Saturday, February 28, 2009

Filing A City Lawsuit By Poll

According to Commissioner Jolley and an article in today's paper, the Commissioners were "polled" individually regarding the appeal of the Public Service Commission's original decision regarding electric meters.

No public meeting.
No public discussion amongst the commissioners.
No public comment.
No public record.

Highlights from today's article:
Beecher: "He is comfortable with going ahead with the appeal". (Commissioner Beecher likes doing business this way).

Rosenbaum: "It's our customer." According to the article, "he didn't think the Legislature intended to allow NorthWestern Energy to hinder the city from serving existing customers".

Stebbins: "Monopoly is a hard thing to give up", referring to NorthWestern.

Patton (assistant city manager): "It seems like a question that has to be decided."

I guess the consensus was at least three commissioners were for it. Bronson wasn't quoted as saying anything.

Taken from the Vision Statement and Goals of the city charter:

Our core values of honesty, respect and openness will constantly guide our actions.

Uh...I don't think so.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Who Authorized This?

At the ECP board meeting on Feb. 2, this item was on the agenda:

PSC/NWE/ECP Customer Meters – Next Step Options (District Court/Legislative)

Coleen indicated that if the City/ECP wanted to challenge the PSC's earlier ruling on this issue, they could sue the PSC in district court and/or go to the legislature.

When asked how much it would cost to go to court, Coleen said just under $10,000. The deadline to file would be Feb. 17. She also said something about Benefis paying a portion of the bill. The ECP board voted 4-0 in favor of going to court. (Bill Ryan was absent).

During the public comment portion of this item, I brought to the attention of the board that the earliest the City Commission could act on the matter would be Feb. 17, the night of the deadline. (Feb. 17 was the Commission's next scheduled meeting). I had to repeat the statement, because Coleen and chair Golie didn't get it the first time and asked if I was asking a question. Once the light bulb went on (no pun intended), they looked at each other and Coleen said very quietly that the City Commission could hold a "special meeting".

A special meeting wasn't held and according to the agenda for next Tuesday's Public Service Commission meeting, they will be discussing this:

3. Court Docket BDV 2009-127 – The City of Great Falls, Benefis Health Care, Inc., and Electric City Power, Inc. v Department of Public Service Regulation, Public Service Commission, and NorthWestern Energy – Information – Discuss petition for judicial review and plans to defend the Commission's order.

Since the City Commission didn't authorize the city's involvement, who do you suppose did?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

YVEC Demands Answers

On February 13, Yellowstone Valley Electric Co-op filed "Plaintiff's First Requests For Production to Defendant Electric City Power, Inc".

Simply, they are asking for answers to questions the public has been asking for quite some time now.

ECP/City has 30 days to comply.

The lawsuit YVEC filed against SME, ECP and the others is scheduled to go before a jury in April 2010.

Design Review Board Kudos

On Monday, my husband and I attended the city's Design Review Board meeting.

I must say, after we left, we felt like we had died and gone to public meeting heaven.

We had input to offer on one of the projects and unlike the overwhelming attitude at the City Commission meetings, our comments were appreciated and resulted in the architect making a couple of adjustments. The city engineer was also unaware of some problems concerning the alley behind the proposed business. As a result of information we gave him, the city will be making some modifications to the alley that will benefit the residents as well as the business.

What came as an even bigger shock to us was when one of the board members asked us, before the vote, if we were comfortable with the recommendations. You could have knocked us over with a feather.

After the meeting adjourned, they thanked us very much and invited us back. They also told us that they very rarely get public input. How unfortunate. This is definitely a meeting concerned citizens want to attend when a project is in its infant stages.

Monday, February 23, 2009

16 New Firefighters, Regardless

My public safety levy post and Gregg's, have generated several interesting comments.

In a very recent conversation I had with Commissioner Jolley, regardless of whether the levy passes, the fire department will be able to keep their new manpower.

The story goes like this:

At the special meeting held January 28, the fire department came away with the impression that even if the levy would fail, they would be able to keep the new firefighters. I was at that meeting and did not get that impression. Neither did Mary. (Even after rereading the minutes of that meeting, I still don't).

I believe Mary indicated it was at an agenda setting meeting this month that a representative from the fire department said he was concerned about an article in the newspaper (I can't find it) that gave the impression that if the levy did not pass, the newly hired firefighters would have to be laid off. The mayor and one or two other commissioners assured this fellow that would not be the case.

So. As of right now, the majority of the City Commission is telling the fire department that regardless of what happens with the levy, the new firefighters will stay. Of course, where the money will come from if the levy doesn't pass, isn't being addressed.

Neighborhood Councils - Week of Feb. 23, 2009

UPDATE: See change to agenda.

One council meets this week:

When: Thursday, Feb. 26 at 6:30pm
Where: Heritage Baptist Church, 900 52nd Street North

Annexation request from Brad Lencioni
Good Neighbor Award presentation - Tax Help Montana
United Way presentation
Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

Councils 5 and 8 are each looking for a resident to fill vacancies. To qualify, you must live be a qualified voter and live in the respective neighborhood. For more information, contact Neighborhood Council coordinator, Patty Cadwell at 455-8496 or by e-mail at

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Will The Public Step Up?

According to another very unofficial poll, the public safety levy being recommended by the city will not pass.

In today's Tribune, the results from yesterday's Buzz question: "Would you support a public safety levy?" did not pass. Out of 447 votes cast, 63% said no and 37% said yes.

As mentioned here, the proposed amount of the levy would increase taxes by about 25%.

According to the minutes of the special meeting held Jan. 28, Commissioner Bronson "..believes it is necessary for the public and private sectors to step up in hard times. He is willing to take the risk and believes the public will too once they fully understand all of the ramifications".

I hate to say it, but I have a very strong feeling that if this levy doesn't pass, the spin will be that the public is the bad guy. Ignored will be the millions of dollars lost on at least two projects (here and here) the citizens weren't given the right to vote on.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Last Night's City Work Session

The City Commission work session meeting last night lasted longer than the Commission meeting. By 7:25pm, the Commission meeting was over. The work session lasted nearly 1 1/2 hours.

The work session primarily dealt with the public safety levy. No decision was reached as to when this levy will be held or how the question will be asked.

According to the fire department's numbers, their levy will be about 16 mills. The police department didn't have a lot of time to come up with numbers, but according to their needs, their levy will be between 16-20 mills. More precise numbers are forthcoming.

Needless to say, not everyone was thrilled to hear the suggestion that their taxes could go up 25%.

The Animal Shelter was discussed as well, but there was not enough time allotted for that discussion either. There is currently a Memorandum of Understanding between the city and the Animal Foundation that, according to the city manager, will probably see many addendums.

The Animal Foundation indicated they will operate the shelter. The city will be responsible for controlling/licensing the animals. The price tag for the shelter is currently at $3 million, with each entity contributing half. Right now, the city doesn't know where its half is going to come from. At the next meeting about this, more numbers will be shared.

Neither topic was opened to public comment.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

"Why Was the Highwood Coal-Fired Electric Generating Station Abandoned?"

Here is an excellent commentary on Montana Public Radio about why HGS was abandoned.

As the writer pointed out: "Clearly this is not a Montana phenomenon driven by weird Montana citizens and laws".

Monday, February 16, 2009

$5,000 Report

I noticed on the $5,000 report for tomorrow's night City Commission meeting this new category: "Utility Bills", page 2, last item.

Instead of the public being able to see what funds are paying what costs for utilities, now everything is being lumped together by the name of the utility that is getting paid; Northwestern Energy, Energy West, Montana Waste Systems.

The devil is in the details...or not.

City Commission Work Session

It sounds like tomorrow night's City Commission work session will be interesting:

When: Tuesday, Feb. 17 at 5:30pm
Where: Gibson Room, Civic Center

Public Safety Mill Levy discussion
Animal Shelter Memorandum of Understanding

Neighborhood Councils - Week of Feb. 16, 2009

Two councils meet this week:

: Monday, Feb. 16 at 7:00pm
Where: GF Clinic Specialty Center, 3000 15th Ave. So.

Appointment of a new member
Conditional-use permit for a daycare business
Info. on emergency preparedness planning
Neighborhood concerns
Committee reports

When: Thursday, Feb. 19 at 6:30pm
Where: Women's annex of the Prerelease Center

Appointment of a new member
Neighborhood concerns
Committee reports

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day!

Enjoy your day!

SB88 Continues On

We've been following the journey of SB88, which will define what a school zone is.

On February 2, the bill went before the House Transportation Committee and passed on Feb. 12, 12-0.

According to this, the next step is the 2nd reading in the House.

Traffic Lights And Garages

From Aaron Weissman, chair of NC#7:


At our council meeting on Monday, we had a lengthy conversation about an apparent rash of garage break-ins that have begun to occur in the lower North side. I would like to remind and encourage you to securely lock your garage and home. As the temperature continues to warm, the problem will only get worse.

In addition, we have noticed an abnormally high number of yellow light speed ups and red light violations. Safe streets are everyone's responsibility.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Fergus Electric Co-op

Here is a letter Fergus Electric Co-op wrote to their members about their power situation.

One interesting, contradictory tidbit stands out: According to Fergus, the gas plant is not a given; however, at ECP's February meeting, which I attended, Tim Gregori left no doubt that SME is going to move forward with natural gas. According to this article by the Gazette, he is moving forward with gas.

I'm so glad we are not members of one of these co-ops tied in with SME.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Abraham Lincoln

Today marks the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth.

