Is The Great Falls City Commission Irrelevant?


I have heard several statements from folks recently such as, “the Mayor is mostly ceremonial and doesn’t really have any influence” and “the Great Falls City Commission is just a technicality, the city manager has all of the power.”


These kinds of misconceptions are not only wrong but they are also part of the reason that Great Falls struggles to remain stagnant, because they lead to apathy and cynicism. Why should folks give a rip about our city elections if the outcome is inconsequential?

Why vote? Why not just treat our municipal election like a popularity contest, high school prom royalty, or a vote for ‘The Nicest Smile In Town’?

If the City Commission doesn’t matter then why have an election at all?

Well, because it does matter – a lot. The City Commission is equivalent to the legislative body for Great Falls and the City Manager is equivalent to the Executive. Equivalent, but not exactly the same, because the City Commission is also responsible for hiring, evaluating and negotiating the terms of employment for the Executive, our City Manager.

In addition, the City Commission is charged with approving major expenditures, setting development and growth policy and direction, voting on city ordinances, approving a budget etc. All of that and plenty more.

None of us should be apathetic about any election, including our city election, in fact, especially our city election. If we want to see our town live up to its full potential then we need to be engaged and informed about what our local government does.

This stuff matters. It really, really matters.



Posted by Rick Tryon

Rick Tryon is an entrepreneur, a singer-songwriter, and is currently serving a four year term as a Great Falls City Commissioner. Helping Montana become an even greater place to live, play and work is Tryon's passion.

Reader interactions

4 Replies to “Is The Great Falls City Commission Irrelevant?”

  1. Kathy Meadors July 16, 2019 at 5:06 PM



  2. Nancy Hampton July 16, 2019 at 8:53 PM

    Is there going to be a candidate forum/town hall open to questions from the audience?


  3. I don’t think the City Commission is irrelevant by design, but I believe the Commission sometimes allows itself to be irrelevant in practice.

    The Commission should establish policy and lead the community. The City Manager should execute that policy, and follow the Commission’s lead. In that way, the voters’ will is reflected in the Commission’s direction and, therefore, the City’s direction.

    The problem, though, is that our Commission is unpaid and somewhat a ‘volunteer’ position. Commissioners also have their own full-time jobs. The executive and “staff,” on the other hand, are typically full-time employees. You tell me who is going to be more knowledgeable about the intricacies of day to day City policy?

    Thus, the paradigm gets turned on its head. The Commission, often comprised of Commissioners who are frantically trying to balance their roles as Commissioners with their other lives, are often playing ‘catch-up’ with staff. Thus, the Executive and staff set the policy, and the Commission becomes a rubber-stamp. Not all Commissioners on all issues, but often.

    The same thing often happens on citizen participation boards at all levels of government, as well as charity organizations. We involve them to get citizen input, but it often ends up instead merely providing ‘cover’ for full-time staff to do what they want. It takes a really good executive to always be cognizant of this issue, and make sure s/he is doing the board’s will, rather than vice-versa. Gary Owen at the United Way of Cascade County was the best I’ve ever worked with in this regard.


    1. Well said Gregg!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *