Letter To The Editor: BS National Heritage Area

Editors note: the opinions expressed in our letters to the editor do not necessarily reflect the opinions of E-City Beat, our volunteer staff or contributors. All letters to the editor are welcome and will be considered for publication. Please include your name and city of residence and email to ectitybeat@straymoose.com.

I am writing this letter to express my concern with, and opposition to, the Big Sky Country National Heritage Area, Inc (BSCNHA), which would include ALL of Cascade County and part of Chouteau County.   

Every landowner that I have spoken to about the BSCNHA either have NO CLUE what it is or thought that this issue was done after numerous landowners spoke out AGAINST it and formal resolutions were created.  This tells me that public notification is NOT being made.  In fact, BSCNHA, Inc has REFUSED to speak to any person or group that is opposed to their agenda.  BSCNHA, Inc FAILED to include private landowners in the feasibility study that they had done.  Less than 1.7% of impacted residents and/or businesses were aware of this study. 

BSCNHA, Inc management is a private origination with no accountability to voters 

BSCNHA, Inc has a self-appointed board.  

Three of the board members are serving on the county Historic Preservation Advisory Committee (HPAC)..conflict of interest?  With Jane Weber appearing as a guest at every meeting. 

If BCSNHA, Inc does get a NHA passed this board along with state and federal government officials would have direct influence over private property owner’s rights.  They will influence what we can and cannot do with our own property. 

NHA’s cost taxpayers!  To date NO NHA has become self-sufficient thus they are ALL totally dependent on the taxpayer’s money.   I’ll remind you that BSCNHA, Inc board is NOT accountable to the voters. 

I attended a HPAC meeting Wednesday, April 13, 2022.  A discussion took place concerning historical business (PRIVATE) records.  Jane Weber asked “how do we go about MAKING businesses….” 

MAKING ?  Jane is the chair of the BSCNHA, Inc  MAKE…?  If the NHA is created what is she going to MAKE us do?     

Will we all have to have a blue door?  Specific flowers in our yards?  Have to pay to restore a barn on our property that will crumble if a good wind comes along?  Will this board have the right to influence whether we can rent, sell, plant crops? Or if our property becomes an acquisition under eminent domain?   This local corporation and its funding partners can IMPACT our coveted rights!  

BSCNHA, Inc has been conducting business as if the NHA has already been established.  People won’t pay as much attention if they think it already exist.  



This needs to stop!  

I have yet to speak to anyone in favor of this horrible program and governmental overreach. 

I expect action to be taken against any NHA being proposed.  Our landowner rights MUST be protected.   

Ruth Wardell 
Great Falls

Audio Clip: Mayor Kelly Endorses National Heritage Area Now, But Ducked Question Before Ballots Were Sent

On Wednesday this week E-City Beat received an email from a reader which included the following:

“Mayor Kelly strongly supports the proposed Big Sky Country National Heritage Area for all of Cascade County and parts of Choteau County – even though he refused to answer that question for E-city Beat when candidate questionnaires were sent out.

On October 25, one week before the election, Kelly clearly stated his position on a KMON Radio interview. His comment that the “City isn’t the County” indicated in effect that private property owners of Cascade County don’t count, many of whom oppose the proposed BSCNHA – and for him, they don’t.

They can’t vote against him in this City election. And perhaps he felt confident answering that question on KMON Radio since many city citizens have already mailed in their ballot…”

So we looked into it and, sure enough, here’s the audio clip taken from an interview with Bob Kelly on the local ‘Pat & Randy Show’ – KMON 560’s Morning Show on the radio:

Bob Kelly Endorses Big Sky National Heritage Area

If Kelly thinks it’s appropriate to answer a question about the City of Great Falls’ endorsement of and advocacy for the Big Sky National Heritage Area now, why didn’t he think it was appropriate to do so when we asked the very same question in our candidates questionnaire in mid-September?

Our question: Should the City’s official policy regarding the Big Sky National Heritage Area and its agenda be to support, oppose, or remain neutral? The City’s current policy is to support.

Kelly’s response: “Thank you for the opportunity to participate but I will respectfully pass on these questions. Several of these issues  are currently being discussed by the Commission and it would be inappropriate for me to comment due to my current position. Thank you. Bob Kelly“

What changed between mid-September when it was ‘inappropriate’ for Kelly to comment on the BSCNHA and this week when he went out on the airwaves and loudly proclaimed his opinion on the topic?

Our reader’s email, quoted above, gives the obvious answer, “… many city citizens have already mailed in their ballot” .

Local Opposition To National Heritage Area Puts Up Billboards

Montanans Opposing Big Sky Country National Heritage Area have paid for three billboards which are now up at highway entrances to the Great Falls community.

The purpose of the billboards is to help spread awareness of the proposed Big Sky Country National Heritage Area designation.

The proposed National Heritage Area designation would affect all of Cascade County and part of Choteau County.

The communities impacted by the designation would include Loma, Fort Benton, Niehart, Monarch, Ulm, Vaughn, Belt, Simms, Sand Coulee, Black Eagle, Cascade, Eden, Stockett, Sun Prairie, Sun River, Malmstrom AFB, Great Falls, and several Hutterite colonies.

The message from the opposition group is clear: “Together, we will stop the NHA designation!”

National Heritage Area Opponent Rebukes GF City Commission In Email

Editors note: The following email was sent by Montanans Opposing Big Sky Country National Heritage Area leader Rae Grulkowski to all five Great Falls City Commissioners and to E-City Beat on Wednesday.

Mr. Mayor and Commissioners:

Regarding your discussion at the end of meeting of August 3, stating the only reason Montanans oppose a National Heritage Area being private property rights – you deeply misspoke.

To further believe the community would believe the City Commission in interpreting what a National Heritage Area is – Cascade and Chouteau County community members have educated themselves because the entities pursuing designation have not come forward to address their concerns. Additionally, City Commissioners meetings fall under Open Meeting protocol and anyone may speak during Public Comment.

Lastly, yes, there certainly have been City community members speaking of their opposition to establishing an NHA.

If elected officials would simply “listen” when the people they serve are speaking, emotional disgruntlement could be alleviated and progress made toward mutual agreements.

Big Sky Country National Heritage Area, Inc. is completely capable of operating as a private entity, accomplishing City goals, WITHOUT federally designating private property (which entails more than “private property” issues), thus eliminating animosity forever in our community. Think outside your box.

From comments heard, I do not believe many of you read my letter to you, dated 6-08-2021. Please do so. This is not a dead issue.

The Feasibility Study is to be a joint study. The guidelines for the Feasibility Study and statements of engaging community interests are found in the National Park Service Feasibility Study Guidelines and is mentioned in my letter, copied the City Commissioners, dated 7-21-2021, requesting to establish community wide, well-advertised information meetings.

A Feasibility Study is just that – a study to discover feasibility . . . or not. It does not mean pursuit at any costs.

Our discoveries and input (again read my letter and information in packet dated 6-8-2021) demonstrate the idea of an NHA as proposed, is not appropriate.

The private corporation you assisted in forming, is exercising their rights to closed meetings and not providing information nor interaction with the community involved.

This puts you in the position to act as hinge-pin to bring the diversity together for a successful outcome.

FOIA information gained by an inquiry into a simultaneous Kansas/Nebraska NHA effort is currently being shared on our Facebook Page.

Specific documents received demonstrate nefarious activity in establishing federal land designations, with communications containing comments such as, “Not worth our while to have public meetings until Feasibility Study is in motion because they will have to be part of that process.” Please read that again. This was written by the woman who compares to Jane Weber’s current position as Chair of BSCNHA, Inc.

Feel free to visits our Page at Montanans Opposing Big Sky Country National Heritage Area on Facebook. This social media address, you will also find in literature given to you in 6-08-2021 packet.

No need for an agenda item for a Resolution. This is not our goal with approaching the City. We know the outcome already. We request jointly orchestrated (citizen opposing, City Commissioners, BSCNHA, Inc.) well-advertised, community meetings be set in place to paint a clear picture of everyone’s concerns and credits.


Rae Grulkowski
Stockett, MT

Heritage Area Opposition Accused Of Bribery By Commissioner Houck

A friend texted me Friday morning asking if I’d seen the latest Great Falls Tribune article about the National Heritage Area. I admitted I had not. It is behind a paywall, but here’s the link.

After reading the article, I thought this might be a new low for the Tribune—publishing an anonymous hearsay bribery accusation spouted by a Great Falls city commissioner. Actually, it may also be a new low for a Great Falls city commissioner.

In the article, City Commissioner Tracy Houck, who is also a former board member of the Big Sky Country National Heritage Area corporation, states she was “previously approached by someone who said that they were against the Heritage Area and in their conversation that person told her they were being paid by the opposition.”

She adds, “All I would ask is that we have an open dialogue that we have both parties invited to represent.”

I’ve been on the forefront of this NHA opposition since early in 2019. I’ve offered no one money to oppose the NHA nor have I heard of anyone doing so. Of course, I can’t vouch for every individual who opposes this NHA.

Still, an accusation of bribery to smear the NHA opposition is highly suspicious to me.

Unlike the National Heritage Area corporation, the NHA opposition is not a single formal organization; it is a grassroots effort of individuals and organizations opposing the imposition of yet another layer of federal government bureaucracy and the will of a non-governmental organization upon local government entities and private land.

City Commissioner Houck is irresponsibly passing along an anonymous, secondhand accusation of bribery against an unnamed entity or private individual(s) and the Tribune is irresponsibly printing it—that’s unprofessional and unethical for both parties.

Regarding Houck’s comment on meetings, her former organization, BSCNHA Inc, failed to support any open dialogue in their three so-called “community conversations” where the community wasn’t allowed to ask questions or comment during the meetings.

BSCNHA Inc gave presentations to some groups and organizations in order to gain their support, but then listed groups and organizations as potential partners in their Draft Feasibility Study that never expressed support for the NHA, like the Montana Grain Growers.

I and many others don’t want more so-called “community conversations” held by the BSCNHA corporation where members of the public have no voice.

I also don’t want BSCNHA Inc’s idea of an open dialogue where “we have both parties invited to represent” their views. Invited—that’s merely BSCNHA Inc handpicking who represents NHA opposition in order for them to control the dialogue in some quasi-stakeholder meeting.

Any and all members of the public have the right to be heard in open public forums on this important issue.

But It’s Part Of The Growth Policy—Not!

Last summer I submitted an ethics complaints to Cascade County Attorney Josh Racki regarding the use of government resources and facilities by both the City of Great Falls and Cascade County to benefit the private nonprofit Big Sky Country National Heritage Area Inc. I alleged there were violations under the Montana Code Annotated and the Official Code of the City of Great Falls.

The county attorney forwarded the city complaint to City Attorney Sara Sexe. The county attorney forwarded the county complaint to the Montana Attorney General, citing conflicts of interest in that the county attorney’s office would be tasked to defend any county official named in the complaint and therefore, can’t consider it (see attached—Racki response).

My complaint about the city, city officials’ responses, background information, etc can be found in the meeting agenda packet here.

The city attorney’s response to me and her attached memorandum, can be found at that link, starting on page 92. It indicated the city was acting to assist the National Heritage Area mainly because of a mention of an NHA in the 2013 Growth Plan and that the violations Sexe found would be dealt with internally. But I wanted a hearing before the Ethics Committee so I pushed for one, until finally, one was granted on February 3, 2021.

I also just noticed that the video of the ethics hearing regarding my complaint is online. Some of you may want to watch it, or at least skim through it. It starts at 10:45 on the video found at: https://greatfallsmt.viebit.com/player.php?hash=6k9j6BW2lj3w

So here’s a short breakdown of a few of the key points in the video along with my commentary after the fact.

@15:20: City Attorney Sexe begins her rationale for city support of the NHA as a city supported project.

When you watch this, keep in mind the main rationale for the city staff assisting assist the National Heritage Area corporation is the 2013 Growth Policy.

In the past though, a deputy city manager offered a reason to dispute use of the 2013 Growth Policy as rationale that the NHA is city-sanctioned or city-sponsored. At the City Commission/Staff Agenda Meeting on July 10, 2013, “Deputy City Manager Jennifer Reichelt reported that Ida Meehan will present a general Growth Policy update at this work session. The public hearing to consider adoption of the proposed update to the Growth Policy is scheduled for August 6, 2013. It was explained that the Growth Policy is a guiding policy and NOT A REGULATORY DOCUMENT” (emphasis added, see attached—Not a regulatory document).

Yes, there we have it—not a regulatory document.

City officials have also used the passage of a resolution in December 2019, in which the city agrees to apply for a grant for the Great Falls Development Authority to pass along to BSCNHA Inc, as proof that the city commission voted for the NHA.

That is false—the commission didn’t vote to approve the NHA and that is backed up by City Commissioner Houck statement at that same meeting. “We’re not saying that we’re endorsing the National Heritage Area, we’re endorsing a grant that increases our economic impact and those are aligned with our city priorities” (City Commission meeting video, December 17, 2019,  @ 1:33:40)

So what gives city staff the right to assist a private nonprofit using city resources? Why of course, they give it to themselves.

@18:24: Sexe’s primary opinion is no violation of Montana statutes and she uses the Montana Attorney General office’s response as rationale. She states the county attorney advised that my ethics complaint was provided to the Montana Attorney General who declined to address alleged Montana statutory provisions.

That is only partially true. Yes, the Montana Attorney General declined to address it, but only because that office claimed the jurisdiction for considering the complaint rested locally, with the county attorney (See attached—Attorney General response).

@18:49: City Attorney Sexe admits that with regards to the Official Code of the City of Great Falls, there were issues where technical violations occurred…

In addition, on pages 10 and 11 of the Ethics Committee Agenda packet, Sexe expresses her determination that violations of Official Code of the City of Great

Falls § 2.21.050 (B), (F) and (L) did occur. However, she determined these were addressed internally by the city manager and recommended the Ethics Committee not forward the complaint to the county attorney.

@31:58: City Planning Director Craig Raymond begins response to the allegations.

@32:45: Raymond claims a coordinated attack on the concept of NHAs.

No, I coordinated with no one in bringing this ethics complaint. I discovered what appeared to me to be violations regarding ethics and conflicts of interest snd took action.

@33:08: Raymond accuses NHA opponents of false statements and taking issues and situations out of context.

I’ve made no false statements regarding NHAs, nor have I taken issues and situations out of context. I can only vouch for my own opinions and statements, which I developed and made only after careful research of NHAs. I do not vouch for the statements of others in opposition.

@33:20: Raymond continues accusing NHA opponents, “….and now harass, bully and impugn the character and professional reputation of those who would dare support this worthwhile effort to benefit the community.”

Guess what, City Planning Director Raymond—you’re a city official and are paid by the taxpayers. The citizens of Great Falls have every right to question city officials’ actions on city time, if the citizen perceives a problem. You are accountable to the public. It’s criticism, and nothing more.

I’d like to remind Raymond that I have reached out a number of times to BSCNHA Inc board members, some of whom were also public officials, and my questions and concerns have either gone unanswered or have been met with hostility, every time.

@35:15: Raymond expresses that he’s in the “uncomfortable position of defending and protecting the question of my ethics.”

As a city employee, running a city department, you are a public figure. You are paid with and use our tax dollars. Do you really believe taxpayers have no right to question or criticize your actions?

@41:42: Raymond says, “In my opinion, what was in the Growth Policy and the resolution specifically, this is very direct support and license to join and partner with groups in order to support the NHA in the fashion that we did.”

The 2013 Growth Policy mentions an NHA, but not as a project. I explained this earlier and also talk about this in the video. The resolution, as I mentioned earlier, was only the city commission’s vote to assist Great Falls Development Authority with a grant, the ultimate recipient being BSCNHA Inc. The city commission did not vote to approve the NHA.

@42:08: Raymond begins his assertion that the Civic Center meeting space provided free to BSCNHA Inc is justified, in direct conflict of City Attorney Sexe’s opinion.

He further states, “I find each of the criteria (regarding free meeting room use) have been met during these meetings at the Civic Center.”

That he“ finds,” is attorney talk, yet he is not an attorney. The city attorney did find providing the free meeting room was a violation.

@46:08: In my opinion, this is perhaps the most disturbing statement of all by Raymond and in my opinion, really shows the nature of the beast—that is, the true nature of our city and attitude of some city officials.

Raymond states, “I’ll be honest though, even if the city commission had not adopted the Growth Policy as is written, as they did, I still would have offered the same level of support and encouragement for this project. It was simply the right thing for our office to do, in the fashion that we did. I mean, after all, we helped inspire it, we helped to start it. And actually, my question is, why on earth would we not have done it under the circumstances?” He goes on to say, “I have no regrets on any of our actions regarding the NHA.”

The first shock is that a city official would admit he would offer the same support even if he knew it wasn’t a city-sanctioned or sponsored project. To me, that speaks volumes.

It also appears to me the NHA idea originated not with the city planning department per se, but with the Historic Preservation Advisory Commission (HPAC). Although HPAC is under the city planning umbrella, it is supposed to be an ADVISORY entity for the CITY COMMISSION, not an entity which makes decisions for the city. At least that’s my understanding of a city advisory commissions/boards. But HPAC seemed to overstep its bounds.

Here’s the details regarding HPAC and the NHA:

“TOURISM ASSESSMENT GRANT – HPAC received a $5000 grant from the SHPO for Heritage Planning. The grant will be matched by funding from the TBID ($2600) and in-kind from the City of Great Falls ($2846) The TBID is additionally providing funding to conduct a 3rd party assessment for Great Falls Tourism ($7000) Ellen and Lee working on Tourism Heritage oriented area to promote area visitors” (Great Falls/Cascade County Historic Preservation Advisory Commission Minutes from the August 13, 2014). Note—SHPO is State Historic Preservation Office and TBID is Tourism Business Improvement District

“Mr. Nellis said the Historic Preservation Advisory Commission has had a goal for many years of creating a National Heritage Area (NHA) along the Missouri River that would stretch from Fort Benton to Tower Rock. Staff received $5,000 in grant funds from the State to study this project, and the Tourism Business Improvement District is providing a match of about $9,000. Staff is providing work hours.” (Great Falls Planning Advisory Board/Zoning Commission Minutes, December 9, 2014)

“In 2014, the Great Falls-Cascade County Certified Local Government (CLG), began to discuss the concept of an NHA in Montana as such entities gained more popularity in the western United States. The City of Great Falls and the Great Falls – Cascade County Historic Preservation Advisory Commission asked the community to join them for the “Grand Tour” event in January 2015 that encompassed the whole region.” (BSCNHA Draft Feasibility Study, p 11)

“Brief Update: There was a follow-up meeting February 26th on the Tourism Assessment & Heritage Area. After a lengthy discussion, Ellen reiterated that the HPAC will be organizing for the National Heritage Area and will form an ad-hoc committee to proceed onward.” (Great Falls/Cascade County Historic Preservation Advisory Commission Minutes from the March 11, 2015 Meeting)

“The Upper Missouri River Heritage Area Planning Corporation (UMRHAPC) was legally established in May 2015. The first meeting, held at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Great Falls, included the organization of a board of directors.” (BSCNHA Draft Feasibility Study, p 11)

All of the above show me that a National Heritage Area was not part of the 2013 City Growth Policy voted on by the city commission. It seems apparent the NHA is not an official city-sanctioned or city-sponsored project

@50:04-58:17: My comments begin. It’s a little over eight minutes but I think it’s worth a listen.

One of the main takeaways for me is that the extensive use of city and county resources to benefit BSCNHA Inc should require that corporation be accountable to the public. Use of public resources should mandate transparency. However BSCNHA Inc has shown that as a private nonprofit it will not be transparent or accountable to the public.

No, BSCNHA Inc has shown little interest in connecting with the public at large. If they had, they would have notified all private landowners within the proposed boundaries of the National Heritage Area (all of Cascade and part of Chouteau counties) of their properties’ inclusion within the proposed NHA. They did not

Big Sky Country National Heritage Area Is NOT In The Great Falls Growth Policy

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: 

  1. BSCNHA, Inc. has goals that go far beyond the jurisdictional boundaries of the City of Great Falls.
  2. 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.

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Citizen Responds To GF City Commissioners’ “Conflict Of Interest” Board Appointments

Call it what you will—Conflict of Interest by any other name is still Conflict of Interest

The Great Falls City Commission voted 4-1 on June 1 to reappoint Big Sky Country National Heritage Area board members Rich Ecke and Ellen Sievert to the city/county Historic Preservation Commission (HPAC).

Commissioner Tryon, the only dissenting vote, aptly pointed out that according to the City of Great Falls Code of Ethics, conducting business related to the National Heritage Area while a HPAC member, when you also sit on the BSCNHA Inc board, (which is a private corporation) has at the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest.

In case you haven’t been to one, city commission meetings are not balanced in that after public comment, the commissioners get to respond to what the public has said and they can say whatever they want—even thinly veiled insults, incorrect information and outright lies—and the public is not allowed to respond. So here are my responses.

In response to Commissioner Moe—You are not an attorney. I am not an attorney either but I did speak with one. It is indeed a conflict of interest for someone to serve on a city advisory board and make decisions and take actions to further the interests of a private corporation when he or she also sits on that corporation’s board.

The attorney’s informed opinion is that I am correct in noting that conflicts of interest have occurred with the city actions regarding BSCNHA Inc.

It was mentioned that the National Heritage Areas is part of the city’s 2013 Growth Plan. You used that as justification for the city’s involvement with the National Heritage Area. Did you even read the document? Actually, the 2013 Growth Policy merely states the following:

Develop, maintain and enhance the Rivers value as a public amenity and resource, including resource management determined to be consistent with these values, such as:

Public access, connectivity and viewing

Recreational values

Urban habitat

Leisure, dining and mixed-use development


Designation as a National Heritage area

Please note that the 2013 Growth Policy only provides guidance to develop, maintain and enhance the RIVER’s value to be consistent with values such as a potential National Heritage Area designation. It doesn’t authorize city officials to assist with any National Heritage Area designation.

The 2013 Growth Policy also obviously DOES NOT mandate or direct the city to provide city resources to a private corporation seeking a National Heritage Area designation. growth_policy_update_2013_page 135

In 2013, there was no fleshed-out National Heritage Area plan or even boundaries for such. The National Heritage Area became an actual project only in 2015. It was then known as Upper Missouri River National Heritage Area and included only a narrow corridor along the Missouri River.

So the current National Heritage Area proposal, which has expanded through the years to include all of Cascade County and a portion of Chouteau County, is nothing like what was just an idea in 2013 or what was first proposed in 2015.

In addition, at the July 10, 2013, City Commission Work Session, Deputy City Manager Jennifer Reichelt explained that the Growth Policy is a “guiding policy and not a regulatory document.” I think that statement says it all—it is not a regulatory document. Therefore, the city’s claim that the 2013 Growth Plan authorizes the city’s involvement with the National Heritage Area is false. Growth Plan not a regulatory document.pdf

The city did much of the mapping and associated database work for BSCNHA Inc. That is city time and resources (taxpayer money) to benefit a private corporation. The city also supplied the meeting room for BSCNHA Inc. I filed an ethics complaint against the city after uncovering this apparent misuse of city resources.

I was granted a city ethics hearing on my complaint. I suggest you read those documents and watch the video. Yes, the Ethics Committee decided the city’s involvement with BSCNHA Inc wasn’t a conflict of interest. They, like you, misinterpreted the 2013 Growth Policy and decided the National Heritage Area could be consider “city-sponsored” solely on that document.

But the Ethics Committee is not a court of law, it is another advisory board appointed by the city commission. The Ethics Committee ruling was incorrect according to the attorney I spoke with about it. Unfortunately, the only remaining relief would be to try to prove it in court, and that’s not economically feasible for most Great Falls residents. Sad that there’s little recourse for the average citizen when the government is involved.

If you do watch that video, also note that City Planning Director Raymond makes a statement, the gist of which is—whether or not the National Heritage Area was considered “city sponsored” he would still have allocated city resources to benefit BSCNHA Inc because he feels the National Heritage Area is a worthwhile project.

In my opinion, that shows an incredible amount of arrogance, not to mention that the Montana Code Annotated and the City of Great Falls Code of Ethics seem to forbid the use of government resources for a government official’s personal interest.

In response to Commissioner Houckdon’t be so triggered. Even though you are a former board member of the Big Sky Country National Heritage Area Inc, this is NOT all about you. It also is not personal attacks on you or any other city official when citizens raise concerns, express opinions or criticize the actions or question the motives of those who are supposed to be working for us. It’s quite amusing that you are always ready to dish out the criticism to citizens like me but cry foul if you think you’re being criticized.

Yes, BSCNHA Inc did indeed have meetings—with small groups and people of their choosing. As far as public meetings, I went to a supposed “community conversation” at Black Eagle and  the public was offered NO OPPORTUNITY to ask questions or make comments. Others reported the same experience at the Belt “community conversation.” Not much of a community conversation when the public isn’t allowed to speak.

BSCNHA Inc decided to include all of Cascade County and part of Chouteau County—most of which is PRIVATE land—within the National Heritage Area boundaries but didn’t think it necessary to notify all the landowners within its boundaries.

That’s ludicrous! You have no idea how many people I meet that are just learning about this National Heritage Area or never even heard of it. The four ladies who sat in front me last night at the commission meeting (never met them before) told me they had never heard of the National Heritage Area. So don’t tell me it has widespread support or even awareness.

In response to Commissioner Robinson—you totally missed the point when you talked about how people are often on many boards and commissions. Yes, that is true and I know you are on quite a few, likely unassociated boards/commissions. But it’s an entirely different situation when someone is a member of both a city board/commission and a private corporation, when those two entities have dealings with each other.

The Historic Preservation Advisory Commission members that are also on BSCNHA Inc board helped arranged for free city meeting rooms and city mapping work to benefit a private corporation—arguably at taxpayer expense.

It’s reminiscent of when HUD reprimanded the city for certain block grant allocations several years ago.

Some members of the city advisory board tasked to make grant allocations were also members of the organizations that received grant money.

HUD determined that was a conflict of interest. Commissioner Robinson, did you miss all of that?

In response to Commissioner Tryon—thank you so much for standing up for ethics in city government! You appear to get it, whereas it appears the other commissioners and the mayor do not. It’s a sad state of affairs when only one city commissioner understands the conflicts of interest involved in these reappointments.