If we really want to change the ‘negative narrative’ about Great Falls then we need to address the actual reasons for that narrative. There’s no better place to start than the ethics and conflicts of interest problems that have plagued the Great Falls city commission for a long time.
Let’s do a quick review of some recent examples of whats wrong and why so many citizens are losing trust in our city commission. Keep in mind these examples are merely the tip of the iceberg. There are deeper and far more troubling examples which will be explored in future articles, but the following will suffice for now.
Commissioners ‘Pet’ Projects
At the April 2, 2019 city commission meeting and vote on the issue, Commissioner Owen Robinson revealed that he and Commissioner Moe had been secretly meeting with a group called Animals First to discuss plans for a partnership between the city (taxpayers) and Maclean Cameron Animal Adoption Center. After lots of public outcry about conflicts of interest and backroom dealings the commission was forced to revisit the issue.
Unfortunately, and almost unbelievably, according to a report from KFBB News neither Robinson or Moe seem to have gotten the message, “During this waiting period, two city commissioners Owen Robinson and Mary Moe continued their work looking into a potential joining of the GFAS MacLean adoption center.”
Here’s a novel idea for Robinson and Moe – instead of secret meetings with GFAS MacLean’s board members to negotiate a merger between them and the city animal shelter, why not invite them to a city commission work session to discuss the issue in public?
See, that way the taxpayers who pay for ALL of the city’s facilities and resources can have the benefit of transparency and an official record.
Houck’s Ethics Panel Debut
On February 6 of this year the newly constituted Great Falls Ethics Panel met to deliberate on an ethics complaint concerning Tracy Houck. No surprises there.
But here’s something that is surprising – according to the city information packet concerning this hearing, “The City has retained outside legal counsel Jordan Crosby, of Ugrin Alexander Zadick,P.C., to represent and advise the Ethics Committee during the hearing.”
The Zadick partner in the law firm hired with your tax dollars is Gary Zadick, who is a past board member of Paris Gibson Square and the husband of Nancy Zadick. Nancy Zadick is the president of the Board of Directors for Paris Gibson Square. Tracy Houck is the paid Executive Director for Paris Gibson Square.
Of course, this is no reflection on either of the Zadicks, who are both longtime active members of our community.
It is however a questionable decision by the City of Great Falls to retain legal counsel to advise the ethics panel on an ethics complaint against a city commissioner who is employed by the wife of a partner in that firm.
Additionally, three months later there are still no posted minutes on the city website from that 2/6/19 Ethics Panel hearing in which Houck was found to have engaged in the appearance of an ethical violation. Where’s the transparency? We have to do better.
The solution going forward? Zero tolerance for conflicts of interest in our city government and a demand for transparency and honesty at all times.
Here are three action items to help solve some of the problems discussed here.
- Prohibit any employee or board member of any organization receiving taxpayer funds or resources from serving on the committee/board that recommends or approves allocation of those funds or resources.
- Require all local elected and appointed public officials to fill out and sign annual conflict of interest forms and agreements.
- Require the mayor and city commissioners to make public on the city website a list of any of their personal potential conflicts of interest. This would include business/professional associations and clients, personal and family member affiliations with organizations who lobby the city for resources, and campaign donors who do business with the city or seek official consideration from the Commission.