Friday, February 29, 2008

March 4, 2008 City Commission Agenda

Here is the agenda for next week's City Commission meeting.

Conspicuously absent is any reference to the January 2008 power bill. The December power bill was reported on the February 5 expenditure report.

According to Coleen Balzarini, "The bill for the bulk of the power usually comes at the beginning of the month and is typically about $700,000".

Is the January power bill not reported because the fiscal services department hasn't received it, or because the FS department doesn't want to?

Suspicion follows close on mistrust.

"Just An Old Drunken Irshman [sic]"

(Quote taken from John Harrington's "Descriptive List of the Convict", image #14)

Sedition was a very serious offense in Montana during WWI. 79 men and 3 women were convicted of the crime. 40 men and 1 woman actually served prison terms of up to 20 years at Deer Lodge, because they dared to express their opinions about the president, the government, America's involvement in the war, etc.

On May 3, 2006, Governor Brian Schweitzer signed a Proclamation of Pardon for those convicteded.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

How Dare She!

At the 1:30pm City Commission agenda meeting yesterday, Commissioner Mary Jolley asked to see the "water file", because she wanted to, of all things, read it. Commissioner Rosenbaum asked her, "Why do you want to read it?" Understandably, Mary had no idea what to say.

Now why do you suppose Commissioner Rosenbaum would have a problem with Commissioner Jolley reading a file?

Fiscal Department Free-For-All

Way back at the December 7, 2004 City Commission meeting, the commission voted in favor of changes the fiscal department wanted to make in various financial policies and procedures.

One of the changes proposed was changing the $500.00 claim report (the consent agenda expenditure report) to $5,000. (This change meant that any payment under $5,000 would not have to be listed as a separate item). The reason given was that reporting claims of $500.00 and more was too labor intensive for the fiscal department.

The proposed change was approved and beginning with the March 1, 2005 City Commission meeting, the report went from being on the average of 6-8 pages down to 2-3 pages.

An interesting comment made in the staff report prepared for this change stated, "While City Commission approval is not required to update City of Great Falls Financial Policies and Procedures it is considered good policy to have City Commission approval on these updates".

According to Mary Jolley, who has been doing more than her share of reading on policy and procedure, ONLY the City Commission can adopt and change policy, not staff. But, according to the above statement from staff, evidently the fiscal department can do what they want, when they want, without approval.

Hmm. Makes one wonder how many other polices and procedures have been changed to accommodate the whims and desires of the fiscal service director.

Folks: There are NO checks and balances in the fiscal service department. Scary? You better believe it.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Recall Ruckus

CLARIFICATION
Over at GeeGuy's, there's been quite a discussion about the Writ of Mandamus that was served to Debbie Mart, Cascade County Elections supervisor.

According to the article in today's Tribune, Ms. Mart made her decisions to reject the petitions based upon the advice given by the county's civil attorney, Brian Hopkins.

Ms. Mart has taken some hits from at least one of GeeGuy's more outspoken posters, but did she really have a choice? She's a county employee taking the advice of the county's attorney, who is supposed to know the law and issues an opinion based upon that knowledge.

Is Ms. Mart qualified to go against the attorney's opinion? I would bet not.

Had she, what kind of problems could that have caused for the county?; For herself?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

"Just Burns Me"

That was part of a quote from City Commissioner, Bill Beecher, in today's Tribune article about John Lawton's retirement. He said, "it just burns me when critics claim commissioners are a bunch of lackeys of the city administration, when it's the commission calling the shots".

Oh really? I think it's safe to say you can count on one hand the number of times, in recent history anyway, when the commission has actually developed policy. I know you can count on one hand the number of times Commissioner Beecher asked a question about anything Mr. Lawton proposed.

Beecher is also the commissioner who always pats the city on the back for obtaining outstanding audits. According to him, the public can feel confident that funds are not being mismanaged as some critics claim. Unfortunately, Commissioner Beecher fails to mention these are NOT line by line, fund by fund audits.

