I’ve been asked by several Great Falls citizens why the City’s 2013 Growth Policy advocates support for the Big Sky Country National Heritage Area, Inc.
Simple answer: it doesn’t.
There is absolutely nothing in the 2013 Growth Policy that states support for the Big Sky Country National Heritage Area, Inc.
(here is the reference, you can also find more on the issue in a previous ECB article here)
Nor does the document anywhere state that it is the “goal” or policy of the City of Great Falls to advocate for or support the BSCNHA, Inc.
The Growth Policy very briefly and in very general terms mentions an interest in an NHA, National Heritage Area, designation for the Missouri River corridor.
That is totally different from the BSCNHA, Inc. stated purpose, which is to acquire a federal NHA designation for the ENTIRETY OF CASCADE COUNTY AND PART OF CHOTEAU COUNTY.
I have two concerns about the public perception that the City of Great Falls in it’s 2013 Growth Policy supports and promotes the efforts of BSCNHA, Inc. when the document clearly does nothing of the kind:
- BSCNHA, Inc. has goals that go far beyond the jurisdictional boundaries of the City of Great Falls.
- There are a great many individuals and organizations in Great Falls who strongly oppose the goals of BSCNHA, Inc.
Three of the four City appointees to the City/County Historical Preservation Advisory Commission are also on the board of the Big Sky Country National Heritage Area Inc. executive board.
At the June 1, 2021 Great Falls City Commission meeting I did my best to make sure that two of those folks were not reappointed to the HPAC, Rich Ecke and Ellen Sieverts. That effort failed in a 4 to 1 vote in favor of reappointment.
Does that mean I think that the folks reapplying for the HPAC are bad people or that they have bad intentions or that I’m accusing them of misconduct? Not at all. On the contrary, I think Mr. Ecke and Ms. Sieverts are good people with noble intentions.
But it’s not about them. It’s also not about me.
It’s about avoiding even the appearance of a conflict of interest so that Great Falls citizens can have trust in local government rather than being cynical and apathetic due to the perception of cronyism.
The BSCNHA is a private non-profit group dedicated to turning all of Cascade County and part of Choteau County into a designated national heritage area.
The cross pollination between the City/County appointed board and a private corporation’s board, BSCNHA, Inc., presents the appearance of a conflict of interest in my opinion.
The City of Great Falls and it’s appointed advisory boards should remain neutral in this matter in my opinion.
There are a great many local folks and organizations that oppose the BSCNHA, and our city appointed boards should represent ALL of our citizens rather than the narrow agenda of a private organization like BSCNHA, Inc.
Our public HPAC is not neutral in this matter. In fact it is obvious that the HPAC board is acting as an extension of the advocacy arm of BSCNHA.
This issue deserves a lot more public scrutiny and attention and I intend to continue to help that effort along.