Monday, August 31, 2009

Candidate Forum

When: Wednesday, Sept. 2 at 6:00pm
Where: MSU-COT

This forum is scheduled to last until 8:00pm. Questions will be asked by Gary Moseman of the Tribune.

Sept. 1st Work Session

Tomorrow night's work session meeting begins at 5:45pm rather than 5:30pm in the Gibson Room:
COPS Grant – Chief Grove
Social Host – Chad Parker

ECP - August Meeting

The August ECP meeting was originally canceled. Now it has been resceduled to this evening:

Call to Order 5:30 PM Roll Call
1. Financial Reports

2. PSC Memorandum D2009.5.61, re: Approval of Renewable Energy Credits for Co-Gen Facility

3. YVEC vs. Southern, et al. (Cause No. DV 08-1797) • Plaintiff YVEC Answer to Defendants-Counter Plaintiffs’ Amended Counterclaim
Defendant SME Responses to Plaintiff’s First Request for Production
Defendant Southern Responses to Plaintiff’s First Request for Production
Defendant Southern Responses to Plaintiff’s First Discovery Requests

4. MEIC vs. City of Great Falls and Southern Montana Electric (Cause No. CDV-07-614)
Order on Receipt of Rule Notice
Motion and Memorandum for Additional Time to Respond to Order

5. City of Great Falls, et al. vs. PSC/NWE (Cause No. CDV- 09-127)
Motion and Brief to Reverse or Vacate Final Order, and to Remand
Notice of Oral Argument
NWE Motion and Brief to Extend Deadline to File Response to Petitioners’ Motion to Reverse or Vacate Final Order

1. Accept Board Meeting Minutes from July 13, 2009
2. NWE Proposed Rates and Adjustments-July, August, September
3. Richard Liebert July 13 Handout and Responses

Public Comment

NEXT ECP BOARD MEETING: October 5 , 2009

Here is the packet for tonight's meeting.

Neighborhood Councils - Week of August 31, 2009

Two councils are meeting this week:

When: Wednesday, Sept. 2 at 7:00pm
Where: Sunnyside School music room

Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

When: Thursday, Sept. 3 at 7:00pm
Where: Westgate Mall, southeast meeting room

Possible discussion of a mixed-use business/industrial park north of Black Eagle
Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

Candidate Video Responses

Here you can find a video of the candidates answering this question from Rich Ecke of the Great Falls Tribune:

Why should voters choose you rather than one of the other candidates?

Bob Jones and Rolland Leitheiser did not participate.

7th And Last Question: Commission Raises

This is the last question the Tribune asked of the candidates:

Should part-time city commissioners give themselves a raise? Commissioners receive $487 per month, and the mayor receives $643 per month, in pay and expenses, and both positions qualify for health insurance.

Sandra Guynn: Given the economic conditions and that the city's 2009-2010 budget was not at all flush with excessive cash, the commissioners should not give themselves a raise.

John Hubbard: No, it should be based on what they have done for the community. Citizens don't have the ability to give themselves raises, so why should the city commissioners?

Michael Winters: No. No sitting elective board should raise its own pay. They should not be considered part-time. Pay raises when needed should only apply to the new incoming board, or at least apply to future boards.

Mike Witsoe: No, I should not give myself a raise. City commissioners choose to serve the public and take an oath to serve the people. Commissioners who work for the public and the public good should be paid a fair wage for the time they serve the people. Raise their salaries? I don't know.

Bill Bronson: No. Commissioners should not raise their compensation during their term in office. I would not support any increase at this time, and if an increase were approved, I would refuse to accept it during the balance of my term.

Donna Zook: No, I think it is absurd for the commission to ask for a raise during difficult economic times.

Fred Burow: No, especially in this recession. Most people are just getting by. If our elected (officials) vote themselves raises, the feeling is that they are not in touch with the people that elected them. Everyone has heard the comment, "I wish I could vote myself a raise."

Kathleen Z. Gessaman: When the city has a budget that is not balanced by using money that depletes reserves and if cost of living increases justify a pay increase, the commission can consider granting a raise to new and/or re-elected members of the next City Commission. Sitting commissioner members should not benefit from any granted raise — any raise a commission approves should only apply to the newly elected and/or re-elected members of the next commission.

Robert G. Jones: No.

Rolland Leitheiser: I do not think that anyone runs for City Commission, or mayor for that matter, because of the pay. The commissioners should not give themselves a raise with the economy as it is. When the economy picks up, raises should only be given with a lot of public input, and then the raises should only take effect after the next election.

Ed McKnight: No. City commissioners should make their case with the public if they want a raise.

John Rosenbaum: No.

6th Question: Levies

Here are the answers to this question: Why did the city police and fire special levies fail, and what should be done, if anything, to improve staffing in those departments?

John Rosenbaum:I believe they failed because of the timing in the current economic climate. We could look for ways to be more efficient in other areas supported by the general fund. Those savings could then be used to fund public safety, one position at a time.

Donna Zook:The police and fire special levies failed because the residents could not afford or would not pay an increase in property taxes. Many citizens whom I have talked with believe that they are held responsible through taxation because funds are being shuttled from one program to another, and there is a drain on reserve money in order to compensate for budget problems. These citizens feel they should not be taxed to compensate for a financial loss due to the ECP (Electric City Power), animal shelter, City Planning and possible other ventures.

Fred Burow:One big reason the levies failed is the current economic condition. Second, people are tired of being asked to vote for more taxes. Fire and police are very important. I think everyone has great respect for both. Let's look at the whole city budget. We may have to slim down or, in some cases, cut nonessential programs and services in order to fund the most vital (ones).

Kathleen Z. Gessaman:Difficult economic conditions locally and nationwide helped to defeat the special levies. Most people I spoke with strongly support our local police and fire personnel, but were unable to afford the requested mill levy tax increase. The city manager, while maintaining a balanced budget, could use some of the additional money generated by the increase in property taxes (associated with new property appraisals) to fund critical staffing needs in these departments. Neighborhood councils could help the police by coordinating and promoting Neighborhood Watch. Reducing police involvement at the animal shelter could also help lighten the workload.

Robert G. Jones:I believe the special levies for city police and fire departments failed due to existing economic conditions. The additional hiring of 33 personnel and their placement also surprised many citizens because they were not informed of the personnel numbers needed prior to being asked to support the levies. A continued effort of informing the public of staffing needs is very important. We may want to consider smaller increments of personnel to improve staffing in the police and fire departments. To do so would require us to resolve the continued subsidies being taken from the general fund.

Rolland Leitheiser:The economy is the largest reason that the police and fire special levies failed. I am not convinced that a large staffing increase is needed at this time.

Ed McKnight:The proposed levies failed because the majority of voters said no to raising their taxes. According to the Tribune, City Manager Greg Doyon called this year's budget "relatively static," so as commissioners work with the public to check and balance how taxpayer dollars are being spent, then restore priority services with ample funding, that will bring peace of mind to citizens and increase confidence in our bravest and finest.

Bill Bronson:The levies likely failed because the majority of voters were concerned about the financial cost to them personally over the next few years. As a property taxpayer myself, I understand and appreciate that view, although I still supported the levies as necessary for improving public safety. The needs of both departments remain the same, regardless of the outcome of the levies. I will work to find other sources of funding for these needs over the next few years, including grants and the Montana Legislature, so that we can provide effective public services at levels that neither compromise public safety nor the safety of the police and firefighters.

Sandra Guynn:I believe the levies failed due to the tough economic times, although I do think citizens are also getting sick and tired of fiscal irresponsibility on the part of the city. Funds continue to lose money and, with the support from the incumbents, the city's reserves continue to be spent to cover these shortfalls. I am not at all confident in the numbers presented by the city, and I am not positive that we needed a public safety levy in the first place.

John Hubbard:We are in a recession and the people are over-taxed as it is. Considering the economic condition, nothing (should be done) at this point.

Michael Winters:I believe it was too much, too fast, too soon. While both levies were and are necessary and important for our community, the public felt put upon considering the increased tax burden imposed over the next several years. Most folks feel more effective management may very well be the right answer — more effective use of personnel and better time management.

