Some Thoughts for The City Safety Committee

Some Thoughts for The City Safety Committee

After the previous safety levy for the City of Great Falls failed in the last election by a wide margin, 9,095 no to 5,620 yes, the city went back to the drawing board, beginning by appointing another advisory group to study the issue.  We decided to put out a few thoughts as this advisory begins its work.

Don’t waste a lot of money on polling and/or promotion-  People in the city are already talking about commissioning a poll to find out what people think.  Truth is people have just been hit with large property tax increases.  We don’t need polling and messaging to tell us passing any kind of property tax increase will not be popular.  Make clear what is being proposed and trust people to make their own conclusions.  

Quit Playing Politics with an “Advisory Committee”- It is hard to figure out the logic for the appointments made for this committee.  Apparently there was no application process for citizens who might have been interested in participating.  And no process for deciding what qualifications the City wanted for members.  Worse yet, it appears that political consideration rather than knowledge of related issues was a major driver. The members of the committee are: Sandra Guynn, Mike Parcel, Wendy McKamey, Jeni Dodd, George Nikolakakos, Aaron Weissman, Tony Rosales, Thad Reiste, Joe McKenney and Shannon Wilson.

Separate Fire and EMT funding from Police and Crime- Fire and emergency medical services are fundamentally different from policing.  Wrapping them together in a levy forces voters to take or leave the whole thing.  Very few people have a negative view of the services provided by fire and emergency personnel.  Like it or not the same can not be said of police.

Make Clear Economic Arguments to Justify Increased Taxes- Rick Tryon’s crime task force back in 2021 didn’t do anybody any favors.   It ended up producing a laundry list of expensive items which many citizens did not understand or support.  To the extent the city wants to put an increase in the budgets of the police and local courts, it should emphasize things that save money like jail diversion programs, drug treatment and use of un-armed personnel wherever possible. In the area of fire protection, people should understand that their home and business insurance rates are directly ties to the safety rating of the local fire department.  

 

 

 

Hey Mayor Reeves, Just Quit Digging!

Hey Mayor Reeves, Just Quit Digging!

The first law of holes is, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”   So it is with Great Falls Mayor Corey Reeves, and his refusal to issue a proclamation for Pride Month on behalf of the City of Great Falls.

First a quick recap. June is Pride Month.  Across the country and the state of Montana, the LGBTQ+ community organizes events and celebrations to educate the public about the history of oppression they have faced and to bring people together around the progress that has been made and the work that is yet to do.

Here in Great Falls the LGBTQ+ community requested Mayor Reeves issue a city proclamation acknowledging Pride Month as has been done for numerous other groups in Great Falls.  Reeves refused.  Pretty bad.

But then he went one step further and issued a statement explaining why he refused to issue a proclamation which just dug the hole deeper.  In the typical fashion for homophobia, he denied any form of bias against LGBTQ+ people while refusing them equal treatment.  The statement he issued said, “My goal is to ensure that all citizens are treated with equal respect and dignity, without government interference in personal matters.”  Bad enough but Reeves just kept on digging himself into a deeper hole.  

It is no accident that more than 75 homophobic (and racist) stickers were put up around town following Reeves statements and the resulting controversy.  Hardcore  bigots hide under their rocks waiting for this kind of opportunity to spread their poison.  Thankfully community volunteers are busily finding these stickers and removing them.

Next the Mayor formally issued his new process for proclamations.  The whole thing is poorly worded, contains grammatical errors and is generally confusing and unclear.  But what is clear is that the process is illegal.  He  clearly states that he will deny applications for a Mayor’s proclamation which contain things in the list below. 

Proclamations will not be issued for:

  • Matters of political or religious nature or individual conviction
  • Matters with potential political controversy or which may suggest an official City position on a matter whether or not under consideration or to be voted upon by the City Commission
  • Events or organizations with no direct relationship to the city of Great Falls
  • Matters concerning personal life choices that government should not interfere with

https://greatfallsmt.net/cityclerk/proclamation-request-form 

Aside from being virtually unintelligible, the process says he will consider things like “matters of political, or religious or individual conviction.”  Decisions based on these factors by government entities is prohibited in state and federal civil rights  law.  The Mayor’s thoughtlessness and attempts to justify his actions have exposed the City of Great Falls to litigation.  He just keeps on digging. 

 

We’ll miss you, Dona.

We’ll miss you, Dona.

Former Mayor and lifelong activist, Dona Stebbins, has passed away. We certainly cannot improve upon her beautifully written obituary, which we have included in its entirety below. We’ll miss you, Dona.

View the obituary posting here: Obituary for Dona Russelle Stebbins | Croxford Funeral Home

 

“Dona Russelle Stebbins left for the final curtain on April 26, 2024 after a short illness. Born in Billings Montana to Mary Jane Sage and Glenn Wynne, in her Wonder Bread years she was raised in Miles City by her mother and stepfather Dr. Andy Elting , a veterinarian who instilled her with a lifelong love and dedication to animals. Dona graduated from Custer County High School in Miles City in the class of 1965. It was during this time that she hosted the Spinners Sanctum on the radio in Miles City, the beginning of a creative life behind the scenes, on the stage, and on the microphone.

Early on, Dona recognized her talent for singing and performing and set out for California with fellow musician James Huatala, whom she married but ultimately divorced. They returned to Montana, performing in The Smile Band, Brightside, and Dona James and Jayme. In 1977, a skinny guitar player from Wyoming named Grant Stebbins auditioned for the band in Sommers, Montana, and Dona’s life was never the same. Traveling around the region as the Bitterroot Band, Dona and Grant married in 1981.

Grant and Dona’s daughter Kathryn was born in 1983, and they came in off the road to raise her. Dona tended bar for many local bars, most that are now lost to history. Dona then became an instructor with May Technical College. She later transitioned into media sales with Fisher Broadcasting, where she won the Manning Award numerous times. She would also work for Consumer Press and KFBB television. It was during this period that she met her friend of a lifetime, Susan Johnson.

Dona was highly active in community service and non-profit work in Great Falls, serving for years as a member of the executive committee and editor for Neighborhood Housing (Now Neighbor Works). She also began writing grants and acquired funding for Center Stage Community Theatre, including the grant that funded Center Stage Inc. to purchase and renovate the downtown location of the 111 Central building. She was know for being a fierce and fun director. Known for such elaborate productions including Oliver, Wizard of Oz, Cabaret, Man of La Mancha, and Camelot. She was active in the theater directing and acting in over 35 productions alongside Grant and Kate between 1989-2002. She also performed dinner theater at the Jack Club and Times Square for Phillip Peterson Productions during that time. Dona was a constant when it came to local boards, committees, advisory groups, fundraising and activism. She wanted to impact changes at a larger level, and ran unsuccessfully for State House in 1988. Her interest in political activism continued to grow through her work at Center Stage and Neighborhood Housing, leading Dona to run for Mayor of Great Falls. She served two consecutive terms as Mayor from 2006-2010, where she helped finalize the new U.S. district court house, and led the efforts for the Westbank rehabilitation and development to improve access to and open spaces for families and their pets. As mayor, she was a member of the League of Cities and Towns, traveling to Washington D.C. and Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada to represent the interests of Great Falls. She received the Dorothy Richardson award in 2007 for outstanding service for community development and served on the Blue Ribbon Committee to establish guidelines for Great Falls animal ordinances. As both Mayor and a citizen of the city, she believed strongly in shopping locally, and always supported downtown development. In the end, the list of her accomplishments and accolades cannot reasonably be recounted.

In 2010, Dona retired from active public service, spending her time with the ladies who lunch, the Divas, and her family. She raised a duo of corgis (Lulu & Lola), and traveled with Grant far and wide. For the whole of her life, she was a voracious reader, with a never ending list of books queued on her Kindle. She was dedicated to supporting local authors and local bookstores, so hardcopies also line the bookshelves at home. Ultimately, Dona’s impact is vast; she is remembered as a champion for the voiceless and the marginalized. She fought loudly for rights and protections of women from all walks of life, and was an ally and advocate for the LGTBQ+ community. She is remembered by those who knew her as a decent, classy, and brilliant woman. Who was loyal to a fault, and could be picked out of a crowd for her distinctive laugh, colorful embellishments of family history and her excellent penmanship. She could also never turn down someone in need and could never resist buying a new pair of oversized sunglasses where ever she traveled.

Dona is survived by her husband and partner in adventure, Grant; daughters Breann Lamborn (Dean) of Casper, Wyoming, and Kate Barrett (Matt) of Portland, Oregon; her grandchildren Lily Jane and Maximillian; sisters Debi Huatala (James) of Seaford, Delaware and Dian Bowers (Brock) of Elizabeth, Colorado; several nieces and nephews, dear friends, her corgis and two cats.

The family would like to thank everyone who has reached out with love and memories. Dona was dedicated to making real change, so in lieu of flowers, we request that you please make a donation to the organization of your choice in honor our fierce woman. To share your condolences with the family, please visit www.croxfordfuneralhome.com

Petition To Repeal Election Office Change Flops

Petition To Repeal Election Office Change Flops

Cascade County’s far right was mad as hell when the County Commissioners removed election duties from Sandra Merchant’s control.  Nevermind that Marchant had fouled up virtually everything she touched since taking office in January of 2023.  

When the County Commission held a hearing on Ordinance 23-65, which removed election duties from Merchant’s Clerk and Recorder’s office to the County Commission office, the hearing lasted 7 hours.  Cascade County was treated to a cavalcade of baseless allegations, bible quotes and challenges to Commissioner’s motivation and patriotism.  It was quite a show.  But in the end, Commissioner’s Joe Briggs and Jim Larson stood for competent election administration and placed election administration under the Commission office.  Here’s a summary of that meeting: https://wtf406.com/2023/12/the-grinch-in-great-falls/

In response, these folks organized a petition drive to place the issue on the ballot and give people the opportunity to express their opinion supporting their point of view.  But, alas, they failed.  Not only did the imagined vast majority of supporters not get to vote, signature gatherers couldn’t even get the required 15% of eligible voters to sign the petition to place the measure on the ballot. 

Read our prior coverage here: https://wtf406.com/2024/01/dont-sign-the-petition/

In order to place the measure before voters the organizers had to get approximately 5,500 signatures from registered voters in Cascade County.  But after 90 days signature gatherers only managed to gather 1,242 verified signatures. Less than a quarter of the required number.  So much for a wave of public support for the Merchant/Grulkowski crowd of conspiracy theorists.

Note:  Since starting this blog we have learned that getting public information from Cascade County is incredibly difficult and frustrating.  We found the new election administrator, Terry Thompson, to be an exception.  Our request for information about the signature gathering effort was responded to in a timely manner with complete and accurate information.

Call To Action! Support GF Public Library

Call To Action! Support GF Public Library

As we previously reported, Commissioner Rick Tryon has been relentlessly attacking the library.  Read about those attacks here: https://wtf406.com/2024/01/tryon-ignores-voters-threatens-library-funding/

Funding our library benefits the entire community.  Let’s help protect our library and its vital services by doing one or more of the following action items:

 

The city commissioners have decided to begin negotiations regarding the City/Library management agreement.  The library currently receives city funding through 17 voted mills (passed by voters last June) and 7 mills by agreement (through the management agreement started 31 years ago).  Some commissioners feel the 7 mills would be better utilized for safety funding and are seeking to modify the terms of the agreement to reduce city funding for the library.
 
Should the city require the library to give up the 7 mills, the library will be right back where it started regarding funding. 
 
Voters spoke up for increased library services.  The library is working hard to implement this plan.  Should the library lose 7 mills, your library and your community will suffer.
2. The members of the public attending the Great Falls Public Library Board of Trustee meetings have become exponentially negative-focused and intimidating to the board trustees (volunteers). While it is absolutely everyone’s right and duty to attend public meetings and express their concerns, the opinions expressed do not accurately represent the general population. Our public library and its trustees NEED OUR SUPPORT!
 
Please commit to at least one of the following regularly:
 
1. Attend a GFPL Board Meeting Make comments of support/celebration/feedback OR be a friendly face in the audience.  
 
2Email the GFPL Trustees:.Email Library Director Susie McIntyre,  [email protected]  with the subject line “FOR THE BOARD”
 
3. Email the Great Falls City Commission:
 
4. Encourage your friends and family to attend meetings or email feedback.
5. Attend City Commission meetings and express your desire that they honor the long-standing library funding agreement
Board of Trustee information, meeting times, agendas, minutes and video links:  
 
Upcoming GFPL Board of Trustee Meetings: 
Tuesday, March 26th, 4:30 pm
Tuesday, April 23rd, 4:30 pm
Tuesday, May 28th, 4:30 pm
 
Upcoming City Commission Meetings: 
Tuesday, March 5th, 7:00 pm
Tuesday, March 19th, 7:00 pm
GFPS Office Staff Fight For Fair Contract

GFPS Office Staff Fight For Fair Contract

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.”