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Yellowstone County ends MetraPark privatization effort amid public doubts

Posted at 2:16 PM, Oct 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-26 19:38:53-04

BILLINGS — Yellowstone County will continue to manage MetraPark for the foreseeable future after the county decided to cancel the process to seek bids from private contractors amid growing opposition.

The county filed a motion in district court Tuesday to dismiss a lawsuit brought by local attorney Gene Jarussi alleging two of the commissioners had made inappropriate contact with OVG, one of the companies that submitted a bid to privately manage MetraPark.

"Most bothersome was the fact that I found contact with OVG going back to March of 2019," Jarussi told MTN Wednesday.

Jarussi filed the lawsuit last month, alleging Commissioners Don Jones and Denis Pitman were unquestionably favoring OVG to win the bid. Only two companies had filed bids to take over management of MetraPark – OVG and ASM Global – both based in L.A.

"That's what I was concerned about, given the contents of the emails I had and literally the tens upon tens opon tens of phone calls between OVG and the commissioners," Jarussi said.

Yellowstone County commissioners
Billings attorney Gene Jarussi alleged Yellowstone County commissioners Denis Pitman (left) and Don Jones (center) made inappropriate contact with OVG during a review of private MetraPark management bids, favoring OVG in the process.

County Deputy Attorney Jeana Lervick says because the county has ended the process, there's no need for the lawsuit.

“The complaint is moot,” Lerwick wrote in the motion. “Jarussi requested the Court stop the process with the requests. The County stopped the process with the requests. There is no process for the Court to stop. There is no relief for the Court to grant.”

But Jarussi disagrees.

“I'm concerned about the integrity of the competitive bidding process," he said. "I'm concerned this could be repetitive in nature - I don't want to have to go through this again."

Gene Jarussi
Billings attorney Gene Jarussi filed a lawsuit and temporary restraining order against Yellowstone County to stop the County from reviewing bids to take over private management of MetraPark.

Jarussi now has a couple of weeks to respond to the motion, which he said he will do. MTN News reached out to the commissioners for comment but received no response. The court brief denies any wrongdoing.

"Yellowstone County asserts that the lawsuit holds no merit," court documents stated. "Any communications had between County commissioners...were in no way in conflict or violation of the law.”

But the county does say it ended the process because of the significant backlash it’s been receiving.

"It is clear to the County Commissioners that the process continues to be beleaguered by doubts and the Board is concerned that the public continues to have apprehensions regarding its processes in this matter," the motion said. "Therefore...the Board will be canceling and rejecting in whole all proposals at this time."

"We want potential bidders to feel comfortable that they're going to get a fair shot," Jarussi concluded. "If they don't feel like they're going to get a fair shot, then they won't submit a bid, and we as taxpayers potentially lose out on getting the best deal for the money spent."

Read the county's brief below: