sucks,” he said.

He said the new policy will further exacerbate the low morale at the prison, leading to more staff leaving. As for himself, he said it’s “up in the air” as to whether he quits if the policy goes into effect on July 16.

“In my opinion, with them forcing people to go to twelves, it’s not going to help the situation at all. There are some people that, you know, like the idea of working twelves, but there’s a lot of people that don’t, and it’s a change in their working conditions that management didn’t bargain for,” he said.

The prison said the memo constitutes the 14-day notice of a change in schedule required by the Local 4700 Collective Bargaining Agreement.

For Frazer, the solution is simple: treat staff better.

“If specific people in management would treat staff better, treat them like humans … make sure the staff feel valued and appreciated and heard, then people would be more inclined to volunteer their time to help out with these mandatory overtimes. And to help recruit, to get people to come out here,” he said.

Visitation will also be reduced for inmates to two days per week, effective July 2, per the memo.  “This will allow us to place correctional officers normally assigned to visitation inside the compound,” the document reads. Per the DOC website, the state prison currently offers visitation Thursday through Sunday.

In an effort to boost morale and stop the staffing hemorrhaging the prison reached an agreement with the local union earlier that included a $2 hourly raise. The department also centralized its Retention and Recruitment Committee about two months ago in an effort to more effectively recruit staff.

Employee shortages have existed for more than a decade, but prison warden Jim Salmonsen told reporters earlier this month that he has never seen anything “to this magnitude” before.



 

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