For a city commission that is supposed to be "calling the shots", why is the following happening:

  • The commission breaks the city's own ordinance, #2925, when voting in favor of funding for ECP. According to the ordinance, ECP is supposed to be self-sustaining at all times. Since its inception, ECP has only lost money.

  • The fiscal service department spends money without expenditures being listed on the agenda. More than $6 million was disbursed from the Electric Fund for 2006-2007 without votes from the city commission.

  • It's difficult, if sometimes not impossible, to get FOIA documents. Just ask GeeGuy.

Yup. No worries. They're in charge.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"If My Nose Was Running Money"

This video is a bit long at 4:24, but it is worth it. Very funny!!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I Wonder If....

the city received reimbursement from SME for any of the other payments they (the city) made to Water Right Solutions out of Helena?

On Friday's city commission agenda, a payment in the amount of $6,646 was made to this company. $1,239 was charged to the Electric fund and $5,407 was charged to the Fiscal Services fund. At tonight's commission meeting:

Coleen Balzarini said the $5,407 was for general water rights work.

John Lawton said the $1,239 was for consultation SME requested on their own behalf when the zone change request was being discussed. Mr. Lawton indicated this amount would be charged back to SME. Why wasn't SME billed directly?

The city of Great Falls has been paying Water Right Solutions since 2002. I still have more work to do, but between 2002 and 2003, the city paid this company $20,200 in consulting services and "claim amendments".

Stay tuned.

Recall Petition - Update #2

A week or so ago there was some discussion at GeeGuy's about the recall petition. I spoke today with Debbie Mart, the Elections supervisor and learned the following:

The petition has been rejected for the third time. In this case, the Cascade County civil attorney did not feel there were enough specifics given. Ms. Mart indicated there was an allegation made of violating the open meeting law, but the petition did not stipulate which meeting was supposedly in non-compliance of the law. She said the attorney feels the group is very close in finally meeting the criteria, although she does not know if they are going to submit anything more. She said they could be pursuing an injunction through district court.

I asked if the city attorney, Dave Gliko was involved in any way. She said he was carbon copied (cc'd) the legal opinion and the charges filed for the recall petition, which those being recalled have a right to see.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Very Strange Bedfellows

Since today is President's Day, I guess it's only fitting that I completed the book, Very Strange Bedfellows - The Short and Unhappy Marriage of Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew. While some of the information came from the principals themselves, as well as the books by Nixon's chief lieutenants, H.R. "Bob" Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, the infamous Watergate tapes played a huge role.

These tapes didn't just divulge information about Watergate, but also the relationship between Nixon and Agnew and Nixon's great admiration for former Texas governor, John Connelly, whom Nixon hoped would one day be president.

This was the first time I had read an accounting of the Nixon-Agnew relationship and found it to be both enlightening and educational. It contains extensive notes and bibliography.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

President's Day Quiz

Click here to test your presidential knowledge. Good luck!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Marketing IQ Test

Take this test to identify logos and trademarks. It's only 20 questions. Don't be afraid to tell us how you did! I missed 10.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Feb. 19, 2008 City Commission Agenda

Here is the agenda for next Tuesday night's meeting. This time around, the Electric Fund doesn't have any amounts that are real different from what we have seen in the past.

Given that the city has been very selective about what they report and don't report in this fund, I don't think we can assume this was the only activity for the month.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day!

Since today is THE day for love and for some, marriage, I thought I would share a now defunct wedding tradition. This comes from my Forgotten English desk calendar:

Sir Charles Igglesden's Those Superstitions (1931) mentioned a defunct wedding tradition in which a groom's livelihood was displayed in the ceremony: "It is recorded how the carpenter's journey from the church door to the roadway was strewn with wooden chips. Along the coast it was customary for the fisherman and his bride to walk over nets. The path of the blacksmith bridegroom was strewn with horseshoes and pieces of old iron, and in the villages of hop-growing counties hops were placed along the footpath of a hop-grower as he left the church with his bride. One can visualize the awkward emblems of other callings, such as the butcher and his bride stepping over roast beef and mutton chops, or an ironmonger painfully escaping from nails turned upwards. And there was the fishmonger bridegroom treading over slippery fish which had been affected by the heat of the sun. A baker went so far as to wade through flour. A tanner passed over the skins of oxen and sheep-cured, let us hope".