Prior to being assassinated in 1865, there was another plot to kill him on Feb. 23, 1861.

This story was first published in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in June 1868.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Film Viewing Tonight

From Aaron Weissman:

This note is a quick reminder that Israeli Film Producer Einat Kapach will be presenting a talk and film viewing tonight, 6:30 p.m., at the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art.

Admission is free or by donation.

Thank you!

Public Safety Levy Poll

Thanks to all of you who voted in my very unofficial poll about whether or not the public safety levy will pass. 29 of you don't think it will pass, 9 of you think it will and 1 person isn't sure.

According to the special City Commission meeting held January 28, Commissioner Rosenbaum suggested the public safety levy be mailed out in May.

(See here and here for various comments regarding this issue).

Monday, February 9, 2009

Neighborhood Councils - Week of Feb. 9, 2009

Four councils are meeting this week:

When: Monday, Feb. 9, at 7:00pm
Where: Community Rec. Center - 801 2nd Ave. North

When: Tuesday, Feb. 10 at 7:00pm
Where: Meadow Lark School Library

Information on proposed bike trails
Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

When: Wednesday, Feb. 11 at 7:00pm
Where: West Elementary cafeteria

Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

When: Thursday, Feb. 12 at 7:00pm
Where: GFHS south campus, room 105

Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Beartooth Concerns

Last Tuesday, Feb. 3, Beartooth Co-op met with their members for an informational meeting.

Here are the members' questions and the answers provided.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Neighborhood Council 7 - Feb. 2009 Meeting

Monday, February 9, 2008
Community Recreation Center, 801 2nd Avenue North
7:00 p.m.

Please note: This agenda format allows citizens to speak on each issue prior to Council discussion. We encourage your participation. In the interest that all parties can be heard, please limit your comments.


APPROVAL OF January Minutes

Police Advisory Board
City Commission
Other Reports

Appointment of new member
Senate Bill 88—discussion of school zone bill
Neighborhood Concerns

Downtown Police Officer petition
Weed and Seed project—distribution of magnets, additional activities
Problem Properties
Other Old Business

Citizen’s Police Academy—free to Northside residents, begins 3-11-2009, application deadline 2-20-09


Next meeting March 9, 2009—NeighborWorks Conference Room, 509 1st Avenue South

KFBB Story

Last Monday, Feb. 2, KFBB did a piece on what the Highwood plant changes mean to the City of Great Falls.

Commissioner Bronson was interviewed and he hopes, that because the coal plant is by the wayside, groups opposed to coal will hopefully not find reason to litigate like before. He never made a comment about the public document lawsuit.

Just because the coal plant may be gone, doesn't mean the documents pertaining to it are all of a sudden a moot point. Remember, the city has invested millions of taxpayers dollars into this fiasco. The money is gone with nothing to show for it except for a lot of red ink; aka, DEBT.

Hat tip: Rich

Friday, February 6, 2009

MEIC Asked To Drop Lawsuit

After last Tuesday's night City Commission meeting, a comment was made that MEIC was contacted about dropping their documents lawsuit against the city. Folks were wondering who had initiated the contact.

Today, Commissioner Jolley told me that City Attorney Dave Gliko said that Mary Jaraczeski, one of the attorneys for SME, initiated the contact.

Commissioner Jolley was at the legislature yesterday and saw Ann Hedges of MEIC, who said they (MEIC) want to see the documents.

Light Pollution

Below is a letter Aaron Weissman of Neighborhood Council 7 wrote evidently in reply to somebody concerned about the proposed lighting at Gibson Park:

Ms. Hill;

I have recently been sent a copy of your newsletter. I read it with interest, particularly the article "More about Light Pollution." I write today in the hope that this email can be considered for submission into your next publication.

I agree with you that dark skies are a resource that we need to protect. I am an amateur astronomy buff (my wife says geek, but I digress), and part of the reason that I love living is Great Falls is our big, dark sky with brilliant views of the stars.

I also strongly believe that we need to provide better protection to our citizens by lighting Gibson Park. In addition to criminal and violent activity that is just too regular there, the condition of the running path constitutes a severe tripping hazard in low-light conditions, such as dusk and dawn when many citizens use the park to jog or walk their dogs.

I also note the recent vandalism that has befallen Vinegar Jones cabin. Twice this Winter, the windows in the structure have been violently destroyed at night. Right now, the windows are boarded up. Our Historical Society can not continue to bear those costs, and our citizens deserve better.

I have not mentioned other violent acts that have been know to occur in the Park at night. However, they do occur and we need to take steps -- such as lighting -- that will decrease crime and make the park visible to police drive-by patrols.

I suggest to you that protecting our dark skies as a resource and lighting Gibson Park are far from incompatible goals. Even the "period" lights mentioned in our article can be fitted with an internal metal cap that will direct all generated light downward. There is no utility (and too much waste) in directing expensive electric light into the sky; we need it on the ground. I also hope that sometime in the future, these lights can be retro-fitted to solar generation.

There is no reason for dispute or controversy; let's all work together to install smart lighting into Gibson Park.

Thank you for your time,

Aaron Weissman,
Chairman Council 7

RSVP Newsletter

Below is the February newsletter for RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program):

Mask Auction

This message comes from Nola Huey, the Youth Services Librarian at the GF Public Library:


The attached invitation provides information regarding the Great Falls Public Library's Saturday, February 21st mask auction. All masks are currently on display in the library basement and will be auctioned to raise funds for our 2009 Summer Reading Program. I would greatly appreciate your assistance in spreading the word.

Thank you.
Nola Huey
Youth Services Librarian
301 2nd Avenue North
Great Falls, MT 59401

Telephone: 406-453-0349 ext. 215

For more information click here. (This will take a short time to load. Click on the page numbers at the bottom of the screen).

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Co-Op Members Not Happy

Last night, about 200 upset members of the Beartooth Co-op met with their board of directors and Tim Gregori.

From the sounds of it, there weren't many answers provided other than their problems were caused by everybody else.

Sounds very familiar.

Blended Rates Approved

At last night's City Commission meeting, which I attended, the Commission voted 4-1 to accept blended rates for the city's electrical arm, Electric City Power. According to Coleen Balzarini, blended rates are usually lower, but no guarantee this will always be the case. (See here for the Tribune's article).

Commissioner Jolley requested that the issue be postponed and that a work session be held. She cited the Yellowstone Valley lawsuit, which in part has to do with blended rates; the fact that there are documents in the "secret box" that pertain to blended rates, and finally, the public's inability to accurately address the issue when not all of the information is known.

It didn't come as a surprise when Commissioner Beecher said he didn't share Mary's concerns. He sees no reason not to go down this road.

How does he know there is no reason? He and the other commissioners have deliberately kept themselves in the dark over this issue. When Commissioner Jolley asked how many other commissioners had looked in the "secret box", nobody else had.

So, who again is the uninformed and under-informed ?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Gregori's Update

I attended the ECP board meeting tonight and Tim did not disappoint. He was his usual smooth self.

The reason SME opted out of building HGS is because of the delays caused by the appeals. There is just no way the thing can be built in time for their needs and so it's time they took their eggs out of one basket. He always contemplated building a gas plant; it just wasn't supposed to be the first thing built.

He is by no means giving up on the idea that someday he may be able to proceed with HGS. He is not abandoning the work already done and anticipates that what has already been accomplished will transition over to the new project. This new plant should take about 36 months to complete.

He cleverly avoided any reference to the huge amounts of money already lost on this boondoggle. When he mentioned the city's "investment" was about $2 million, Larry Rezentes, CPA, reminded everyone that the total was more like $6 million. Nobody on the board said a word.

The merry-go-round never stops.


Highwood Station is NOT to be built.

According to Tim Gregori, due to an "aura of uncertainly," the coal-fired plant "just simply cannot be accomplished."

Blended Rates....Again

On tomorrow night's City Commission agenda, the Commission is supposed to act on the blended rates issue.

Back on December 11, Commissioner Jolley indicated: "If commissioners were to look in the Secret Box, it might be 5 - 0 to deny but maybe I’m just an incurable opptimist [sic].

In their lawsuit filed December 12, Yellowstone Valley Electric referenced the city being sued because it refused to turn over certain documents (item 42) to the public.

At the December 16 City Commission meeting, Ron Gessaman asked how many commissioners had looked into the "secret box". Only one person nodded.

It is my understanding that as of right now the other commissioners have still not bothered to look in the box.

Any takers on what the outcome of this item will be?

$83,000 payment

On the $5,000 report of the consent agenda for tomorrow night's City Commission meeting, there are two payments from the Electric Fund: The December power payment for $700,775 and a payment of $83,145 to A Dashen and Associates. The later is for financial advisory services provided from July 2005 through December 2007.

A search of the city's website show three links pertaining to this company. The most important one is from the July 19, 2005 City Commission work session where the minutes indicate: "Electric City Power's first step in financing the Highwood station was hiring a financial advisor. Dashen and Associates was recommended by DA Davidson".

I checked the minutes of 2005 through July 19 and could not find a vote authorizing the hire of A Dashen and Associates.

Where did the $83,000 come from? ECP is broke.

Neighborhood Councils - Week of Feb. 2, 2009

Two meetings are scheduled this week:

When: Wednesday, Feb. 4 at 7:00pm
Where: Sunnyside School music room

Election of officers
Neighborhood concerns

When: Thursday, Feb. 5 at 7:00pm
Where: Westgate Mall conference room

Information on emergency preparedness
Neighborhood concerns