An Open Letter To City Commissioner Mary Moe

Dear City Commissioner Mary Moe:

It was about Columbus Day, and I was seriously asking.

I first asked it on Facebook on October 11. Around the same time, the same text appeared in the Tribune as a letter to the editor. On December 7, I reposted it on E-City Beat. Four days later, I followed up with yet another post, asking:

“Should the citizens of Great Falls expect Mary Moe to pursue and advance such a policy to selectively rewrite history and act as judge and jury for naming rights and the rescission of existing historic acknowledgements?”

And what was your response to my legitimate inquiry? Crickets.

Perhaps it is inconvenient for you, as an elected official, to have to answer policy questions from constituents. All the same, I have been asking — for over three months now — first as a voter and now as a constituent, a question that you curiously refuse to answer, despite its straightforwardness: as a city commissioner, what should be the city’s monument policy?

As a legislator, and to a sympathetic audience in the Montana Cowgirl blog, you called for an end to Columbus Day as we know it. Fair enough. You and I, along with others on both sides, can agree to disagree.

But I can’t help but wonder… what is the logical bounds of your virtue signaling? In other words, Columbus was a “brutal maniac” as you write, but Merriwether Lewis and William Clark, both so central to the historical and cultural heritage of Great Falls, were slaveowners. Clark in particular was a brutal slaveowner who badly mistreated his “property.” Does that not also bother you? If it is morally upright to legislate an end to Columbus Day, shouldn’t local governments also do whatever feasible to eradicate monuments against, you know, slavery? Oh, and by the way, just overlooking city offices in Gibson Park (and on city property) stands a statue of Captain John Mullan:

Keith Petersen’s book, John Mullan: The Tumultuous Life of a Western Road Builder, asserts that John Mullan was a racist. He was upset that the Civil War was being waged on behalf of African Americans and slavery rather than maintaining the union, yet also felt that secession was a “fraud” and that war would only lead to devastation. He believed that government was “a white man’s government” and that laws should be written “by white men, for the benefit of white men.” He believed “negro suffrage was forced upon the people”, opposed Asian immigration (except for commercial purposes, such as coolie labor), and opposed naturalization of Asian immigrants. “There is no way to whitewash Mullan’s racism,” historian Keith Petersen has written. “Even for his time and that place, his opinions were vile”

Will you crusade against Mullan, too? Where do you personally draw the line? From a policy standpoint, if the killing of others should earn symbolic disqualification from the Montana Capitol (and presumably, from the Civic Center chambers as well), shouldn’t a similar standard apply for monuments inexorably tied to the the enslaving and torturing of other human beings? In your estimation, should Great Falls embrace or abandon its past — one discovered and developed in part by its slave-beating masters? I would sincerely like to know.

Lest anyone think this isn’t a small matter that you’re not personally invested or conversant in, I would remind them that in your bid for city commission, you dedicated an entire section to monuments on your campaign website: “Refining Our Processes” (I love the title, by the way)…

“We recently saw several examples of cities tearing down monuments in the heat of the reaction to the events in Charlotte, NC. [Author’s Note: I believe you meant Charlottesville, Virginia, but please correct me if I’m wrong. Many people confuse the two locales.] Having written policies for establishing and/or discontinuing such memorials forces a community and its governing body to take a step back from the emotion of the moment and apply the standards created for such a situation in the cool voice of reason. Does the City of Great Falls have a naming policy for monuments and memorials on city property? We should – and the policy should provide guidance for how that honor might be rescinded.”

OK, then. So using “the cool voice of reason” (and/or, your own personal standard of moral relativism), would you mind imparting to me and the rest of your constituents exactly what the city’s monuments policy should look like?

I’ve been asking for three months now, and you’ve said nothing. And it’s not just me. I’ve received dozens of comments from folks across the political spectrum who would simply like to know where you stand. I also know you’re reading this blog. Two days ago, Angry Reader Dennis Granlie popped off with another ad hominem drive-by (thanks for your substantive contribution as always, Mr. Granlie), one that you “liked”:

I realize it’s easier to passive-aggressively join in league with one’s ideological tribemates on social media as you did here than to earnestly articulate an actual position. Bravo. But as a concerned citizen and taxpaying constituent of the City of Great Falls, I would rather hear from you where you actually stand on an issue — this issue. We may (again) agree to disagree, but I think you owe the public a substantive and honest explanation of your position.

I sincerely hope that, on this if nothing else, we can at least agree.

Very truly yours,

Philip M. Faccenda

Posted by Philip M. Faccenda

Philip M. Faccenda is an AIA award-winning architect and planner. He is the Editor-in-Chief of E-City Beat.

Reader interactions

15 Replies to “An Open Letter To City Commissioner Mary Moe”

  1. LOL good catch. What happened in “Charlotte, NC” was terrible. But wait, isn’t Mary Moe supposed to be so much smarter than everyone else?


  2. Mr. Faccenda, although I read your letter to the editor in the Tribune, the Tribune guidelines for rebuttals did not allow me the space needed to respond. I have not been aware of your attempts on social media to reach me. For some reason, I got this one on Facebook. The other ones you reference I have not.

    My telephone number and email address were prominently displayed on my campaign website and campaign materials, so if you really wanted a thoughtful and respectful exchange, you could have contacted me directly. But you didn’t then and you don’t now. You just want to fight. For those who don’t, here’s my one contribution to the pot Mr. Faccenda keeps stirring.

    The study of history is only valuable to the extent that it is true. Often that truth does not reveal itself for some time and, when it does, our understanding of history should expand to include it. That is what I supported in my Montana Cowgirl column on the compromise bill our Native American legislators proposed to include a celebration of their heritage in the traditional celebration of Columbus’ “discovery” of America.

    I had no campaign platform on monuments because it was not a priority or even a thought motivating my campaign. My priorities were outlined in considerable detail on my website and in the two public forums in which I participated. The issue of monuments did not come up in either of them.

    For the record, I do not support tearing down monuments, although if a particular group feels that a particular monument is hurtful and or harmful to them, I would listen to learn. As with anyone who comes before the commission, they deserve to tell their story, and because I have not walked in their shoes, I need to be open to learn from it. I learned that lesson many years ago, when I ultimately supported the elimination and replacement of the word “squaw” in Montana placenames. I hadn’t realized until I heard the proponents’ testimony how degrading the word is. And when you’re dealing with a placename, there is no way to compromise. You either continue to ask Native American Montanans to accept having their women routinely described in the most offensive possible way (and imply to all Montanans that it’s OK) or you change to some less hurtful term. Montana’s legislature chose the less hurtful route. I think they did the right thing.

    I believe that compromise is possible on most memorials and because it provides both the old understanding and a more complete modern one, it allows you to learn even more from history. For that reason, I supported the retention of the Helena memorial with the plaque explaining the context in which it was memorialized. But Helena waited too long to put the compromise plaque in place, the issue blew up, they had no policy that to guide them, and ultimately they decided to take it down. In that case, as in the case with the compromise bill the Native Americans proposed last session, about which I wrote in Montana Cowgirl, I supported broadening our understanding of history to recognize not only the history written by “the winning side,” by keeping the monument or the celebration of the “discovery,” but also to recognize the history that was suppressed in that original telling and the people who continued to feel suppressed by its inaccuracy.

    I don’t find arguing on social media productive, so this is all I have to say on this subject.


  3. Hi Mary,

    Thanks for writing in. I will respond to your comments tomorrow.

    Happy Sunday!

    Philip M. Faccenda


  4. A very pertinent question you have been asking for quite some time Phillip. I do believe that you will never get a substantive answer from Commissioner Moe. You will only get an answer that fits Moe’s agenda, not her constituents.


  5. Hi Buck,

    Just about all of the questions I asked (actually, I think ALL of them) went unanswered by Commissioner Moe. That will be the fulcrum of tomorrow’s piece. Thanks for writing in! I certainly don’t want to “fight,” but noted time and again that it’s possible she and I might agree to disagree … nevertheless, you can see my words, you can see her’s, and you will see mine tomorrow!

    Happy Sunday!

    Philip M. Faccenda


  6. J. C. Kantorowicz January 14, 2018 at 4:49 PM

    The sad truth is that Moe once elected to the Legislature decided to walk away from her commitment. I fully expect that she will do the same with the City Commission. Remember, “you people” elected her and “you people” will have to live with that decision.

    Thankfully, this is not Helena where heartstrings are shirt sleeve material. I fully expect that those of us who would rather learn from history and not relive it….. Will quite vocally and forcefully oppose ANY AND ALL attempts at destroying historical monuments. Such destruction is blatant, socialist stupidity and will be opposed and treated as historical vandalism regardless of elected official’s support.


  7. Mary… Thank you for actually responding. What I search for when I look to elected officials is a more public presence. I understand you do not feel that discussion on social media or in the news is productive however I feel that perhaps for us to better understand your reasoning we need to have public posts and discussion.

    I stand firm that we should not remove memorials although if you think we should add to a memorial to give an extra part of history I can go along with that.

    Would you also then open your public Facebook page up to interactivity or are you firm on not responding on social media?

    Thank you for your time Commissioner Moe


    1. Chris, I appreciate your interest. Call me any time. My number’s on the commission page. 868-9427. Don’t call tonite. Depending how the Saints-Vikings game goes, we’ll either be celebrating or in mourning.


  8. To Mary Moe:

    Why do you hold the belief that asking questions and expecting answers is “wanting to fight” and “stirring the pot?” Is that any way for a city commissioner to react when someone wants answers? Accusing someone of wanting to fight or stirring the pot, by the way, is a way to stonewall meaningful exchange.

    You stated, “My telephone number and email address were prominently displayed on my campaign website and campaign materials, so if you really wanted a thoughtful and respectful exchange, you could have contacted me directly.”

    So now you’re blaming Faccenda for not contacting you privately on this matter. I think he, and many others, wanted to hear YOUR views and stand on this from YOU, not second-hand through a conversation you would have with him privately.

    You also stated, “I had no campaign platform on monuments because it was not a priority or even a thought motivating my campaign.”

    You have already expressed your views on the Cowgirl blog. You may not have “run” on that issue, but according to your column, those are your views nonetheless. Since we have historic statues and other historically-named items in this town, your views are relevant when you were a city commission candidate and also now, as city commissioner. Your views did have the ability to impact your campaign and do have bearing on your work as city commissioner. Therefore, Faccenda’s questions were appropriate.

    The fact that you didn’t include your views about this in your platform, when you had already expressed them on the blog, seemed like a fence-sitting move if I’ve ever seen one. Keeping others that may not agree with you in the dark about your stance on the political correctness of names and monuments, benefited you with some voters, who would not have voted for you had they known your stance. Indeed, I’ve heard from some of those voters. Yes, that makes you a good politician, but not necessarily a good leader.


  9. “I don’t find arguing on social media productive, so this is all I have to say on this subject.”

    Because it won’t “produce” transparency (missing before the election) about our public officials’ positions on these issues?

    Because it won’t “produce”an opportunity for voters to understand your positions?

    Because it won’t “produce” discussions that can lead to compromise?

    It sounds like our new City Commissioner is not used to tolerating opposing points of view: I’ll tell you what I think, and that’s the end of it.

    Because shut up.


  10. […] and perhaps against all odds, I was able to suss out an actual response from City Commissioner Mary […]


  11. I see you are still using the “rewrite history” sound bite. No one is rewriting history as a result of monuments being taken down. The history is still there. Heck, you can read all about history in books as no one is rewriting or removing history books.


  12. Really? “No one is rewriting or removing history books,” you say?

    You must be living under a rock. Just Google “rewriting history,” “revisionist history” or something similar and there are numerous examples. With all the examples out there, it seems to me there’s been an increase the rate of incidences of “historical sanitation;” not just with the monuments coming down, but in school history textbooks, banning of books, etc. all in the name of political correctness.

    I think our former Secretary of State makes a great point:
    “When you start wiping out your history, sanitizing your history to make you feel better, it’s a bad thing.”
    Condolezza Rice


  13. Wow. I theenk that we’re not talking about history here but hysteria! BIG difference. I’m not exactly a world class historian, but DAMN I’m smarter than most folks posting here who pretend to be! Get yourself a real issue some day. This is silliness! I probably had relatives who fought for the south. Yup. Bohunks! The had their own company. The called them not Jonny rebs, but Jonny rebich! True story. Check it out, geniuses!


  14. Jeni Dodd January 16, 2018 at 5:06 PM

    “Really? “No one is rewriting or removing history books,” you say?”

    Correct. As an actual example, the history of the civil war has not changed. The removal of statues does not change the history of the war. What it does do is add to the history of the war some 150+years later. You may not like the removals but it isn’t rewriting or wiping out history. That claim falls flat factually.


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