Some traditions are best forgotten!!

What A Roller Coaster

In today's Tribune, there is an article about the protest of the rezoning decision for HGS.

According to the county's chief civil attorney, Brian Hopkins, "Only residents who live within the 680 acres that's proposed for rezoning are legally entitled to submit protests".

This interpretation, from a 1980s State Supreme Court decision, means only the Urquharts, the owners of the land, can file a petition. (Since the Urquharts want the sale, I think it's safe to say they won't be filing a protest any time soon).

Meanwhile, the Citizens for Clean Energy have their own petition going. According to their site, (click on rezoning petition)

"If sufficient (40%) of the agricultural property owners of Cascade County protest the rezoning, then the whole rezoning process is put on hold for one year and the owners must resubmit their application
".

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Go Girl!

UPDATE:
I did see Mary's interview on the 10:00pm newscast.

Maybe we are starting to make progress!

Commissioner Jolley told me today that a fellow named Andy came with his cameraman to interview her about the article in the paper the other day. She didn't know what TV station, but I did a check and I think it is Andy Newcomer (and he is!) from KFBB. Let's keep our fingers crossed and hope Mary makes the news!

Capital Assets

According to the Statement of Net Assets (report page#26) found in the city's CAFR, the Electric Fund has non-depreciable capital assets of $ 1,672,303.

Does anybody have any idea what these assets could be?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Where's The Money And Accountability?

According to the Statement of Cash Flows found in the city's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), the Electric Fund paid to suppliers $6,856,014. This is for the fiscal period July 2006-June 2007.

Unfortunately, the following are the only expenditures for this fund that found their way into the City Commission minutes for the same period. As you can see, the power bills were not reported:

7/18/06 - Debt Service $ 54,971
1/02/07 - HGS 24,380
1/16/07 - Debt Service 51,506
2/20/07 - HGS 186,281
3/20/07 - Consulting 79,317
4/17/07 - HGS 7,394
5/15/07 - Bond Attorney 18,903
6/19/07 - Consulting 54,630
Total: 477,382
Less payments: (6,856,014)

Total unaccounted for: $ 6,378,632

Just a few simple questions:

1. Did the bills get paid?

2. If so, why weren't they listed on the consent agenda to be voted upon?

3. What made the above items so special that they were listed? (I thought at first it was because the payee was someone other than SME; however, the payee on 2/20/07 was SME). Maybe there's something to this thought, maybe not.

4. What were the power charges for each month during this period?

Protest Deadline

The public has until March 3rd to write a letter of protest to the Cascade County Commissioners opposing the rezoning of the land for the Highwood Generating Station.

No Surprise

Here I posted about the $700,000+ payment to SME that seemed to be an anomaly on the city's consent agenda, expenditure report. I've checked all of the minutes for 2007 and for a good part of 2006 and the city never reported on their expenditure reports payments for power.

Are these payments binding given that no vote was taken on them?

How many other expenditures, in excess of $5,000, are being paid without making the minutes?

He's Back

I enjoy reading Moorcat, especially when he posts about the goings on in Dillon city government. Folks, we're not alone.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Republican Poll Update

Thanks to those of you who participated in the very unofficial "Which Republican candidate do you think can beat the Democratic nominee?" 8 of you said McCain can do it; 3 said Romney; 3 said Huckabee and 3 said none.

If you have any suggestions for another poll, let me know.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Thursday, February 7, 2008

It Could Happen Here

If this can happen in Mayberry, it could happen here.

Consent Agenda

Something I have always wondered about has been the expenditures reported as part of the consent agenda. When the City Commissioners vote on these expenditures, is the vote only a formality because the monies have already been disbursed?

Yes, according to Commissioner Jolley, and she verified what I was thinking: There are NO checks and balances in the Fiscal Service Department.

So this 750,000+ payment to SME was already disbursed before the vote was taken Tuesday night. I asked her what would have happened had there been a minor miracle and the majority of the commissioners had voted NOT to release the funds? She did not know, but didn't think SME would give it back. I bet not.

