The Pennington County Commission is taking aim at a citizen whom commissioners and county employees say has become abusive and harassing.
George Ferebee is a rancher, activist and former legislative candidate who regularly attends commission meetings and advocates for a sharply limited government.
Now assistant state's attorney Jay Alderman, on orders from a unanimous county commission, is investigating what laws may apply to individuals "harassing county employees," a move "precipitated by George Ferebee's actions."
"Our employees have probably had enough harassment," Chairman Ken Davis said at Tuesday's Pennington County Commission meeting. "I know I have."
After learning of the commission's actions, Ferebee said he couldn't believe what the commissioners did.
"The first word that comes to mind is shock," he said. "This is not the America I spent the prime years of my life serving."
The final straw for county commissioners was an encounter at Tuesday's commission meeting, in which Ferebee appeared to refer to Planning and Zoning director Dan Jennissen by a vulgarity. The remark, made during a break in the meeting, came after Ferebee clashed with Jennissen, Alderman and commissioners over a zoning issue.
Jennissen, overhearing the remark, took offense and confronted Ferebee. Other county employees nearby joined in, with one suggesting Sheriff Kevin Thom should escort Ferebee from the Pennington County Courthouse.
Ferebee left on his own after a final exchange with Human Resources director Nick Stroot.
Ferebee said he left under the impression that the meeting was over, not because of any of the disagreements.
When the meeting resumed with Ferebee gone, commissioners took up the incident. After retroactively amending the meeting agenda to include the issue, Commissioner Don Holloway introduced a motion instructing Alderman to investigate harassment laws.
Holloway said his goals it to find out how the county can "prevent him from continuing his harangue-a-tanging around here," up to possibly "whether the sheriff could make an arrest."
Alderman didn't need to be told twice.
"I would sure agree with that," he said just before the vote and after Davis criticized what he called Ferebee's long-term "harassment of county employees."
Ferebee declined to comment as to the accusations of harassment.
"You don't have to deal with individuals like we've experienced today," Alderman said. "Employees of the county, they don't deserve that. They don't have to put up with that."
Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of Holloway's motion.
Ferebee declined to comment on the particulars of the meeting Tuesday, saying he wanted to review the county's audio and video recording of the meeting.
He responded by referring to a quote by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, who said "one of the prerogatives of American citizenship is the right to criticize public men and measures - and that means not only informed and responsible criticism but the freedom to speak foolishly and without moderation."
Declining to say whether or not his comments fell into the latter category, Ferebee said people should "use that as your context for anything anyone, including me, might say about government."
Contact David Montgomery at 394-8329 or firstname.lastname@example.org.