Montanan Withdraws from Presidential Race?
Did you know former Montana Secretary of State Corey Stapleton was running for President? Welp. . .not anymore. Stapleton announced he is throwing in the towel. Of course no one knew he was running, so it’s not much of a news story.
The Independent Record quoted Stapleton when he filed for the presidential race, “We’re more alike than we are different.” Stapleton said. “When you look at the last few years in America, we see chaos, dysfunction, dishonesty, disappointment. It doesn’t have to be that way. We’re better than this.”
Quite a statement since Stapleton ran a Secretary of State’s Office that was the most incompetent and corrupt statewide office in recent memory. He was under constant criticism for self-dealing and corruption. He was accused of misuse of state vehicles and channeling lucrative state contracts to his political pals (See our related story about Stapleton’s friend Jake Eaton https://wtf406.com/2023/10/rosendale-slimed-in-new-tv-ads/ )
After leaving the Secretary of State’s Office, Stapleton embarked on a bizarre effort to become a country western singer. Not kidding, check it out for yourself.
Take a listen and drop us a note with your review.
The press reported that Stapleton has not announced who he will endorse in the Republican Primary for President. Who cares?
Schools across the nation are facing a teacher shortage and Montana is feeling the squeeze as well. Recent laws passed by Montana’s supermajority-Republican legislature seek to divert tax funding to private charter schools, and wage stagnation makes retaining teachers and faculty an ongoing challenge. Now Great Falls Public Schools face another hurdle- the extremely low wages paid to their office staff. Anyone working a full time job deserves livable wages, and that’s what GFPS office staff are now demanding.
Read the full statement from the Great Falls Association of Office Personnel Union here:
‘Fighting for a fair contract,’ Great Falls Public Schools Office Staff Head to Mediation
(GREAT FALLS, MONT.) – The Great Falls Association of Office Personnel, a union of school office staff affiliated with the Montana Federation of Public Employees, has requested the assistance of a state mediator in ongoing contract negotiations. Sixty-four office staff members in Great Falls Public Schools have worked without a contract since their previous agreement expired June 30th.
Requesting a state mediator from the Department of Labor and Industry comes in response to a breakdown in contract negotiations between the school district and office staff. Offers from the district–most recently an additional $0.64 an hour–fail to honor the integral role office staff play supporting and protecting students, families, and faculty throughout the district. This most recent offer also fails to recognize and repair a decades-old pay scale that has been made inadequate by the increased cost-of-living in Great Falls. The first mediation is scheduled for Thursday, October 26th.
“Currently, when we start working for the district, we make between $13.59 and $16.73,” said Association of Office Personnel President Daneen Pate. “After 25 years of service to this district, the most we can earn is between $16.42 and $19.53 an hour. These wages are no longer livable, they don’t keep pace with other school districts, and they’re not fair market value. We’re fighting for a fair contract because we love the students in our care and the district shouldn’t force us to choose between them and putting food on our families’ tables.”
Office staff are often the faces of their schools. They’re the first to greet students, caring for them when they’re sick or acting out. Parents and families interact with office staff daily, relying on them for timely updates and assistance. Office staff also help with scheduling, record keeping, finances, school activities, and attendance. Despite fulfilling their important roles with commitment and skill, the school district’s most recent offer would mean that, on average, office staff would make only $30,261 per contract year. Their counterparts across the state average $41,744 annually. The average Great Falls administrator makes $107,564 per year.
An average entry level administrative assistant at Malmstrom’s Delta Solutions makes between $44,000 and $56,000. New administrative assistants at Montana Highway Patrol and Montana’s average fast-food worker earn over $42,000 in a 2,080-hour year of work.
In the lead up to mediation on October 26th, the Association of Office Personnel have shown solidarity by wearing buttons reading ‘What Would You Do Without Us? Worth more than 64¢’ and black shirts every Wednesday. Members, with the support of other district faculty and staff, will continue these activities, and, if necessary, ramp them up as they continue to bargain for a livable wage.
“We are hopeful the mediation results in a fair agreement, but if it doesn’t then our office staff members are ready to stand up for themselves, their families, and Great Falls’ students,” said MFPE President Amanda Curtis. “Our entire statewide union will have their backs.”
Despite repeatedly claiming that they are “fiscal conservatives,” our property taxes have increased under Republican control at the state and local level over just the last couple of years. And not just a little bit.
Proponents of mill levies (here and elsewhere) routinely tell us the impact of their proposal is a relatively small amount on a given home. They also routinely provide examples of low value houses. For example, Rocket Homes estimates the average value of a home in Cascade County is $305,581, not the $200,000 value that is being used by promoters of the City of Great Falls Safety Levy. Here’s a statement from their web page: “The Great Falls Public Safety Levy will cost approximately $280.11 a year for a home with an assessed market value for tax purposes of $200,000 if milled to the maximum.”
County Safety Levy + $56.00 Per Year
Last November voters approved a County Safety Levy which was promoted by Sheriff Jesse Slaughter and the County Commissioners, majority Republicans. The proposal was for raising $2.46 million annually. The estimated impact of the County Safety Levy on a $300,000 house in Great Falls was $56.00 per year. (As an aside, Sheriff Slaughter got a 35% raise after the levy passed).
Library Levy + $60.00 Per Year
Next up is the local library mill levy which passed this year. This levy added an estimated $60.00 per year to a $300,000 home. It’s important to note that $300,000 of the money from this levy did not go to the library and instead went to the city’s general fund.
Great Falls City Safety Levy +420.00 Per Year If Passed
Next up is Commissioner Rick Tryon’s pet project, the City of Great Falls Safety Levy, which will be decided in November. This is from the Safety Levy website: “Great Falls residents will see an annual increase in their property taxes. When fully implemented, the Great Falls Public Safety Levy will cost approximately $140.06 per year ($11.67 per month) for a home with an assessed market value for tax purposes of $100,000, and $280.11 per year ($23.34 per month) for a home with an assessed market value for tax purposes of $200,000 if milled to the maximum.“ Remember, the average cost of a home in Great Falls is over $300,000. If you use that value, the cost to an average homeowner will be more like $420.
Great Falls Safety Infrastructure Bond +$66.60 Per Year If Passed
But wait, there’s more. In addition, the City is proposing a bond election on the November ballot. The Electric describes the proposed bond election this way: “The bonds may be sold in one or more series, in an aggregate principal amount not to exceed Twenty-One Million One Hundred Seventy-Five Thousand and No/100 Dollars ($21,175,000.00), bearing interest at rates to be determined at the time of the sale, payable semiannually over the term not to exceed twenty years for each series of bonds.”
Depending on the assumptions one makes about the interest rate on the bonds and total valuation of property in the City, the property tax increase will be $66.60 per year for a $300,000 dollar home. https://theelectricgf.com/2023/06/23/city-commissioners-vote-to-send-public-safety-infrastructure-bond-to-the-november-ballot/
How Does all of this affect a below average citizen?
Just for fun let’s take a look at how this state property tax increase affects the property tax of the biggest promoter of the City’s Safety Levy, City Commissioner Rick Tryon. To do this, we took Rick’s house through the www.taxshiftmt.com web based property tax calculator. The value of Rick’s house is considerably below the average value for Cascade County, weighing in at $227,900. Rick’s total property tax increase thanks to the Governor and the Republican legislature is $371.83. Rounding his home value down to $200,000 to simplify the math, Rick will pay an additional $280 per year if the City Safety Levy passes. The Library levy added an additional $40, and the County safety levy added $37. The safety levy bond issuance would add an additional $44.40 per year. Add all that together and it’s an increase of $772 to Rick’s property taxes. In 2022, Rick’s property tax bill was $1962. When all of these changes take effect, it will be about $2734. . .almost a 40% increase in just one year.
State Legislature’s Increase Statewide Average Increase 45%
The Republican Montana Legislature in 2023 was a virtual orgy of tax giveaways to the wealthy and big corporations, while giving the average homeowner the largest property tax increase in recent memory. On average, a Montana homeowner’s property tax increase is 45% thanks to the Legislature and Administration.
