Today’s County Commission meeting saw heated discussion of Commissioner Rae Grulkowski’s performance, or rather her failure to perform. Grulkowski is finishing a the remaining two years of a six year term which was originally held by Jane Weber. The puppeteer behind the inane ventriloquist dummy that is Sandra Merchant, Grulkowski has thus far spent her time in office acting as Merchant’s body guard. At public meetings, Grulkowski has prevented Merchant from answering questions, and even tried to stop public comments that were critical of Merchant. It’s no surprise that Grulkowski, like Merchant, is a conspiracy theorist. In fact, she got her pollical start by spreading lies about the proposed National Hertiage Area. The damage she did to our community was so unprecedented and severe that the New York Times featured her in their article “Where Facts Were No Match For Fear.”
From the article:
“Ms. Grulkowski had just heard about a years-in-the-making effort to designate her corner of central Montana a national heritage area, celebrating its role in the story of the American West. A small pot of federal matching money was there for the taking, to help draw more visitors and preserve underfunded local tourist attractions.
Ms. Grulkowski set about blowing up that effort with everything she had.
She collected addresses from a list of voters and spent $1,300 sending a packet denouncing the proposed heritage area to 1,498 farmers and ranchers. She told them the designation would forbid landowners to build sheds, drill wells or use fertilizers and pesticides. It would alter water rights, give tourists access to private property, create a new taxation district and prohibit new septic systems and burials on private land, she said.
None of this was true.”
You can read the entire article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/24/us/politics/montana-misinformation-national-heritage.html
The New York Times put it best when explaining that Grulkowski and her ilk are “divorced from reality” a condition which has clearly impacted her ability to function as a County Commissioner.
On November 7 Cascade County voters struggled to vote in another confusing and poorly administered election. In the run up to the election, voters contacted a volunteer monitoring group, The Election Protection Committee, with a host of problems including some voters who did not receive their ballot in the mail and others who received numerous ballots in the mail. Surprisingly, some voters residing outside the city limits received ballots even though they were ineligible to vote in yesterday’s city election. Ironically, still others were denied a ballot because the Clerk and Recorder’s office could not decipher city boundary lines and erroneously did not believe they were city residents.
When election day arrived, voters discovered they could not obtain a ballot nor deposit their voted ballots at the fairgrounds. For decades, voters could obtain a ballot, replace a damaged or lost ballot or same-day register and vote at the fairgrounds for the municipal election – 108 people showed up yesterday to vote and were sent downtown to the Election Office. In addition, 180 voted ballots were not permitted to be deposited at the fairgrounds, instead voters were instructed to deposit their voted ballots at the Election Office. There, voters encountered difficulties finding parking and long lines because of the limited space. No one knows how many of the people who started their voting journey at the fairgrounds simply gave up and did not vote because of time constraints and inconvenience.
It’s easy to say, “Well, election problems didn’t really matter because of the wide margins between the winning and losing candidates.” Only 73 votes separated Shannon Wilson and Eric Hinebauch in their race for city commission. Sandra Merchant’s foul ups could account for that difference. Just like the school board trustee election last spring, none of these candidates are likely to contest this election (even if they think there were significant errors) because of the potential cost to re-run an election.
That’s all well and good, but the next elections Merchant will oversee include all of the state-wide offices and a US Senate and Congressional Races. These campaigns will have the resources to challenge any problems they see. The truth is Sandra Merchant’s incompetence could determine the control of the US Senate in the next general election. And that is a scary thought.
The Election Protection Committee released the following statement this evening detailing numerous issues with the Great Falls Municipal Election.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, November 6, 2023
From: Election Protection Committee
Municipal Election Problems Raise Voter Suppression Concerns
GREAT FALLS – Election day in Great Falls was plagued with widespread confusion, resulting in numerous voters being turned away at the Expo Park. Sandra Merchant failed to make any effort to inform local media and the general public that voting would only take place at the Courthouse Annex building. For over a decade, election day voting has taken place at the Expo Park. Merchant rented the Expo Park but inexplicably chose to use the location for vote counting only. Volunteers with the Election Protection Committee spent the day monitoring issues at both locations. Volunteers note that by 4:30pm at least eighty-five (85) voters had been turned away from voting at the Expo Park and told to go to the Annex. Individuals brought 175 ballots to Expo Park and were told they had to deposit them at the Annex. Voters at the Annex reported issues such as not receiving their ballots, and long lines to also prompted some voters to leave without having cast their ballot.
The Election Protection Committee has received many emails from voters with complaints about the municipal election including the ones seen today. Numerous errors have been reported. Merchant’s explanation for these errors and her claim that these issues are resolved is disputable. Reports suggest voters are being disenfranchised, a subtle form of voter suppression.
Complaints run the gamut. Some voters did not receive a ballot in the mail. Some voters received multiple ballots and the explanation from the election office of a “printer jam” cannot be blamed. As Jane Weber, spokesperson for the Election Protection Committee explained, “ a printer jam cannot generate two ballots having different bar codes and different voter identification numbers for the same voter. That is caused by human error in the election office, likely double entries created in the voter database.” More concerning is that both of those ballots could be voted, and the vote tabulator would never detect the error. Weber further explained, “for those who think a hand-count would catch these double ballots, think again, the human eye would never distinguish these subtle differences in the numbers and codes during the signature verification process.”
One household reported they did not receive their ballots. When they visited the election office, they were informed they did not live within the city limits. The voter submitted this email message to the Election Protection Committee, “I am at the election office now and am being told I am designated rural and thus do not qualify for a ballot. In fact, I do reside in the city. I had to insist this issue be escalated to double or triple check. I was just told by one of the county employees here that Sandra Merchant doubled checked this and confirmed my residence is in the city. I’m still in the election office waiting to hear what is next. I feel there are likely many voters being disenfranchised due to errors this election.”
One household reported receiving three ballots for a deceased family member. That might be understandable if one ballot had been sent and if the deceased had recently passed. Weber said, “in this disturbing situation, the individual died the last week of December 2022, and their name should have been removed from the voter database by the current election office administration who assumed their duties just a week later in January 2023.”
One voter who did not receive a ballot visited the election office to determine the problem. The voter was told their ballot was undeliverable. The voter questioned the undeliverable status since ballots had successfully been delivered to the address for decades. When the ballot was retrieved by the election office staff, the street address on the mailing packet had been smeared and was unreadable, clearly a printing issue. The post office returned the ballot to the election office, and no further action was taken by the election staff. BUT, the voter’s name was clearly printed and could easily have been looked up in the voter database. The address label could have been corrected and remailed. INSTEAD, the ballot never arrived and the voter was never notified. Had the voter not taken the initiative to track down their ballot, or if the voter had not been able to take time away from work to visit the election office, the voter would likely not have voted in this election.
The complaints received by the EPC indicate mistakes continue to occur in the election office. The EPC will continue to monitor election errors and reminds voters to contact [email protected] to report ballot issues or concerns.
Weber said, “We will continue to hold Sandra Merchant accountable until safe and secure elections are restored in Cascade County.”
The Blog Formerly Known as E-City Beat Should Change its Name to E-City Whiners
For years the blog formerly known as E-City Beat pushed right-wing propaganda with a healthy dose of personal attacks on anyone they didn’t agree with. But, when WTF406.com began responding and pushing back, E-City Beat writers Phil Faccenda and his pal Rick Tryon began whining and complaining. And like the bullies they are, they have combined whining with a healthy dose of chest thumping.
The most recent example is their attack on the Election Protection Committee (EPC), which is a volunteer group formed because of concerns about our new Clerk and Recorder, Sandra Merchant. She is not only an election denier with a political agenda but is also incompetent at running elections. There are already two lawsuits filed against the county because of errors she made. In addition, a judge ordered the county to provide a monitor to oversee the library mill levy election, and Great Falls Public Schools has requested the County Commission hire a professional election administrator and take the election duties out of the Clerk and Recorder’s office.
None of that concerns Faccenda and Tryon. The reason, as near as we can tell, is that they simply don’t like the people involved in The EPC. They ignore the fact that former Clerk and Recorder Rina Moore and her staff were constantly harassed by the election denier crowd prior to the election. They ignore the fact that virtually all of the staff in the office have been replaced by Merchant’s political cronies (including Randy Pinocci’s wife and daughter). Their recent article on the Election Protection Committee is full of misinformation, slurs and personal insults. Here’s an example from Faccenda’s latest article: “EPC is simply a group of self-appointed vigilantes who view politics as a blood sport where lying, cheating, and stealing are parts of their modus operandi.” Wow! Faccenda is welcome to his opinion and his vitriol, but he apparently doesn’t see the irony in his complaints about people expressing opinions he doesn’t like.
If this was just a one time thing, we wouldn’t bother to write this post. But Faccenda and Tryon have also attacked WTF406.com repeatedly. Mostly because of their long standing vendetta against one of the writers for WTF406, Jasmine Taylor. Faccenda writes in his recent article, “The Chairperson of EPC is the infamous Jasmine Taylor, who is well known for perpetrating dirty tricks against people and organizations that don’t reflect her wacko leftist views.”
We provide you with this link to Jasmine’s blog post challenging Faccenda’s and Tryon’s attack on a school board candidate back in May of 2022. ”After E-City Beat’s bizarre, ill-researched, and oddly sexualized attack on a school board candidate, I’m sitting here considering when (if ever) it is appropriate to discuss a political candidate’s penis. Before last week, I’d have easily said, ‘Never.’ This couldn’t possibly be relevant to a local election.” Yet, after E-city Beat clearly spent significant time staring the candidate’s well, package, it seems the conversation is at hand.” https://wtf406.com/2022/05/the-staggering-hypocrisy-of-e-city-beat/
Faccenda and Tryon are not used to getting challenged, which WTF406 has done repeatedly and consistently. So now they are whining about their free speech rights. No one, including WTF406, has challenged their right to spew Tucker Carlson’s talking points and other crap in their blog. Ironically, the Elections Protection Committee and WTF406 are simply exercising their right to free speech. But Faccenda and Tryon are so busy whining they can’t see their own hypocrisy.
Unfortunately, the PSC has become a feather bed for right-wing activists. And why not. The salary is $111,000 with full state benefits. And because no one supervises the Commissioners, they have plenty of time to devote to playing right-wing politics.
Here are brief bios of each commissioner you won’t find on the PSC website.
Commission President James Brown– Brown is an attorney and Republican political climber. While serving on the Commission in 2022 and drawing full paychecks from the state, Brown ran for the Montana Supreme Court and lost. He was accused of numerous ethics violations for injecting partisan politics into a judicial race, which is a violation of the Judicial Code of Ethics. Brown was also the lawyer for the State Republican Party for sixyears and represented the American Tradition Partnership, a dark money group which was featured in a PBS Frontline expose titled Big Sky, Big Money.
Commission Vice Chair Jennifer Fielder– Elected to the Commission in 2020, Fielder served eight years in the Montana Legislature, developing a reputation as an aggressive opponent of conservation efforts. She also served as the CEO of the American Lands Council which advocates for transferring Federal lands to state and county governments. She also served as the vice chair of the Montana Republican Party. She was a board member of the Sanders County Natural Resources Council which was started in 2006 by Militia of Montana founder John Trochman.
Commissioner Tony O’Donnell– Elected to the Commission in 2016, O’Donnell is term limited and will be leaving the Commission after the 2024 election. He was removed from a national regulator’s organization after telling racially offensive stories using the “N” word. He also ran afoul of the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices when he “loaned” Republican legislative candidate Rod Garcia $3,000 for use in his campaign for legislature.
Commissioner Annie Bukacek– Elected in 2022, Bukacek is an MD but is best known for her far-right activism. She was a leader in the anti-Covid Vaccine movement, organizing and participating in protests while serving on the local Board of Health in Flathead County. She caused another board member to resign. He said he could not serve with Bukacek in good conscience. In 2009 when she was leader of the Montana Prolife Coalition, she came under investigation for her billing practices relating to allegations that she submitted Medicaid reimbursements for time spent praying with patients.
Commissioner Randy Pinocci– What can we say about Pinocci?! He’ll be done with the PSC in 2026. Rather than take up a bunch of space here, you can follow these links for more about Pinocci.
No need to wonder why these people are not very interested or concerned about rate increases for ordinary Montanans. We leave you with this quote from Annie Bukacek regarding the recent 28% rate increase she voted for: “This historic unprecedented increase that people are talking about, it’s $25 to $30 a month. That’s the cost of three to four dozen eggs.” Kind of like Marie Antoinette saying “Let them eat cake”
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More Republican Police Blotter– Pinocci Arrested Again!