Monday, March 31, 2008

Escape To Chimp Eden

I enjoy watching the Animal Planet. They have a series called "Escape to Chimp Eden". It's about a fellow who rescues chimps that have been caged as "pets", many for several years, and as a result, suffer from physical and mental issues. His goal is to bring them to a sanctuary where they can learn to be chimps, recover and hopefully, for many, go back to the wild. As you can imagine, they can get very noisy and nasty.

Every time I talk with Mary Jolley about her dealings with her commission counterparts, I think of this program. Last week sounded like it could have been a take from this series. Mary asked a few questions and evidently all hell broke loose; Bronson got so mad he was shaking, Rosenbaum looked like he wanted to get violent, the Mayor "barked" something that Mary couldn't begin to understand and Beecher, well, he did share part of his sandwich with Mary. (To make it even better, there were witnesses to this zoo-like atmosphere).

And off to the side, watching this spectacle, was the new city manager, busily writing.

On Friday Mary met with Mr. Doyan. I have a feeling it went well.

School Mill Levy

By now you all know that we will have a mail-in ballot election for the school levy.

I attended a neighborhood council meeting where a member of the school board, Stu Nicholson, was present. He is also a member of KEYS; Kids' Education Yes! He was given time to present reasons why supporting this levy will benefit the kids.

If the levy fails, the following will be affected or cut to stay within budget:

* Class size
* Summer school program
* Library time
* Art in the primary grades
* Staff development
* Science training
* Testing materials
* Early intervention programs

One citizen, who is a retired teacher from a small county school, commented that every time money is needed, the only thing that is ever mentioned that will happen is how the kids will be affected; this program cut, this service cut back, won't be able to do this or that, etc... He wanted to know what is being done at the administration level. His contention is that things are heavy at the top; too much administration. He thought they were hiring another couple of associate principals at Great Falls High. Why?

It didn't seem to me that Mr. Nicholson was very well informed. He didn't know if two more associate principals were being considered and a few other questions were asked for which he didn't have responses.

The impression I got was that this was strictly a presentation meant to scare the you know what out of the parents: If you don't vote for this levy, your kids are going to suffer.

What do you think?

Friday, March 28, 2008

"I'm Gonna Live Till I Die"

Sex Offender Poll

Thanks to those of you who voted. Nine of you think that sex offenders should not be allowed at the PreRelease Center and four of you think they should.

Needless to say, this is a very contentious issue. You are encouraged to share your thoughts with any one of the board members of the PreRelease Center.

Why Vote On Payments?

Why are city bills being paid BEFORE the commissioners vote on them?

On the April 1st agenda, expenditure report, there are three wire transfers:

March 11-17, 2008 - $712,486.18 - Payment to SME for February power

March 18-24, 2008 - $45,827.42 - Payment to Blue Cross/Blue Shield
March 25-26, 2008 - $82,334.19 - Payment to Blue Cross/Blue Shield

These payments are coming up for vote on Tuesday, April 1st, but have already been disbursed.

What's the point of the vote?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cable 7 On The Ropes?

Cable 7 may be on the chopping block. Staff has not said it in so many words, but they have indicated that it is "expensive".

Among other programming, Cable 7 broadcasts the City, County and Airport Authority meetings.

So far, Commissioners Jolley and Bronsen have spoken in favor of retaining Cable 7.

Circling The Drain

I know. I know. GeeGuy beat me to the scan yesterday (-: , but here it is again.

Do you ever get the feeling we (the city) are circling the drain? That nobody is minding the store? From my understanding, this document was handed out at one of yesterday's meetings and that was that. No discussion, no nothing.

Does the city attorney, Dave Gliko, have any involvement in this? Is his role as the city attorney with matters regarding SME/ECP relegated to the back burner, because we supposedly have attorneys representing the city, even though they also represent SME? (I still don't understand that one).

And Commissioner Attorney Bronson, where is he?

I really shouldn't be too surprised though by his lack of comments and questions. At the March 4 City Commission meeting, I was sitting near Doug Bennyhoff, the Fire Marshall, and before the meeting, Commissioner Bronson was talking to him about Great Falls' emergency services. In so many words, Bronson made the comment that emergency services was the one issue he knew something about, but that he didn't know much about the others. Unfortunately, he didn't say he was going to make an effort to at least try to get informed about them either.

As GeeGuy pointed out here, "We have to find a way to help Mary Jolley stand up to staff and, frankly, to the other four members of the Commission to get some results for the citizens".

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Staff Needs A Wake Up Call, NOW!

When I spoke to Mary Jolley yesterday, she said she was going to be meeting with our new city manager, Greg Doyon, on Friday.

I suggested to her that in the course of that conversation she just might mention she does expect his staff to comply with her requests to obtain documents, etc. without stonewalling, hemming and hawing, eye-rolling and generally acting like a clown.

It seems that staff's attitude toward her is that most of what is going on is just too complicated for her to worry her pretty little head about and therefore, she need not question what they are doing. They write memos to the commissioners telling them what has been done and telling them there's no need to discuss it.

How many of you in the workforce talk and act like this to your boss or if you are the boss, how many of you tolerate this kind of crap? Nope. Didn't think so.

I think Mary's been handling it well though knowing that her "employees" are, for the most part, flipping her the bird.

This omnipotent attitude had to have come from Mr. Lawton. Subordinates take their cue from their supervisors. Unfortunately, even though Lawton is gone, the attitude remains.

Mr. Doyan, our city staff needs a wake up call. They need to be reminded they serve the citizens of Great Falls, not the other way around. And the sooner, the better.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Concerns From Mary Jolley

Following is an e-mail I received from Mary Jolley:

"Hello from Mary Jolley

I'm concerned with Mr Doyon not being given information.

Bronson and I were given all documents the other elects were given starting right after our victories (my landslide). What we were not given were any of the documents about Water Rights and Reservations, and applications for change. Changes were being applied for at the same time we were supposed to be brought up to speed on important city issues. I do not think the incumbents or elects were permitted to see these due to the significant probability that the public airing of them would have been met with questions.

Questions are not well received by staff. I have asked for information about Commission Action via a public vote that approved the changes. Still waiting. Coleen said it would take a while, she mentioned something about Memos. I have learned that Memos are not really memos but direct orders from staff. No discussion is "necessary."

I was an elected official and I was not shown anything. I looked in a city file. ( Rosenbaum asked me why I wanted to read it. And who I was I going to give it to.)

I found that even after I was elected, "nobody tells me nothin."

Commissioners are not in charge. Even if we try really really hard."

Monday, March 24, 2008

A New Beginning, I Hope

Today is Gregory Doyan's first day on the job as our new city manager. It has been at least 18 years since we have seen a new face in this position.

It is also the first time in a very long time that we finally have a city commissioner who is actually doing the job. Commissioner Jolley takes her oath to the community very seriously.

Between the two, perhaps we can begin to hope that city government will be less about personal agendas and more about righteously serving the citizens of Great Falls.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!

Are you confused as to why Easter is so early this year? The last time Easter fell on March 23 was in 1913. The next time will be in the year 2160.

Easter Sunday is the first Sunday which occurs after the first full moon (or more accurately after the first fourteenth day of the moon) following the 21st of March. As a result, the earliest possible date of Easter is 22 March, the latest 25 April.

To learn more about the timing of Easter, visit here.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Water Right Solutions-Conflict Of Interest

This is the Conflict of Interest document that has been discussed here.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Department Of Corrections

At last night's Council of Councils meeting, Mr. Kerry Pribnow from the Department of Corrections gave a presentation about sex offenders and the Great Falls PreRelease Center.

He has been in discussions with the local center to THINK about accepting only Tier I and Tier II Cascade County sex offenders. Currently, the center does not accept any sex offenders and the Department of Corrections cannot force them to. It is up to the PreRelease board to decide the Center's direction.

His argument to accepting these lower risk offenders is that they are, once released from prison, coming back to where they are from. The big problem though is most of them have not received any kind of rehab while in prison because of the long waiting lists, and their sentences are not long enough, like Tier III offenders, to get off those waiting lists.

He would like to see the local center offer rehab opportunities with very close supervision.

Needless to say, those at the meeting were very much divided in their thoughts.

What do you think?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Water Right Solutions

In June 2002, the city contracted with Water Right Solutions from Helena to investigate and analyze the city's existing water rights. What follows are the payments made to this company and the funds from which said payments were taken:

Jun18: Water - $1,000.
Jul 16: Water - $2,467.
Aug 06: Water - $3,109.
Oct 01: Water - $1,050.
Nov 05: Water - $1,538.
Dec 17: Water - $3,263.

Apr 01: Water - $ 618.
May 06: Water - $1,108.
Jun 03: Water - $3,788.
Jun 24: Water - $1,109.
Aug 05: Water - $ 581.
Sep 02: Water - $1,575.

Jul 06: Other Admn. - $3,136.
Aug 03: Other Admn. - $ 625.
Sep 07: Other Admn. - $2,380.
Dec 07: Fiscal Svcs. - $5,374.

2005: (beginning in March 2005, payment only in excess of $5,000 were to be reported. Prior to that time, payment in excess of $500 were to be reported).

Jan 04: Electric - $4,194.
Feb 01: Electric - $1,881.
Oct 04: Electric - $4,388; Fiscal Svcs. - $ 1,842.

Oct 16: Fiscal Svcs. - $9,465.

Feb 19: Electric - $1,239; Fiscal Svcs - $5,407

Total reported: $61,137.00

Breakout per fund:

Water - $ 21,206.
Fiscal - $ 22,088.
Electric - $ 11,702.
Other - $ 6,141.

A few questions:

1. How many payments were made that were not reported?

2. Really, no payments made to them in 2006? Seems odd.

3. Why were four funds used?

4. I'm assuming this is the company with the conflict of interest. If so, how could they and the city ethically enter into a contract?

ECP; Water Rights

At last night's city commission meeting, during the public comment portion, a commenter remarked that when he attended the ECP board meeting this month, there were three new agreements mentioned between ECP and SME about which he previously knew nothing.

He asked the city, especially in light of it being Sunshine Week, to make those agreements available to the public. We'll see.

Secondly, during the same comment portion, local attorney, Stuart Lewin, discussed the loss of 50% of the city's historic water rights and how serious of a situation this is. It is my understanding from his comments that the city has until the first week of August to appeal current decisions. He recommended the city hire a water rights attorney to defend these rights.

One comment he made, which I had not heard before, was that the company hired by the city to be the city's consultant in these matters (I'm assuming Water Right Solutions), had a conflict of interest and had previously indicated such.

What was that conflict of interest and what role, if any, did it play in the current state of affairs in which we find our water rights?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Learn about St. Patrick and Ireland and test your knowledge about all things Irish!

Blarney Castle

About 15 years ago my husband and I visited Ireland and kissed the Blarney Stone. This is Blarney Castle where the stone is located. The stone is located at the top of the castle so it was quite a climb in a very dark, narrow, steep and winding stone staircase (without a handrail) to reach the top. One really had to use one's imagination to picture knights in all their armour going up those stairs.

Blarney Castle

The Blarney Stone is located at the very top, in the middle.

Most folks are not aware that you have to hang upside down to kiss the stone. You better take off your glasses and take everything out of your pockets or it will all land on the ground below.

These folks are standing in line to kiss the stone. When we were there, there was not a handrail. The path was very narrow and if you were not paying attention, it would have been very easy to fall into the center of the castle.

It was a great experience and fantastic view, but for somebody who is scared to death of heights, I couldn't spend too much time at the top. I started getting dizzy and since there was no handrail at the time, had to get down.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Smart Or Stoopid?

