The Whitehall Ledger - Serving Southern Jefferson County in the Great State of Montana

By Jack H. Smith
Ledger Publisher 

Taking a look back at 2016


December 28, 2016

There were plenty of important stories that took place in Whitehall and the surrounding areas in 2016.

Probably the biggest news story of the year started in late May, when shock waves were sent through the community when local resident Lynn Nemeth began circulating recall petitions for Mayor Dale Davis and Town Council members Gary Housman, Vincent Keogh, Joe Adams, and Tom Jenkin. Nemeth stated in her petition that misconduct had happened at April Council meeting.

A recall election had tentatively been scheduled for August 16 after Nemeth obtained the required number of votes. The issue would never make it to the polls, and instead would end up in the Fifth Judicial Courtroom in Boulder. The petitions were being challenged the law firm of Guza, Nesbitt, and Putzier on the argument they were invalid to form as well as legally insufficient.

Seventh Judicial District Judge Katherine M. Bidegaray ruled December 9 in favor of an order granting second amended application for injunctive relief filed by Davis, Keogh, Housman, Jenkin and Adams. Bidegaray stated that election officials are restrained and enjoined from conducting the election based on invalid and legally insufficient recall petitions and circulation sheets.

The year started with two new Town of Whitehall Council members, but things would change midway through the year. Francine Giono-Janik and Elizabeth Howser were the new council members.

In May, the Whitehall Town Council voted 4-1 to fill their vacant Ward 3 Position with former longtime member Mac Smith. He took over the position of Howser. The Council removed Howser from her position in early July after an order of discharge vote.

In early October, Mayor Dale Davis stated at a Town Council meeting that there were hidden cameras found in the Ambulance Barn. He said that the law enforcement had been notified and were investigating the issue.

In late November, the Council voted 5-0 to suspend member Francine Giono-Janik. The motion passed by the body states Janik will be suspended “until she fully discloses the full extent of her involvement with the installation of hidden cameras in the ambulance barn, and her role as a consultant for PULSE dba Jefferson Valley EMS.” Janik told the Ledger she did not disclose anything about the cameras because the Town of Whitehall turned it over for criminal investigation.


In early September, Whitehall School officials announced the result of the 2016 ACT Scores. Principal Hannah Nieskens said Whitehall jumped from a 99th statewide ranking in 2015, to 25th among the 166 Montana High Schools in 2016.

Twenty-Four Whitehall High School students graduated in late May. The valedictorian of the class of 2016 was Garrett Briggs. The salutatorian was Ashlie Benner. The members of the class were Kyra Armstrong, Anthony Baceski, Benner, Anthony Bowman, Briggs, Samara Brunet, Miranda Cantrell, Curtis Flood, Riley Harper, Amber Hockenberry, Dillon Hoerauf, Lily Jensen, Brock Johnson, Madison Johnson, Zane Kountz, Allie Nielsen, Willis Pullman, Joseph Reed, Devon Rowe, Michaela Simons, Jordana Smith, Jeremiah Williams, Brandon Witzel and Keslie Wolfe.

Incumbent Sharon Howard and Jamie Reiff were both awarded seats on the Whitehall School board in April. They won their seats by acclamation.

The March 15 meeting of the Whitehall School District was an important day that will benefit students well into the future. Superintendent John Sullivan said the board approved to expend approximately $375,000 to improve the districts. He said the best news of all is that the expenditure is not going to cost local taxpayers any additional taxes. Sullivan said the money would be pulled from a number of established funds ranging from the genera fund, building reserve fund, inter-local fund, and metal mines funds. Some of the items on the expenditure list include new curriculum, Ipads and Chromebooks, high school rooftop heaters, security door locks and lighting and upgrades to parking.

In their second year of competition, students from Whitehall had am amazing performance at the state robotics competition. The middle school team won the second place “Programming” award. The elementary team won the first place “Strategy and Innovation” award.


In mid November, a record number attended the 19th Annual Liberty Place Festival of Trees. Liberty Place Executive Director Ann Geiger said over 290 attended the fundraising event.

“We are thankful for every dollar given and for every person who attends,” Geiger said.

In early November, residents of Jefferson County voted for several key races. Among the races if interest were Incumbent County Attorney Steven Haddon defeating Erin T. Inman, Incumbent Kirk B. Wagoner defeating challenger Sabrina Steketee, and Edith (Edie) McLafferty defeating Glenn J. Rosenbaum for the open Senate District 38 seat.

The Barrick Golden Sunlight mine had one of their most positive months of the year in September where there production was 4,400 ounces, above the target of 3,700. At the last Community Transition Advisory Committee of 2016, Mine General Manager Dan Banghart reported there are 44 Barrick employees, one regional Barrick employee, and 90 contract employees at the site.

In October, the Jefferson Valley Community Foundation awarded their 2016 grants.

The $2,500 Barrick Golden Sunlight Mine was awarded to P.U.L.S.E., who donated the money to Jefferson Valley EMS and Rescue for the purchase of a power load cot.

The Jefferson Valley Museum award awarded a $4,000 grant that was used to buy a flat file case. The Whitehall Community Library received a $4,000 grant they used to purchase laptops. The Whitehall Community Center was awarded a $2,000 that will be used to upgrade lighting at the center. The winner of the $1,000 mystery grant was Reed’s Rescue and Rehabilitation.

Work continued on the Roper’s building in 2016. McLeod Realtors moved in the location and a new store opened during the summer. Cardwell resident Dawn Lewton opened “Saturday’s Morning’s” which has quickly become a popular place to find a unique gift. Building owner Jeffrey Hansen said he would be working to address some leaking issues and also working on the upstairs of the building.

In late summer, the local area had to say goodbye to Roy and Vera Millegan, who moved to Nevada. A party in August was a chance for local residents to celebrate all the work the two did for the Jefferson Valley Museum and in other community endeavors.

Two Red Flag Warning were issued in late July due to gusty west to southwest winds combined low relative humidity. Commissioners Leonard Wortman encouraged residents to use caution with any flames outdoors.

The popular annual Frontier Days celebration took place July 29 and 30. The two-day event included the World Class Bucking Horse Association, Futurity, Street Dance, Stick Horse Rodeo, Car Show and Parade. The Grand Marshall of the 2016 event was Arlene Weber.

A herbicide was placed in the Jefferson Slough last summer in attempt to combat Eurasian Watermilfoil. Ted Dodge, Watershed Coordinator for the Jefferson River Watershed Council said they need to knockout the milfoil before they start work on the Jefferson Slough channel relocation.

Local residents came together for both fun and a good cause in early July at the special fund raising event at the Star Theater. The event included a special screening of “Independence Day: Resurgence”, and a question and answer session with a one of the film’s stars, Bill Pullman. Theater operator Colton Anderson said the event raised $575, which he donated to the Whitehall Community Library and Community Pool.

High water temperatures in July led to the implementation of Hoot Owl Restrictions on the Jefferson and other local rivers.

A total of 162 seats were sold in May for the 12th annual Black Tie and Blue Jeans fundraiser. The Whitehall Chamber of Commerce and Jefferson Valley Community Foundation organize the annual event. BTBJ committee member Kristi Wilson said an early estimate of funds raised was $39,000.

Whitehall’s lone grocery store announced it had a new name in May and was also joining forces with Associated Food Stores. The store is now operating under Jefferson Fresh Foods. Storeowner Chad Collins said they are very excited about the transition and knows guests will love Jefferson Fresh Foods. Jeannie Ferriss was announced as the new Whitehall Community Librarian in late March. Prior to accepting the position, she was the Librarian at Yellowstone Christian College in Billings.


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