Republicans had a supermajority at the legislature, and all Cascade County’s legislative seats are held by Republicans. The county commission and the sheriff are all Republican. Though the Great Falls City Commission is technically non-partisan, Republicans hold a majority on the Commission. Councilman Joe McKenney is a former Republican Legislator. Councilman Eric Hinebauch is Chair of the local Republican Central Committee, and Councilman Rick Tryon, who routinely spews right-wing talking points from his perch as a writer for a local blog and from his seat on the City Commission, has also run for office as a Republican.
Who’s the tax and spend party?
Note: In this article, we are talking about local mill levies, so we want to point out a couple of things. Figuring out the exact impact of mill levies can be difficult, because they usually just allow local jurisdictions to levy up to a maximum. They do not automatically result in a set amount of tax increases. The impact of mill levies also changes over time based on a number of things, including valuation of the jurisdiction’s entire tax base. Bottom line numbers can be squishy. Our figures are mostly taken from articles by The Electric and various websites.
We’re not big fans of Montana Congressman Matt Rosendale. Rosendale is one of the most extreme far-right people in the US Congress. We’re not going to drag you through the long list of wrongheaded things Rosendale has done to embarrass our state on the national stage. It would take too long to read.
Rosendale is engaged in quite a squabble with the Republican overlords who run the state. They don’t like the fact that Rosendale has been talking about running for the US Senate against Jon Tester. Even though Rosendale has not announced his intentions for the Senate seat, the wizards in the Republican war rooms have been consistently undermining him as a candidate. Instead, they have chosen Tim Sheehy, a Minnesota billionaire based out of Bozeman, as their guy, and they want Matt out of the way.
Still, it was surprising to see anti-Rosendale ads streaming on the Roku channel last week. The ads themselves are not remarkable. Typical of political hit pieces. They use darkened film footage (this one of migrants) and pick some obscure vote of Rosendale’s to attack him as “bad on immigration.”
It is remarkable that Rosendale hasn’t even announced his political intentions and these folks are apparently spending a chunk of change to try to keep him out of the race. More remarkable still is that the ads attack him from the right. We thought there wasn’t any room to the right of Rosendale.
The ads are sponsored by Montana Policy Action, a typical means-nothing name for a political hit group. The Principal Officer for the group is a well-known political gunslinger named Jake Eaton from Billings. That’s probably a good clue to who doesn’t want Rosendale running for US Senate (Ahem, The National Republican Senatorial.Committee and its current Chairman, Steve Daines).
(No, this isn’t a photo of Jake Eaton but it gives you the idea)
Eaton founded a consulting group called WDRP Management with his wife, Emily Jones, in 2015. He has also been board chair of the 1776 Foundation which makes money by promoting the bright yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” license plates we see across Montana. His campaign experience includes running Gianforte’s campaign for governor and being “Chief Strategist” for the transition team for Attorney General Austin Knudsen. In 2008 he resigned as Chair of the State Republican Party following a scandal involving challenges to 6,000 voter registrations in Democratic leaning counties. https://flatheadbeacon.com/2008/10/15/gop-executive-director-steps-down/
Eaton attracted attention in 2018 when then Secretary of State, Corey Stapleton, gave Eaton’s company a printing contract for $265,000 for a “rush” printing job. Subsequent reporting revealed that Stapleton hired Eaton’s wife, a Billings Attorney, to represent the Secretary of State’s Office in a lawsuit which cost the state $59,000 (She lost the case). Eaton and his wife had contributed $2,000 to Stapleton’s campaign for Secretary of State in 2016. https://www.mtpr.org/montana-news/2018-10-25/second-stapleton-contract-with-political-ally-revealed
In 2022, Attorney General Austin Knudsen entered a contract with Eaton’s wife for $10,000 per month to supervise and provide “mentorship” and litigation services. Despite being a contractor, she was listed in the agency directory as assistant attorney general. https://montanafreepress.org/2023/02/08/ags-office-looks-for-budget-boost-re-inks-contract-with-outside-counsel/
From the Governor’s Office, to the Attorney General, to the Secretary of State, Eaton is a sleazy campaign operator. Now he is setting his sights on Matt Rosendale. Not sure we care who wins this one, but our money is on Rosendale.