Take this test and find out. You only have 8 seconds to answer each question though.

They're Down

I didn't see anything this morning in the Tribune, but last night KRTV reported that Benefis took down their banners before today's deadline.

Benefis is going to appeal though to see if they can keep them up on a temporary basis.

Just for a change, why can't folks just follow the rules without wanting an exception made for themselves?

More Fun And Games

Here is the March 18, 2008 City Commission agenda.

Electric Fund:

The January 2008 "payment of energy supply" is $719,841. This amount was paid by wire transfer on February 19, 2008.

Serious concerns:

1. The payment was made on the day of a City Commission meeting. Why couldn't the payment have been listed on the Feb. 19 agenda, approved, and then wired?

2. I remember asking Mary Jolley if she knew why the January power bill was not listed on the March 4 agenda. She was told they had not yet arrived. If that were the case, how could they have been paid on Feb. 19?

3. Assuming the January bill was actually received in time for the March 4 meeting, why wasn't it listed on the March 4 agenda? It's not until one month AFTER the payment was made, that the City Commission is finally taking a vote on it.

I'm assuming the December 07 "payment of energy supply" in the amount of $63,251 is what fiscal services used to call "energy imbalances". That amount was paid by wire transfer on March 11. Now you mean to tell me the payment couldn't wait until March 18, be approved, and then wired?

No worries though. The city received a clean audit.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Another Fiscal Flop

I'm sure if you read the article in today's Trib. you weren't surprised to learn that the city's operation of the animal shelter is running in Now they have to dip into the reserves to cover the shortfall.

I hope I haven't forgotten any of the city fiscal involvements that have fallen short of success. If I have, let me know and I'll add them to the list:

  • Lewis and Clark Bicentennial bash
  • Swimming pools
  • Golf courses
  • Electricity
  • Animal shelter

According to the mayor, "It'd be nice if we had a crystal ball,"

No, Ms. Mayor. It'd be nice if we had fiscally responsible leaders.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Where's The Money?

I have to admit I was surprised by the expenditure numbers for 2007. I expected a much larger gap between what was paid and what was listed on the agenda ($5,000 report).

There was not one month in all of 2007 where the actual payments exceeded the amount reported by the amount of the monthly electric bill. According to Ms. Balzarini, the average power bill runs around $700,000/month. There was never a monthly power bill reported on any agenda for 2007.

So why wasn't there at least an $8.4 million annual difference?

According to the numbers, it doesn't look like the electric bills are getting paid, but then, how come the lights are still on?

$15 Million Spent, No Vote

Here I posted about proposed changes the fiscal services department wanted to make to some policies and procedures in their department.

One of the changes accepted by the commission was to change the expenditure report from listing payments of $500.00 and more to only listing payments of $5,000.00 and more.

According to the fiscal services department..."Currently, 96% of total claims are listed in the $500 report, which amounted to 3,406 lines for a year. The $500 report is very labor intensive for Fiscal Services Department. If the report was changed to the $5,000 report 88% of total claims would be listed on the report with only 657 lines. This would be a reduction of 81% of claims listed with only a 8% reduction in the amount of claims reported".

Paid: $42,929,467 (taken from each of the consent agenda reports for each month)
Listed: $41,198,839 (same source)
Diff: $1,730,628 - 96% reporting as was stated in the above statement.

2005 (from 3/01 forward when the change was implemented):
Paid: $30,563,273
Listed: $26,205,036
Diff: $4,358,237 - 86% reporting

Paid: $35,158,273
Listed: $29,936,147
Diff: $5,222,126 - 85% reporting

Paid: $40,553,008
Listed: $35,465,706
Diff: $5,087,302 - 87% reporting

2008 (to date, 2/19)
Paid: $7,319,739
Listed: $6,596,499
Diff: $723,240 - 90% reporting

From 3/01/2005 thru 2/19/2008 the city has paid $15,390,905 without a vote.