Mike Witsoe:I believe the fire and police levies failed because of the misappropriation of reserve funds and general city funds by the present and past administrations. Funneling those monies in to ECP, SME (Southern Montana Electric Generation and Transmission Cooperative) and other various harebrained programs has caused the people to not have trust in their city government. Fire and police are sworn to protect and serve the people. City government has stolen from them and us. Vote for change; it's the only answer.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

5th Question: Speaking Limit

Here is the fifth question and responses:

Do you favor continuing to limit speakers to 5 minutes each during the commission's public comment period?

Mike Witsoe:Yes, I do, if they ramble on like I sometimes do. However, when professional, educated individuals have made a presentation to explain/question/qualify or to present a particular subject/point of view that is of public interest and detail, the time should be extended. The public comment period is for people to express their concerns, interests, fears and their passion. The public comment period should be earlier in the meeting so as to not force older concerned citizens to wait through the b.s. Public comment is the only true voice of the city's citizens.

Bill Bronson:Yes. It is a reasonable limit on comments made at the end of our commission meetings. I have yet to hear anyone that has come before the commission at the end of the meeting to offer a comment that cannot make their point in 5 minutes or less. The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that reasonable time limits are perfectly acceptable, and we should continue this rule for the public comment section of the agenda. It is important to note that the commission does not limit the time on statements made during public hearings or inquiries about proposed resolutions and the consent agenda.

Sandra Guynn:No, I do not favor limiting speakers to a 5-minute time limit. The mayor controls the meeting and, from the outset, can remind folks that in the interest of others, comments should be limited. If a speaker ignores that request, the mayor, as the chair of the meeting, can graciously tell them to conclude their remarks.

John Hubbard:The limit should be raised to 10 minutes. It should only be broken if the speaker is commenting on something of significance and their contribution is beneficial to the matter at hand.

Michael Winters:Anyone speaking before the commission should be able to say all he or she needs or wants to say in 5 minutes or less. The mayor or mayor pro tem should control the commission public comment period with professionalism and stay with the speaker's First Amendment rights. That does not allow the speaker to abuse those rights.

Ed McKnight:I do not agree with the 5-minute rule and I do not agree with the tightening of the muzzle on the public by the new decision that citizens are no longer allowed to ask questions during the public comment period.

John Rosenbaum:Yes.

Donna Zook:I do not believe in a strict 5-minute rule during the public comment period. However, I also believe that there is a respectful and dignified way of informing the individual speaker of the amount of time he or she is taking in order to accommodate all individuals who wish to speak. This is an issue of the parliamentary ability of the mayor.

Fred Burow:Yes. If 5 minutes are not enough, it can always be changed later. Unless you have some kind of a limit, some people get off track and ramble on and on.

Kathleen Z. Gessaman:I don't think a 5-minute limit is necessary if the commission's presiding officer follows Robert's Rules of Order, which provide the flexibility to limit the length of discussion when circumstances warrant such a limitation. However, this flexibility should not be abused just so the commission can wrap up their meetings quickly. If a popular topic encourages many citizens to participate in government, then the mayor or mayor pro tem could announce a 5-minute time limit per speaker so everyone has a chance to speak. The issue really is more one of appropriate leadership than arbitrary time limits.

Robert G. Jones:I do favor a time limit on speaking during the commission's comment period. I remain very open to what that time limit would be.

Rolland Leitheiser: I do not favor continuing the 5-minute limit. There has to be a reasonable amount of time for the public to comment.

4th Question: City Workers Pay Raise

Here are the answers to the fourth question asked by the Tribune:

Considering economic conditions, should the city continue to give pay increases of more than 3 percent annually to city employees?

Rolland Leitheiser:Pay increases to the city employee are important to retain quality workers. The poor economy does not reduce the cost of living. It is the city's responsibility to support their employees, so the city should continue giving pay raises to the city employees.

Ed McKnight:The city should live within its means. Therefore, city employee pay should be in line with local economic standards and conditions regarding the cost of living.

John Rosenbaum:No, not necessarily 3 percent or any other amount. We need to understand the market so that we don't train and then lose valuable employees to the private sector or to other cities when our pay scales are not competitive.

Donna Zook:In order to answer the question of a more than 3 percent raise to city employees, I have to know if there is a contractual issue between the employees, the city and labor unions. If there is a contract involved, it has to be studied before a pay increase greater than 3 percent can be given.

Fred Burow:Most of the city employees are covered by a bargaining contract. That contract should be honored. City employees not covered by a contract should (receive) the same percent raise.

Kathleen Z. Gessaman:The city should not pay more for personnel costs than it can afford while maintaining a balanced budget and adequate reserves. Any pay raises for city employees should be closely tied to the cost of living — especially in difficult economic times like the nation is currently experiencing. To cut costs, many employers have reduced staff or pay levels; other employers have limited the hours their employees work. The city of Great Falls depends on the economic well-being of its citizens to continue to function and needs to always be aware of the hardships taxpayers are experiencing.

Robert G. Jones:The city needs to responsibly pay its employees. They are the most important assets the city directs to deliver services to the public. Many employee contracts are negotiated for periods of one to three years, taking into consideration what's best for the public, community and employees. If economic conditions change during the terms of the contract, it's unfortunate, but the contract has to be honored. I believe the pay increases given to city employees are the responsibility of city management. When management enters into the collective bargaining process, it should be based on the interests of both parties.

Michael Winters:If there is a contractual agreement with city employees agreeing to certain pay raises, and the city has signed off on the contract, then the city must live up to the agreement.

Mike Witsoe:I'm sorry, but I must say no. The cost of living and present economy dictate that the worst is not over. The taxpayers/property owners/senior citizens and the children aren't getting raises. We/they/I cannot give more than 3 percent annually. The people working in the public sector, business, state government and the general public are between a rock and a hard spot. No more raises.

Bill Bronson:Contracts approved for the two-year period July 2009-July 2011 provide for a 3.25 increase the first year, but the second-year increase is limited to 1.5 percent. The first year increase may seem high in relation to some wage increases in other sectors, but city employees did not have major increases in pay over the past few years, and the first-year increase was an appropriate way to play catch-up. These wage packages were negotiated in good faith with our various unions and should be honored. The amount of future increases will depend on several factors, including maintaining salaries competitive with the private sector.

Sandra Guynn:I would not have voted for this increase. In these tough economic times and the less than rosy financial picture of the city, an increase of 3 percent should not have been authorized. If elected your mayor, I will vote against any raises for the 2010-2011 budget year.

John Hubbard:No, until the economy has become more stable and we are out of the recession, we should avoid giving pay increases. We should put a freeze on raises and new taxes.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

3rd Question: Golf And Swim Funds

Here are the candidates responses to this question:

What should the city do to improve the bottom line for its golf courses, which are to receive $245,000 in subsidies this year, and swimming pools, which are scheduled to receive a subsidy of more than $580,000 from the general fund?

John Hubbard:I think if the golf courses and swimming pools were to lower their prices, they would have more business. After all, less is more.

Michael Winters: Lower entrance fees to allow everyone the opportunity to enjoy our pools and golf courses. At neighborhood pools, all children under age 12 should be admitted free. Adults and those over 12 would pay a reasonable fee. Lower fees will encourage greater usage. Rather than considering selling one of the golf courses, why not consider leasing one to a local company to run as a for-profit business that would appeal to tourists, out-of-town visitors and local golf enthusiasts? Treat customers like they are important. Consider leasing a good restaurant at Eagle Falls course. Currently, we are pricing ourselves out of business.

Mike Witsoe:Whoa! The biggest bleeder of all! Park and Rec. (Recreation) has been completely unorganized, overpaid, understaffed, lacking a qualified director, since 1994. Two thousand season pass holders in the 1990s, 700 in 2009 — where did all the golfers go? They raise fees, raise fees, raise fees! They forgot about seniors, students and family oriented golf. The foundation of all successful golf, skiing and swimming programs is the number of participants and a strong season pass foundation. Swimming is for kids. Missoula's water park costs $5 or less. Missoula has season passes, family oriented swimming. New blood in Parks and Rec. is the only answer.

Bill Bronson:I support continued operation of our swimming pools; our young people use the pools heavily, and they are a good use of taxpayer dollars. The community's 2006 vote in favor of capital improvements to our pools demonstrates the public supports this approach. As for golf, the commission has been working with staff and an advisory board to improve management and marketing at both courses, with the goal of making them more profitable. Within two years, should it appear current operation levels are not sustainable and we are still not able to cover all expenses, we will have to look at other options.

Sandra Guynn:I think both of these funds need to be examined very closely as to why they continue to lose money. It concerns me greatly when the director of the Fiscal Service Department reported that the golf fund would receive a $240,000 "gift" from the general fund. This was done in order to reduce the red ink this fund has been wallowing in for the past several years. Shifting monies around to make certain funds look better does not solve the problem. it adds to it.

Robert G. Jones:(Golfing friends) say golfing in Great Falls is the best deal around the state, with two courses. To improve the bottom line, we need to consider increasing the cost of season passes or eliminating them and implementing a pay-as-you-play system. We need to decide if the city can operate two golf courses profitably. Swimming pools nationally receive subsidies. However, $580,000 from the general fund seems extremely high, even considering carrying the debt of the Flow Rider. We need to consider our operating season, including days lost to inclement weather. A restructuring of our operation may be needed.

Ed McKnight:Seriously investigate privatization.

Rolland Leitheiser:Both the golf courses and the swimming pools are valuable amenities. If the city of Great Falls is to attract new businesses, amenities are very important parts of that process. Raising the rate will not improve the bottom line. I do not believe that funding these amenities from the general fund is wrong. I do not think that either of them needs to be self-sufficient — the parks, the tennis courts, the ball parks all need funding. We just need to run them as efficiently as possible, and fund the rest of it.

John Rosenbaum:The city's golf courses are long-term recreational facilities that enhance our city. However, we need to take a serious look at the practicalities of continuing with the number of courses we currently have. The swimming pools are an investment in our community, and especially young people's recreational opportunities. I believe they are extremely important, but we do need to examine if we are funding the pools adequately. Maybe we won't call it a subsidy — we will call it funding.

Donna Zook:Before I can make a decision on subsidies to the golf course and swimming pool, I need to review the whole financial picture in order to reconcile the financial situation. The city already has obligations to ECP (Electric City Power), the Animal Shelter and city development, and there are too many factors with regard to these obligations that are unknown to the public. The commission has not given the public straight answers with regard to various obligations and citizens are dismissed when the issues are raised at public meetings.

Fred Burow:How are the subsidies being spent? Is it a one-time cost for repairs and equipment? If not, then find ways to cut costs or look to user fee increases.

Kathleen Z. Gessaman:The public golf courses and swimming pools are wonderful resources for Great Falls residents and visitors. With the implementation of point-of-sale money collection systems, the city should soon have a better idea of when, what for and how much money is collected from these operations. Hopefully, this will allow identification of nonvalue-added activities and lead to productivity improvements. The city could pursue sponsorships to help reduce the golf debt and Flow Rider operating costs. Finding grant money to install a solar water heating system at the Flow Rider should be a city priority.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

2nd Question: Recycling Fee

(Don't forget to check out Sandra Guynn For Mayor for additional comments on these issues).

In today's paper, the candidates responses to this question were published:

City government may soon consider a $1.50 monthly charge on city households to support recycling, which has been a money-losing venture for the city. Would you favor such a fee, and why or why not?

Kathleen Z. Gessaman: What will citizens get for this monthly charge? Nothing different than now! Montana Waste Systems (MWS), a Montana, private, tax-paying company, provides a bin and curbside pickup twice a month for $2 per month. I support recycling but don't believe the city has adequately established its costs. Reported recycling costs may be inflated by other activities occurring at the Citizens Convenience Center. I don't think we should charge any fees until we can better identify the true costs of recycling to the city.

Robert G. Jones: If the city government is considering a $1.50 monthly charge to city households to help support recycling, I would want considerable discussion. I believe recycling is very important and a noble undertaking for the city, but we have other ventures that are losing money that need our attention. The golf courses and swimming pools have had considerable difficulty meeting operational needs and carry outstanding debt. The utility arm, Electric City Power, is also losing money and borrows from the city General Fund. I believe we need to set priorities and resolve present issues before asking the citizens for more money.

Rolland Leitheiser: A charge of $1.50 per month sounds very reasonable; I am not sure that this would be the end of the problems of recycling. As the economy worsens the cost of recycling will continue to increase. How many times do we go to the citizens and increase this fee to pay for recycling? I believe that the city should find a way to continue recycling without adding a monthly fee.

Ed McKnight: Recycling is an example of a community-oriented project and decision. A private recycling business operates in town at a profit. Before burdening the public with increases there should be a realistic assessment of why the city is unable to operate at a profit and alternatives should be examined.

John Rosenbaum: This is a two-part question to me. The first part of the question is if $1.50 is the amount needed to run the program and what is the program? Second, are we going to include the private sector in the program, so that we do not duplicate their program, and can we be more efficient and cost effective? We have yet to see a business plan or a complete proposal yet.

Donna Zook: Yes. I believe in recycling.

Fred Burow: Looks like we have another feel-good program that's losing money. There are several recycling businesses in the area. Scrap iron, aluminum cans, cardboard, hides, autos; all can be recycled. Presently, the cost of collecting bottles, plastic, newspapers, etc. is too much. Let the professional businesses handle recycling. If and when the price of recycling these items becomes profitable, the pros will collect them. It's time to think outside of the box. When you have people that are part of the current system or think that way, change is impossible. Someone outside the system can have different ideas.

Sandra Guynn: At this time, I do not favor the city continuing its involvement in recycling. First and foremost, cities have a responsibility to provide core services in a fiscally prudent manner. Providing recycling services is not a core service of the city. It has been reported from the Public Works Department that even by adding this proposed fee, recycling will continue to lose money. It is not fiscally responsible to continue to provide a secondary service that doesn't break even.

John Hubbard: Personally, I don't believe another charge would benefit our city. However, I do believe we need to support recycling and we should create an alternative method to do so.

Michael Winters: I believe recycling is an important and priority program. Before charging $1.50 per household the City Commission should first explore how communities of similar size in Montana are handling recycling, then devise a management program to educate and encourage participation. Let's put in place a program interesting enough that makes us want to be part of. Generally, it isn't the program that is failing and losing money, it is more often lack of interest. Let Great Falls become a leader in community action affairs.

Mike Witsoe: Yes, I would! Private enterprise or environmentally organized individuals who care about real recycling, yes. The present division of city government running garbage and recycling has no conception of recycling! New blood from the top down is the only way for the city of Great Falls to join the 21st century ideals on the environmental impact of our waste. Give the young, educated people who care a chance to show us how it works in Missoula, Bozeman, Helena and the rest of the West!

Bill Bronson: Yes, I support imposition of a nominal monthly fee to cover recycling costs. Based on information currently available from the Public Works Department, we can probably limit the costs to about $1 per month. This is a small price to pay for encouraging a responsible activity like recycling.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Landowners Continue Their Fight

Just because the coal plant is off the front burner, doesn't mean the landowners are giving up on their lawsuit against the county for what they say is spot zoning. According to this article, they have appealed the judge's decision last year to keep the zoning as is and have taken their case to the Montana Supreme Court.

See here for more links to all of the details.

What The Commission Candidates Think Of ECP

The Tribune has started to print answers to various questions they submitted a short time ago to the City Commission candidates. You can find today's article pertaining to ECP here. Unfortunately, I could not find the candidates answers online so scanned the print version of them.

The first question:

Do you think the city should shut down its utility arm, Electric City Power, or should the city try to make its venture more profitable? The city stood to lose an estimated $4.75 million if it suddenly liquidated its electrical energy business earlier this year.

My responses and additional comments to all of the questions will also be posted at my Sandra Guynn For Mayor blog as well.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Judge Grants Partial Extension

On August 7, SME wanted until October 14 to view 10,000 documents in the "secret box". On Wednesday, August 19, Judge Phillips granted them until September 4.

Neighborhood Councils - Week of August 24, 2009

Only Council Four is meeting this week:

When: Thursday, August 27 at 6:30pm
Where: Heritage Baptist Church - 900 52nd Street North

Committee reports
Problem properties
Neighborhood concerns
Emergency preparedness workshop

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Positions Available On City Boards

A total of three positions are open on the following city advisory boards:

City Planning Board
One opening; term through December 2011. Must be a Great Falls resident.

Advises the City Commission on area growth and development.

Meeting schedule:
Second and fourth Tuesdays of each month at 3:00pm, usually in Commission chambers

For more info. contact Bill Walters at 455-8432 or

Parking Advisory Commission:
Two openings; one term through April 2010 and another through April 2012. Must be a Great Falls resident.

Advises the City Commission and city staff on matters pertaining to parking issues within the parking district.

Meeting schedule:
Third Monday of each month at 3:00pm in the Ryan Room.

For more info. contact Kim McCleary at 455-8405.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Who Is Running The Show?

Why does city staff do this and more importantly, why does the City Commission allow it?

At Tuesday night's work session, they scheduled four agenda items; one being the social host ordinance.

You're not going to tell me that they didn't know at the time of the agenda setting meeting (8/12) that this ordinance was not a hot topic. Did they honestly not think this item was not going to take some time? Well, it did. About 45 minutes. (This meeting started at 5:30pm. The City Commission meeting started at 7:00pm).

That left not much more than 35-40 minutes to hear about these issues:
Downtown Tax Increment Fund (TIF) Projects – Patton/Basta/Doney
House Bill 645 Project Substitutions – Cheryl Patton and Mike Rattray
COPS Grant Update – Chief Grove

I don't recall hearing much about HB645 and the COPS grant update had to be postponed to the next work session. The Downtown Tax Increment Fund discussion could have used more time as well.

I can't help but think that whenever this happens, and it has, more than once, that city staff, for whatever reason, doesn't want certain items to be delved into with much detail. Otherwise, why do it?

An Election Must Be In The Air

At Tuesday night's City Commission meeting, three items were tabled. In the three years I have been attending meetings, I don't think we've had a total of three items tabled.

For the first time that I can remember, a real discussion was held. For nearly an hour, the commission heard from both parties involved in this issue. After each party presented their side of the situation, Commissioner Bronson then asked them to step forward to answer questions he had. After that, he walked over to the interim planning director where a very short conversation ensued. It was after that conversation that Bronson made a motion to table the item in order to give both parties time to work out their differences.

The second item to be tabled was the Social Host Ordinance. The majority of the commissioners made it clear they will vote for this ordinance once certain language is clarified.

The third item to be tabled was item #6 on the agenda: Central Place Revitalization Urban Renewal Tax Increment District. Authorizes use of remaining tax increment cash from the Central Place Urban Renewal Revitalization Program. There was some discussion about this at the work session held just before the commission meeting, but questions/concerns remained.

Why does staff do this? This third item was on the city commission agenda for action. As far as I know, the only time any discussion ensued about it was at the work session meeting held just before the commission meeting. Doesn't it make more sense to hold a work session; get any kinks ironed out, then move forward with a vote during a future commission meeting?

Monday, August 17, 2009

New Material

Visit Sandra Guynn For Mayor for updates!

City Work Session

What: City Work session
When: Tuesday, August 18 at 5:30pm in the Gibson Room

Social Host Ordinance – Chad Parker
Downtown Tax Increment Fund (TIF) Projects – Patton/Basta/Doney
House Bill 645 Project Substitutions – Cheryl Patton and Mike Rattray
COPS Grant Update – Chief Grove

There is also a public hearing scheduled for the Social Host Ordinance at the City Commission meeting later in the evening.

Neighborhood Councils - Week of August 17, 2009

No meetings are scheduled this week, but as I mentioned here, several candidates are still needed to file.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Neighborhood Councils Need Filers

Not looking good.

As of just a couple of days ago, only 14 citizens had filed for their respective councils. 45 are needed.

Deadline to file is August 20. There is no filing fee.

SME At It Again

Here, the judge ruled that SME and the City should give the public access to documents in the "secret box".

It doesn't come as a surprise that SME doesn't want to do this. They now claim they need two months to review 10,000 documents, which were supposed to have been first reviewed last year when they filed this law suit.

They also claim that some of the documents pertain to the coal plant, which since it is not on the front burner anymore, really aren't relevant and therefore, the "timeliness" of their release is diminished.

This is ridiculous.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

ECP Listening Session

I attended last night's ECP listening session and came away cautiously optimistic about the consultants hired to examine the city's involvement in the power business.

Both TV stations were present as well as the Tribune.

Not surprisingly, some citizens who commented were concerned that the study would not be unbiased. This concern is not hard to understand given the less than openness our city has demonstrated in this endeavor.

When a comment was raised about access to the "secret box", they indicated they have gotten everything they have currently asked for. They did not say that they had asked for access to these off limits documents. Mr. Abromaitis said they were more concerned about the future rather than the past.

Many thanks to Mr. Greg Jergeson, chairman of the Montana Public Service Commission, who indicated that "sometimes the past does inform the future". He also mentioned that the PSC has been involved with four contested cases involving ECP and went into some detail about those. He gave the name of the attorneys involved with those cases and indicated that the PSC is interested in helping to facilitate their study and gave them contact info. (As of last night, Mr. Jergeson said the PSC had not yet been contacted by the consultants). As a side note, see here for Mr. Jergeson's opinion regarding HGS and ECP.

I was quoted in the paper as saying "the public never had an opportunity to weigh in on this". This is an accurate quote, but falls short of my other comments. I did not come with prepared remarks, but based upon my recording, here is what I said:

The public never had an opportunity to weigh in on this. So in other words, as a constituent, I and everybody else here in Great Falls never had a chance to say yes, we're in favor of this, no, we're not. So I do understand that you want to move forward and that's what we all want, but I would also like for you to take into consideration, that if we do elect to continue in this endeavor, how can we balance that out with a municipality continuing to do business with a private enterprise, which is SME. Personally, I don't think public entities should be involved with private, just because the rules are different. This is what has contributed to a huge part of our problem and this secret box. It's a big deal, a very big deal. Citizens should never be shut down from access to what their government is doing. And that's what's happened here. In a municipality it should never be the case where citizens just don't know.

And so I ask as you are going through your process, you keep that in mind and how can we reconcile the two, if in fact you do elect to suggest that we continue to go forward with this.

Their report should be completed in about six weeks. It is not their intent that their findings be kept confidential, but did say they can't dictate what their client, the city, will elect to do with their report.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Can't Wait To Hear The Explanation

At last week's City Commission meeting, it was brought to the attention of the Commission that the 2009-2010 budget is not sustainable.

Several funds were mentioned that are projected to lose money.

This came as quite a surprise to Commissioner Beecher. He continues to state that he believes this is a good budget and was upset that numbers were being tossed about in the manner that they were. He said he wants answers by the next meeting.

Commissioner Jolley reminded him that the numbers were being quoted from the city's budget and that the city continues to spend its reserves.

Commissioner Beecher continues to try his damnedest to discredit the public. Fortunately for the public, he hasn't a clue what he is talking about and he proves it every time.

ECP Consultant Meeting

Tomorrow night, citizens will have the opportunity to share their opinions regarding the city's foray into public power. Last week, the Tribune erroneously reported, which they later corrected, that the discussion would include comments about HGS. It does not. This meeting is strictly about ECP.

When: Tuesday, August 11 at 7:00pm
Where: Gibson Room, Civic Center

Neighborhood Councils - Week of August 10, 2009

This week, NC#9 is meeting:

When: Thursday, Aug. 13 at 7:00pm
Where: Camp Fire Office, 1925 2nd Ave. So.

Problems on 4th and 5th Avenues South, near 20th street
Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Good News!

The Black Eagle post office WILL remain open.

This decision is a very good example of what can happen when citizens get involved and speak out.

It seemed more than ridiculous that this post office was considered for closure when to do so would have saved about $100,000 toward a $6.5 BILLION deficit. It was also the only post office being considered for closure in Montana.

Coal "Off The Table"

That's part of the headline in today's Tribune.

SME has asked that the DEQ revoke their air quality permit. They have 15 days to appeal their own request. If they do not, then a coal-fired plant cannot be built unless they apply for another new permit from the DEQ.

SME also indicated that they are not going to erect wind turbines at the HGS site, but will continue their efforts toward a natural gas-fired facility.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Levy Poll

As reported last night, the police and fire levies failed by quite a fair margin. Unofficial results:

Fire: For-6,989; Against 10,067
Police: For-6,825; Against 10,227

Why do you think they both failed? Take the poll to the right and let us know your thoughts.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Both Levies Fail

By a wide margin, both the fire and police public safety levies failed.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Neighborhood Councils - Week of August 3, 2009

Only NC#3 is meeting this week:

When: Thursday, August 6 at 7:00pm
Where: Westgate Mall meeting room

Committee reports
Neighborhood concerns