Proponents of censorship lost their fight opposing the library mill levy election, but they are not done trying to control what people can read or see at the library. The next battle coming will be for library board appointments. And they have Commissioners Joe McKenney and Rick Tryon in their hip pockets.
When current library board member, Anne Bulger, came before the City Commission for reappointment at its July 18 meeting, Commissioners Tryon and McKenney suddenly objected to the process the city has used for years to fill board appointments without advertising. In fact, McKenney and Tryon both voted to appoint two positions on the Business Improvement District Board just two weeks before without advertising, and neither one raised any concern about the process.
As a result of their objection, the Commission voted to delay the Library Board appointment until they had a chance to review the appointment process. On August 2, the Commission amended the appointment process to require advertising and posting of City Board vacancies.
Let’s not kid ourselves about what is going on here. The opponents of the library mill levy are still licking their wounds from their loss at the ballot box. They are not done trying to censure the library, and you can bet they will have their preferred candidates to fill vacant board positions. It is not coincidence that this all comes up when a library board member is up for reappointment. If the commissioners were primarily concerned about the “process,” they could have, and should have, adopted the changes between board appointments, instead of in the middle of filling a specific and controversial board position. Tryon’s and McKenney’s motivation is clear. They are pandering to the far right to garner votes in the coming city election. We’re a little perplexed by the fact that Commissioner Susan Wolff went along with them.
By almost all accounts, Anne Bulger has been a diligent and hard working member of the Library Board. Not much has been said about how she feels about having the process changed after she applied and before the decision was made. It’s a hell of a thing to treat a volunteer board member like this. But, of course, Tryon and McKenney have other things on their mind.
Note: Stay tuned for articles about the lawsuit filed by pro-censorship people challenging the library mill levy election.
Yesterday, City Commissioner Rick Tryon’s hate-blog “E City Beat ” published a letter from William Ross. Ross was previously featured on our blog after he protested the Great Falls Pridefest with a sign reading “Fags Deserve Oppression.” Ross yelled at families and attempted to start altercations as people walked by him. Ross even gave an interview to a local news station in which he lauded LGBTQ+ suicide. To the shock of no one, Commissioner Tryon has sided with this hateful bigot.
There are some misrepresentations in E City Beat’s article that need to be addressed. Firstly, I am not on the Board for the Great Falls LGBTQ+ Center and did not organize Pridefest. My term on the Board ended about 2 years ago. I continue to support and promote Center events, but my presence at Pridefest was solely as an attendee. Pridefest was amazing and a lot of folks put a ton of work into making it happen. It is unfortunate that William Ross tried to ruin the event with his hatred.
In his letter published by E City Beat, Ross claims that he was assaulted twice at the event. To be clear, Ross was armed with a gun and screaming at people. When Ross tried to start an altercation with a man using the crosswalk, I physically got in front of Ross, while a security volunteer pulled the other man away. Although Ross was the instigator, I did not want hundreds of families at Pride to witness any violence. The below photo was sent to me by a Pride attendee. It shows me and a security volunteer walking Ross away from the altercation. This incident, and Ross’s following verbal threat, was reported to the police.
Now Ross is claiming that his free speech was infringed after his employer, Culligan Water, terminated him. This claim shows a fundamental misunderstanding of our Constitutional right to free speech. Our speech is protected from government interference and punishment (with some caveats around hate speech which incite violence.) Freedom of speech is in no way freedom from consequences. Private sector businesses are indeed allowed to enforce codes of conduct. Businesses are concerned with their profits, and employee conduct that may lose them business is often a terminable offense. That’s Capitalism baby. Ross was absolutely allowed to use his freedom of speech and his freedom to protest. Now he’s suffering consequences for his choice to behave like a hateful unhinged bigot.
However, more concerning is the choice for Commissioner Rick Tryon and Phil Faccenda to give Mr. Ross a platform. In his letter, Ross argues that people should be allowed to voice their opinions. Mr. Ross was indeed allowed to do so. If your opinion is that a marginalized group of people deserve oppression we have a term for that- discrimination. How is it appropriate for an elected city commissioner to promote discrimination and normalize hate speech? If Mr. Ross had made racial, ethnic, or religious slurs, would Tryon still be giving him a venue for his hate?
As evidenced by the activity of the White Lives Matter movement in Great Falls, there are citizens who believe that Jewish people should be eliminated. There are people who believe that the White race is superior and that all other ethnicities deserve genocide. Are they free to make these statements? Yes, to a degree, inasmuch as they are not actively inciting violence. But should a city commissioner be giving them a platform to promote this hateful ideology? I, for one, think that Tryon’s actions here conflict with the Official Code of the City of Great Falls Code of Ethics 2.21.020(B) and 2.21.030 (B) (C) (D) which read:
B. The vitality and stability of representative democracy depends upon the public’s confidence in the integrity of its elected and appointed representatives
[…] Such ethical standards shall inspire and stimulate each officer and employee to […]
B. Affirm the dignity and worth of the services rendered by the government and maintain a constructive, creative, practical attitude toward urban affairs and a deep sense of social responsibility as a trusted public servant;
C. Be dedicated to the highest ideals of honor and integrity in all public and personal relationships so that each public servant may merit the respect and confidence of elected officials, of other officials and employees, and of the public; and
D. Recognize that the chief function of local government at all times is to serve the best interests of all of the people
And examining the Ethical Standards section:
A. No officer or employee of the City of Great Falls shall have an interest in a business organization or engage in any business, transaction, or professional activity which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his or her governmental duties
D. No officer or employee shall undertake any private employment or service which might prejudice his or her independent judgment in the exercise of his or her official duties.
City Commissioner Rick Tryon, through his blog E City Beat, has a significant history of attacking both public figures and private citizens alike. How is it appropriate for a city commissioner to continuously attack the citizens he is elected to represent? Perhaps Mr. Tryon needs reminding that he is duly obligated to represent the best interest of all citizens, even if they’re Queer.
The Public Service Commission (PSC) has approved yet another utility rate hike. The PSC is recommending a rate hike of over 9% for Montana Dakota Utilities, which means customers can expect their energy bills to go up just as summer starts to wind down. Facing wage stagnation and an expected 40% property tax increase, many Montanans may well be forced to choose between paying their energy bills or going cold this winter.
The entirely Republican PSC has consistently voted to allow NorthWestern energy to raise their rates as well. Recently, Northwestern Energy reached a settlement in a lawsuit against their “historic” requested rate increase of over 25%. This increase would primarily affect residential properties and small businesses, the two groups the PSC has repeatedly thrown under the bus. Homeowners who use Northwestern energy can expect their utility bills to increase another 28%.
Members of the PSC are elected, and the Great Falls region is represented by Randy Pinocci. When he’s not sleeping on the job, Pinocci has continuously voted to increase energy costs for Montanans. In fact, in 2021 Great Falls customers faced an increase of over 40% for their heating costs. Meanwhile, Pinocci is being paid over $100,000 a year of our tax money while voting to empty our wallets. There are seemingly other benefits of Pinocci’s position as well. Both Pinocci’s wife and daughter were recently hired by Sandra Merchant at the Clerk and Recorder’s office. While we cannot yet prove nepotism, it seems highly suspicious that both positions would go to family members of an elected Public Service Commissioner. As Randy Pinocci reminds us time and time again, political corruption is profitable business in Montana.
Read our previous pieces about Pinocci here:
Read about the new rate increase here:
Read about the Northwestern Energy lawsuit here:
With the current tone of politics in our country, we’re led to believe there is little agreement between Republicans and Democrats. But National politics is its own monster, and there are many values that both parties (and all those in between) share in Montana, or at least we used to. First and foremost is a love of Montana’s public lands.
However, the long-respected tradition of protecting our wild areas for the enjoyment of all changed drastically this past legislative session. This is best evidenced by the new requirement for Recreation Licenses. The days of free public recreation are now gone. HB521, sponsored by Republican Denley Loge (HD14) was signed into law by Governor Gianforte and went into effect July 1, 2023. This bills requires Montanans to purchase a recreation license in order to enjoy our public lands. Not to be confused with the existing requirement for fishing licenses, this new Conservation License is required even if you simply want to go walk a trail and look at wildlife with your children. Children 12 and older are also required to purchase a license.
The Fish Wildlife and Parks website explains,
“A Conservation License is required to access most state lands. Before this year, only hunters, anglers and trappers were required to purchase a Conservation License. Starting this year, all types of recreation users need one.”
Although Republicans argue that the small fee means this new law is no cause for alarm, making public lands pay-to-play is but one step in making Montana a playground for the wealthy. Montana is changing, drastically and quickly. Beloved Chico Hot Springs was recently purchased by an out-of-state company. The fight to save Holland Land from luxury commercial development continues. Trout numbers are falling and climate change is ruining summer plans for wealthy boaters on Flathead lake. Combine the push for luxury development with a new law that prevents Montana from exploring the impacts of climate change and we have a recipe for disaster.
Despite decades of agreement on the importance of public lands and conservation, all its taken is one terrible governor and one supermajority to fundamentally change Montana’s access to the state that we love. If folks continue to prioritize voting along party lines, soon we won’t have public lands to save.
Read about the new conservation license requirements here:
Read about the trout crisis here:
Read about the sale of Chico Hot Springs here:
Maryland hospitality company buys Chico Hot Springs for $33 million
Read about the fight to save Holland lake here:
Read about the Flathead Lake water levels here: