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.