And, according to my worksheet, this doesn't include the electric bills.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Special Examiner's Report

The city just published the special examiner's report concerning the police investigation into the animal shelter.

I've read the entire report. The allegations made were found to be without merit or could not be substantiated by the evidence.

The report acknowledged that mistakes were made; however it seems most of them stemmed from a breakdown in communication by the parties involved, rather than a deliberate attempt at wrongdoing.

As is usually the case, there's always more to the story than some would like you to believe.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Not A Great Day For Animal Activists

Yesterday Susan Overfield was found guilty of misdemeanor disorderly conduct and assault. She was fined a total of $1,280 and sentenced to 5 days of house arrest.

Next, the independent investigator the city hired to review the internal investigation done by the police department into wrong doings at the animal shelter, cleared the city of the allegations. According to the report, "The facts do not substantiate any finding of animal abuse or neglect at the shelter".

I hope we have seen the last of the theatrics from this group, but I kind of doubt it.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Thursday, March 6, 2008

What A Lame Excuse

So, David Gliko, city attorney, claims that if the city loses a law suit over releasing city documents, including drafts, "the city's going to have to lease a warehouse to store all those pieces of paper".

Where are those pieces of paper now? Aren't they already at the city offices or can employees take documents home with them?

Gliko also claims, "any scrap of paper with writing on it that is inside city buildings could be fair game for people wanting to examine city documents." He also urged the judge to take into account "real-world considerations" and common sense".

Has Mr. Gliko "forgotten" he works for a public entity that is supposed to be accountable to its citizens all of the time, not just when it suits them?

I guess so.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

"I'm In Charge"

Seems Fiscal Service Director Coleen Balzarini has an Alexander Haig complex.

When Mary Jolley asked acting city manager Cheryl Patton to request a copy of the letter RUS sent to SME turning down the financing, Cheryl found it necessary to run to Coleen. Coleen indicated it was not necessary to get the letter. When did the fiscal service director start running our city?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Very Short Meeting

Tonight's City Commission meeting was the shortest I have ever attended, 20 minutes. Not much was on the agenda.

With regard to the missing payment for the January power bill, Mary Jolley told me the bill had not yet been received. I'll be looking for it on the next agenda.

Is Pinocchio Italian?

Here we go again. The vice-president of SME's board, John Prinkki, says, "I think we have a very solid project and we're on very solid ground". This is in reference to a conversation SME has had with three international bankers. As Mary Jolley pointed out, this same group has been saying all along they had 75% of the funding secure.

Then we find out the Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative has a different agreement going and the manger wasn't at liberty to say why. RUS was concerned about that too.

Yes, Pinocchio is Italian.

Monday, March 3, 2008

What's Going On In Billings?

I thought it would be interesting to see what the Billings Gazette had to say about the RUS funding turndown to SME. Not a word. At least not that I could find. I searched "Tim Gregori", "SME" and "Southern Montana Electric". Nothing about the current funding setback.

I also checked SME's site and they still insist the long term financing is coming from RUS.

Looks like SME is keeping those co-ops in the dark.

Why Did Lawton NOT Stay?

At the December 4 City Commission meeting, John Lawton was asked and agreed to remain on board for a period of time to ensure a smooth transition with the new city manager:

"Mayor Stebbins stated that, since the selection process for the City Manager has become a month or two behind, she thought the Commission should consider asking Mr. Lawton if he will stay on to ensure a smooth transition. Commissioner Beecher agreed and stated it makes sense for the transition to a new manager. Commissioners Hinz and Jovick-Kuntz also agreed. Mr. Lawton stated he would be willing to do that for a period of time to ensure a smooth transition".

Mr. Lawton gave no reason as to why he was leaving early after agreeing to remain on to "ensure a smooth transition".

Do you suppose the announcement that RUS scuttled funding to SME had something to do with it? Maybe, but I can't help thinking there may be more to it.

There is more to running this city than just keeping up with ECP, SME and HGS. Isn't there?

Saturday, March 1, 2008