Great Falls, Montana.
Last week, our own Jasmine Taylor submitted an ethics complaint against Great Falls City Commissioner Rick Tryon. It’s a fact-filled delight, so we know you want to check it out. Here it is in its entirety. Do you think the complaint has validity? Let us know in the comments.
The Ethics Complaint:
Please consider the following a formal complaint of potential ethics violations by City Commissioner Rick Tryon. All information contained within is based on information and belief. In the interest of brevity, I have included hyperlinks of relevant articles. The following are only a small sampling of relevant examples, however a thorough examination of all Tryon’s authorship in connection with his employer should be undertaken as part of a formal investigation into this complaint.
Issue 1: Employment Relationship Between Tryon and Stray Moose Productions
During his tenure as City Commissioner, Rick Tryon has concurrently maintained an employment relationship with Stray Moose Productions. Tryon has written numerous articles for a blog, E City Beat. Although E City Beat was not previously a registered business name in the state of Montana, it appears that E City Beat is owned and operated by Stray Moose Productions. As seen below, E City Beat’s contact information indicates emails are directed to Straymoose.com.
Further, Tryon’s LinkedIn profile lists him as an employee of Stray Moose Productions. Tryon notes that he is the “Information Systems Consultant” and has worked for Stray Moose Productions since 1999. Therefore, it appears that an employment relationship exists between Tryon and Stray Moose Productions, which logically extends to E City Beat. E City Beat allows for paid advertising on their website, and likely generates income for its owners.
Although Tryon undoubtedly maintains his rights to free speech while serving on the Commission, he is also bound by the standards laid out in the City of Great Falls’ Code of Ethics.
Tryon’s employment by Stray Moose Productions and his contributions to the blog, E City Beat, appear to be in violation of the following ethical codes:
2.21.050 – Ethical standards.
In addition to complying with the provisions of Mont. Code Ann. Title 2, Chapter 2, officers and employees of the City of Great Falls shall comply with the following provisions:
- 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;
- No officer or employee shall act in his or her official capacity in any matter where he or she, a member of his or her immediate family, or any business organization in which he or she has an interest, has a direct or indirect financial or personal involvement that might reasonably be expected to:
- impair his or her objectivity or independence or judgment, or
- substantially conflict with the proper discharge of officer or employee’s governmental duties;
- 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;
Regarding 2.21.050(A), and of particular concern is the relationship between Tryon’s authorship for E City Beat and his ability to faithfully carry out the duties of a City Commissioner. Blog viewership generates advertising revenue. Blog contents, headlines, and stories undoubtedly draw viewership which directly affects the revenue of the blog. Topics that are salacious and controversial may draw larger viewership. Therefore, it is advantageous for authors to write in such a manner, and cover such topics, that will create the greatest amount of engagement for the business.
Tryon has discussed multiple high-profile issues occurring within the city on his blog. In fact, while Great Falls has worked to address the housing crisis, Tryon wrote multiple articles about this very topic. It is a substantial conflict for a city official to dually vote on city actions, ordinances, and even lawsuits while also profiting from and authoring media coverage about these issues. The employment relationship between Tryon and Stray Moose Productions appears to directly conflict with 2.21.050(C1-2). Tryon’s employer benefits financially from increased viewership. Therefore, Tryon’s employment appears to directly obfuscate his objectivity, independence, and judgement. If Tryon’s articles, in which he openly identifies himself as a City Commissioner, are reviewed by his employer, it is entirely possible that a business (Stray Moose Productions) is crafting narratives about city issues, with a city commissioner as the attributed author. Tryon cannot simultaneously act independently and objectively while writing about city issues on a blog for which he works, and about issues on which he is voting. This very same issue also conflicts with 2.21.050(D) which expressly forbids private employment or service which may prejudice independent judgment in the exercise of official duties. Below are just four examples of Tryon writing seemingly in his official capacity as City Commissioner, on a blog which generates revenue, and appears to be owned by Tryon’s employer:
Issue 2: Conduct Unbefitting the Public Trust
The employment relationship between Tryon and Stray Moose Productions itself is concerning and worthy of investigation. However, even absent an employment relationship. Tryon’s conduct as a contributing author on E City Beat violates other ethical standards.
The most significant ethical violations exist when examining Tryon’s writing under the lens of 2.10.030 (B-D)
2.21.030 – Purpose and authority.
It is the purpose of this chapter to provide a method of assuring that standards of ethical conduct for officers and employees of the City of Great Falls shall be clear, consistent, uniform in their application, enforceable, and to provide those officers or employees with advice and information concerning possible conflicts of interest which might arise in the conduct of their public duties. Such ethical standards shall inspire and stimulate each officer and employee to: […]
- Affirm the dignity and worth of the services rendered by government and maintain a constructive, creative and practical attitude toward urban affairs and a deep sense of social responsibility as a trusted public servant;
- 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
- Recognize that the chief function of local government at all times is to serve the best interests of all of the people.
Examining first Tryon’s conduct in relation to 2.21.030(B) and 2.21.030(D), Tryon has made multiple public statements that do not indicate a “deep send of social responsibility as a trusted public servant.” One poignant example is the below article Tryon authored for E City Beat. After Neo Nazis littered a neighborhood with antisemitic and anti-trans flyers, Tryon erroneously accused the Great Falls Tribune as mischaracterizing this literature. As seen below, Tryon clearly identifies himself as a City Commissioner at the end of his article. Matters of public safety, including adherence to governmental laws regarding discrimination, are well within the purview of the city commission. It is a direct conflict for Tryon to address such matters on behalf of his employer, and even worse to abuse the public trust and openly disenfranchise members of the LGBTQ+ community who were deeply affected by this hate literature.
Tryon’s article can also be read here: https://ecitybeat.com/tribune-misreports-that-anti-trans-flyer-was-distributed-in-great-falls/. Tryon cannot “serve the best interest of all of the people” while writing articles that ignore transphobic rhetoric, or the targeting of LGBTQ+ community members by hate groups.
Even more concerning than Tryon’s more broad discriminatory statements is Tryon’s consistent targeting and harassment of local citizens that disagree with him. Tryon has continually and consistently used E City Beat to disparage and humiliate citizens that disagree with him. Many of these citizens have never run for public office, nor would they be considered a “public figure” by an interpretation of the definition.
Below are just two examples of Tryon naming public citizens in articles where he openly disparages them for disagreeing with him.
Tryon’s actions are a clear violation of 2.21.030(C) which requires Tryon to “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.” Perhaps the most telling example of Tryon’s violating the public trust is Tryon’s E City Beat article in which he includes an email sent to him from a constituent. You can read the full article here: https://ecitybeat.com/ban-gas-stoves-in-great-falls/.
Tryon cannot reasonably maintain public trust when he is willing to share emails sent to him in his capacity as a City Commissioner for fodder on his blog. It is wholly unacceptable for Tryon to make community members who contact him in his official role the subject of public derision. Tryon clearly abuses his position when he not only degrades those who disagree with him, but also seeks to humiliate those who reach out to him in earnest. The below screenshots show Tryon’s article, in which he again clearly identifies himself as a City Commissioner.
Tryon’s authorship on E City Beat has significantly undermined the honor and integrity of the commission and has diminished the respect and confidence of the public in his ability to perform his duties. It is incumbent upon the City of Great Falls to uphold its code of ethics, including fully investigating the employment relationship between Tryon and Stray Moose Productions/E City Beat. Further, Tryon’s attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, the unhoused, and multiple private citizens should be considered grounds for his expulsion from the City Commission. Such conduct is not only unbefitting a public servant, but also in clear violation of the city’s Code of Ethics.