After a lively couple of weeks, the City has decided — in advance of its previously scheduled March 6 meeting — that the Children’s Museum will not have to pack up and move, at least for now. The fiasco surrounding the CMOM highlighted a larger issue, though: the City’s desire to grow our government.
Let’s take a look at some recent statements made by City officials. Here’s Mayor Kelly, on February 17 in the Tribune:
Great Falls Mayor Bob Kelly said, ‘It would be silly to start a big construction project if the museum comes to us when the lease expires in ’18 and says they’ve outgrown the space.’
Here’s Kelly again, 10 days later, via KRTV:
‘We have a couple things that are happening. One right now is we have additional personnel that we need to hire for Marcy’s Law. Our legal department is getting squeezed out right now, ideally we would like to have them all together. The other thing we have added some personnel to our Planning and Community Development group. We have also hired a human resources person and we are looking to group those folks together, as well as out risk managers,’ Kelly explained.
City Attorney Sara Sexe commented that it is dysfunctional trying to supervise the prosecutor’s office since it is separated from the civil department. She further commented that it would be helpful to have a well functioning department all under one roof. City Attorney Sexe reported that once Marsy’s law becomes effective it will enhance the level of involvement between the two departments. She noted that the Assistant City Attorney is currently utilizing the Human Resource Director’s office space.
Also, and from the same meeting:
City Manager Greg Doyon reported that the impact of Marsy’s Law will fundamentally change the operation of the legal department.
That’s a lot of generalized talk about Marsy’s Law, so one naturally wonders how many new employees the City will hire to cope with its requirements. Well, if the City hires the same amount of staff as Billings, a community twice the size of Great Falls, the number of new employees would be exactly… one.
Brooks said he plans to ask the city council for one new employee, at $66,000 per year plus an additional $2,000 for a computer and equipment, to comply with the law. For 10 years, his office has received no additional staff, and other Montana communities, including Bozeman, Great Falls, Gallatin County and Missoula County, are requesting new employees ranging from one half-time employee (Bozeman) to two employees (Missoula County).
Honestly, how responsible would it be, then, for the City to invest in “a big construction project,” or to take over a facility as large as the Children’s Museum? And why does there seem to be such fervor within City Hall to grow government? Does anyone think that Great Falls is experiencing population growth at a rate commensurate with this proposed growth in bureaucracy? How many additional HR staffers does the City intend to hire, and moreover, do they really need to hire any at all? We certainly don’t hear this type of “big government” rhetoric from the Cascade County Commissioners.
It is possible that one day the City of Great Falls will find itself in a position that necessitates a larger municipal campus. Our region’s economic outlook, however, is not especially rosy. Great Falls is an ag community, and is bolstered by oil patch activity. Agricultural commodity prices have tanked, and so have oil prices. By and large, and over the course of decades, Great Falls’ population has grown very little. It would be laughable to forecast a significant population surge anytime soon.
Maybe, then, the City should focus on improving the government it has now, rather than on the larger government it wishes to have. Last we checked, the golf courses are bleeding money, the swimming pools don’t sustain themselves, the parking program is a loser, and taxes and fees keep going up, up, up…
Maybe more government isn’t the answer.