From Commissioner Jolley

This is information Commissioner Jolley posted over at the Tribune Forums. She gave permission for me to post it here.

October 2004 - Commission OKs 2 million from existing city funds for development costs. At Jan. 2008 ECP Board meeting the members are told that that money has been spent. The minutes have not yet been approved from the Jan ECP Board meeting due to not having a quorum at the Feb. Meeting

December 2005 Commissioners OK 1.5 million General Fund no bid private issue bond. Staff negotiated this bond.

Water credit is over a million dollars.

NorthWestern paid a penality of over 500,000 dollars to the city for reneging on a contract to supply power. Per Cheryl Patton this money was used to explore "our energy options" - please forgive me if this is not a direct quote - but it does appear in Commission Minutes.

Last year 2007 city deposits 1.4 million into SME account for deposit on energy, this has been described in weblogs as a "gift."

I sure I'm missing some money spent, perhaps money for studies, travel and such.

Years ago the Commissioner were told that 75% of the financing for the coal plant was secure. This was repeated many times. To date the truth is there is no secure financing for the Coal plant.

Kudos to Karl!

For those of us who know the Tribune has been irresponsible in reporting the "behind the scenes" issues concerning ECP, SME and HGS, I'm sure today's article in the Trib. came as a pleasant surprise.

According to Commissioner Jolley, the reporter, Karl Puckett, called her yesterday. From some of the comments he made, she can only surmise he must have read something about the $750,000+ payment to SME from one of our blogs, either this one or GeeGuy's. She really didn't think her comments were going to make the paper.

So, why can't Mr. Ecke (the usual reporter in these matters) do the same thing?

Romney Suspends

Well, it now seems a foregone conclusion. John McCain will most likely be the GOP's nominee.

Great Falls, We Have Another Problem

I thought when I saw this payment to SME for December power that it was out of the ordinary. That's why I asked "for how many months?" I do a pretty good job of looking at the agenda and expenditure report for each City Commission meeting and I don't recall ever seeing a single payment to SME for that kind of money.

According to a quote in today's Tribune, Coleen Balzarini indicated "The bill for the bulk of the power usually comes at the beginning of the month and is typically about $700,000".

OK. So what happened to the payment to SME for November's power? I checked the agendas and expenditure reports from October 2007 through January 2008 and guess what? Nothing. There was no mention of payment for any initial power usage for any month during this time.

I haven't had a chance to review prior months, but I have a feeling the result will be the same.

So, did the November power bill get paid? If it did, it was done without being brought before the Commission and public. Assuming the payment was made, can it be legal/binding since it was not voted upon?

If I've missed something here, please let me know.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

"I Forgot"

video

Still In The Dark

At last night's City Commission meeting, Mary Jolley asked that three items be pulled from the consent agenda. One had to do with the 3/4 of a million dollars paid to SME in December.

Ms. Balzarini indicated that January and February 2007 payments were for the second reporting that NorthWestern did on the imbalance market. The payment for June 2007 was for the third reporting that NorthWestern did. (John Lawton said something about the State now requiring a third reporting). The payment of $709,000 in December was, according to Mr. Lawton, the initial billing for consumption in December.

By the time the energy consumption adjustments (not imbalances) are calculated for December, I think we can safely assume the City will pay, just for December, 3/4 of a million dollars for energy usage. I can't tell you how bad off we are, because we weren't given a report on how much electric revenue was generated for December.

Ms Balzarini did say they are no longer referring to "energy imbalances" as such, because they are not imbalances, but rather adjustments to "energy consumption".

Commissioner Jolley admitted she was confused. Mr. Lawton said that electricity is complicated and not easy to understand, but he is willing to explain the procedure to any commissioner. (He didn't say the general public too).

Commissioner Jolley did get a bit of a rise from Ms. Balzarini when she asked her if ECP was self-supporting. Ms. Balzarini indicated that "I think we already know the answer to that.... No, it is not at this time". BUT, Mr. Lawton jumped in and said that over time, the losses will be erased in future years. Commissioner Jolley said that according to the ordinance, ECP is supposed to be self-supporting. It says nothing about the future, the near future, the far away future. She indicated she will not vote to break the law (the city's own ordinance).

The item passed 3-1.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Special Investigator

At tonight's City Commission meeting, Commissioner Bronson read a letter prepared by Elizabeth Baker, the special investigator hired by the City Commission, to evaluate the investigation the police department conducted of allegations made against the City by Amy Lowe and Jason Dern regarding the operations of the animal shelter.

These are her criteria:

She will first tour the animal shelter and then has scheduled Feb. 11-12 as days that she and her partner will interview between 20-25 people. These people will include current and former employees of the shelter, members of the police department, HSCC, volunteers, veterinarians and concerned citizens. The interviews will be held in private and will be tape recorded. They will be made public, except in cases in which the demand of individual privacy clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure.

Her investigation will not include the following:

* Examining the shelter from the "ground up". Her concern is only with the allegations as brought forth by Amy Lowe and Jason Dern.

* Financial funding of the shelter

* Which organization should operate the shelter

* Criminal charges

She expects her report to be completed within 60-90 days.


Hillary's Coughing Fit

See here.

Monday, February 4, 2008

How Dumb!

According to an article in today's Tribune, animal activist, Ric Valois, carried a handgun into the Civic Center before last week's City Commission meeting. As a regular attendant at those meetings, I'm very glad his error in good judgement was discovered before he walked into chambers.

He has absolutely no business or reason to be carrying a concealed weapon into a public meeting. This action should ban him from attending future meetings.

This is one of the reasons why I am totally in favor of the police being present at these meetings. There are NO security checks. And before some of you anti-police advocates sound off, neither my husband or I have ever been asked if we have brought a weapon to the meeting. I would suspect then they must have received a tip.

As a citizen of this city, I have the right to expect, that when I attend a public meeting, I don't have to worry if someone is about to "go postal" to make a point.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Remember The Recall?

Close to a month ago, animal activists demanded the recall of certain city officials. They were adamant they were going to start collecting signatures that week. Well, what happened?

I called the County Elections office on Thursday and spoke to Debbie Mart, elections supervisor. On January 24, the county's civil attorney issued a rejection letter, because, as I understand it, the petitions did not meet the evidential requirements as mandated by the State. According to Ms. Mart, Ric Valois indicated they would submit more documentation, but as of Thursday, no additional information had been received.

Where's The Proof?

I didn't intend to set out to criticize Ms. Overfield, but it's just that she makes it so damn easy. Most of her blogging never references any sources or proof of allegations. She just says it and we are supposed to automatically believe it.

Her latest post claims the City has "developed parameters for Ms. Baker (the independent investigator for the animal shelter issue). And she knows this how?

And one more thing. I don't appreciate Ms. Overfield writing an open letter to this investigator, addressing it as "We, the citizens..." I didn't give her permission to write a letter to this person on my behalf.

Until this whole animal shelter issue exploded last summer, I knew very little about the Humane Society. Because of Ms. Overfield's constant accusations against the City and Animal Foundation of wrongdoing, without any solid proof, I have a very negative impression of this organization. I doubt if the HSCC has given any real thought to this, but by allowing her to be their mouthpiece, I believe they have greatly diminished their own credibility.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Feb. 5, 2008 City Commission Agenda

Here is the agenda for next Tuesday's night City Commission meeting.

Take a real good look at page 2 of the Expenditures under Electric:

4 payments to SME:

Jan. 07 - $ 21,507 - payment of energy supply expense (from a year ago)

Feb. 07 - $ 20,496 - payment of energy supply expense (from a year ago)

Jun. 07 - $ 8,639 - payment of energy supply expense (from 7 months ago)

Dec. 07 - $708,760- payment of energy supply expense (how many months)?
_____________
Total: $759,402

I can hardly wait to hear the explanation they give for this.

Water, Sewer Rates Passed With No Dissention

Here I posted that the Citizens for Clean Energy indicated that Mary Jolley had voted against the increase in water and sewer rates at the last Commission meeting. According to the minutes of that meeting, the motion passed 5-0.