Interesting New Rules In Play After Last Night’s City Commission Meeting

The City of Great Falls delivered a hat trick of ordinances last night, with the passage of Ordinances 3148, 3149, and 3153 — all of which were opposed by Commission-goers but adopted unanimously by the Commissioners. This before Assistant City Attorney Joe Cik at one point amusingly referred to himself as “some sort of medieval person on an epic quest” to clean up “[City] code.”

Ordinance 3153 clarified existing language pertaining to the election of officers for Neighborhood Councils, while Ordinance 3148 “[amended] OCCGF §1.4.070 to allow for violators to be banned from entering or remaining upon City property for a period not to exceed one year.” It added an additional provision to municipal code granting the City Manager authority to ban citizens from City property for up to a year:

C. Any person convicted of a violation of this Code, the Montana Code Annotated, or is determined by the City Manager, or his designee, to be behaving in a disorderly or abusive manner, on the property of the City of Great Falls may be banned from entering, or remaining upon, said property for a period not to exceed one year.

While City staff and Commissioners made mostly sensible arguments in favor of these two ordinances, we were troubled by the passage of Ordinance 3149, as presented, which granted the Commission broad powers to remove members of City advisory boards and Neighborhood Councils. It reads:

A member of any board, commission, or council, including Neighborhood Council, may be removed from office, by majority vote of the City Commission, if:

1. The member misses more than one-third (1/3) of the regular meetings in a calendar year without a health or medical excuse;

2. The member is unable to fulfill the duties of the office as a result of physical illness or mental disorder. A determination of whether the incumbent has a mental disorder shall be made pursuant to MCA Title 53, Chapter 21;

3. The member neglects or refuses to discharge the member’s duties;

4. The member ceases to be a resident of the City, or in the case of a neighborhood council member, the member ceases to be a resident of the council member’s district;

5. The member is convicted of a felony, or of any offense involving moral turpitude, or a violation of official duties or the City Code of Ethics, Title 2, Chapter 52, while serving on a board, council, or commission; or

6. Any other reason which City Commission deems to be in the best interests of the City, and in such case, only by a four-fifths vote. [emphasis added]

First, really? Who, and what, defines “the best interests of the City”? Second, the City Attorney’s office clearly spent a significant amount of time researching and drafting this ordinance. (Time well spent?) Now, it makes sense that if a Neighborhood Council member moves outside of the City limits, then he or she should no longer be able to serve on one of the City’s Neighborhood Councils. Still, Section #6 seems just a little heavy-handed. What, really, is the point of this ordinance? And why is the City spending time and resources imposing this kind of authoritarian control over its unpaid volunteers?

Reader interactions

12 Replies to “Interesting New Rules In Play After Last Night’s City Commission Meeting”

  1. I can’t find the Staff Report. What is the urgent problem they are solving?


  2. Ordinance 3148 “Recently, there has been an increase in the number of individuals behaving in a disorderly or abusive manner at the Great Falls Public Library. This behavior has included an assault on library staff. City staff began work on an ordinance change to address these issues. In the process, it was determined that there were extreme circumstances where the ordinance change would be of benefit to other City properties and public facilities, such as parks or other city-owned buildings. The City of Great Falls has a public duty to protect residents, employees and the public from this type of behavior particularly on Great Falls owned public property.”

    Ordinance 3149 “The current code does not allow for the Commission to consider other valid reasons that a board, commission or council member should be removed, such as neglect of duties, physical or mental inability to continue to serve, unethical acts, or criminal behavior. By adopting Ordinance 3149, the City Commission will be able to review and consider other reasons for removal in addition to attendance and codify restrictions on such behavior.”


  3. Lt. Colonel (Retired, Army) Richard Liebert February 8, 2017 at 8:28 AM

    I proud of citizens who took time to identify flaws and concerns in theses ordinances and helped to bring public awareness and made some improvements. Liberty erodes daily if citizens don’t keep elected officials accountable.


  4. Lt. Colonel (Retired, Army) Richard Liebert February 8, 2017 at 9:44 AM

    Thanks ‘E-City Beat’ for covering this important issue and where’s the Great Falls Tribune story about this topic or other citizens raising concerns on zoning over by Fox Farm Road? My apologies if I didn’t find city coverage by the Tribune, but if citizens can ‘brave the bitter cold’ then where’s our champions of the First Amendment?


    1. It was sad, Rich. I couldn’t believe more people weren’t there. It was very poorly attended. Only three people spoke against these ordinances; myself and two “regulars.” I went despite a upper respiratory infection and touch of bronchitis.

      Regarding Tribune coverage, I actually looked for quite some time before I found the Tribune’s brief story, written after the commission meeting’s first reading of the ordinances in January. I DID NOT find it on numerous searches on the Tribune’s web site. I eventually found it through a Google search. So perhaps the Trib doesn’t have all their articles indexed correctly for searching?


    2. Tribune just laid off a bunch of folks so obviously they don’t have the staff or inclination to cover city news


  5. I think this is just the beginning of something else . They are preparing for their new agenda why else .


    1. Indeed! Be afraid, be very very afraid! Haven’t you seen all those suspicious unmarked helicopters flying around lately? Surely there is an ulterior motive to all this subversive madness. It couldn’t possibly be explained so simply. Surely it’s not about volunteers who don’t show up and perform their elected duty, there’s no way it’s about protecting employees and the public from abusive and violent behavior. Naaah there’s GOT to be more to it!


      1. I feel this applies to local, state and federal government:

        “I apprehend no danger to our country from a foreign foe. Our destruction, should it come at all, will be from another quarter. From the inattention of the people to the concerns of their government, from their carelessness and negligence, I must confess that I do apprehend some danger. I FEAR THAT THEY MAY PLACE TOO IMPLICIT A CONFIDENCE IN THEIR PUBLIC SERVANTS, AND FAIL PROPERLY TO SCRUTINIZE THEIR CONDUCT; THAT IN THIS WAY THEY MAY BE MADE THE DUPES OF DESIGNING MEN, AND BECOME THE INSTRUMENTS OF THEIR OWN UNDOING. Make them intelligent, and they will be vigilant; give them the means of detecting the wrong, and they will apply the remedy.”
        ― Daniel Webster

        (emphasis added and shouting for all to hear)


  6. Don I would agree with you. I was there last night, I’ve been researching this and I think the city’s got something up their sleeves. Ordinance 4138 is far too inclusive. So is Ordinance 3149. There’s more to come too, with City Attorney Cik on his “quest.”

    A quest that I believe exists to re-write the Muni Code to give the commissioners more power. There’s more to come at the next commission meeting, with Ordinance 3154. My understanding is that one will change the public notice of competitive bidding process to eliminate publication in a newspaper. It appears to give them the opportunity to posts in any manner they see fit.

    Back to Ordinance 3148 which passed last night. The way it reads, someone could be banned from city property for ONE YEAR for ANY violation of the ANY part of the municipal code, the Montana Code Annotated OR IF THE CITY MANAGER OR HIS DESIGNEE DECIDES YOU’VE BEEN DISORDERLY OR ABUSIVE.

    The poster claims the city gave mostly sensible arguments for Ordinance 3148. There’s no sensible argument for an ordinance that gives this extreme amount of power. It’s bad enough that the city included the whole Municipal Code and the MCA in this ordinance. The way it reads now, you could be banned from city property if you, for example, are caught of driving with a cell phone, although city officials will tell you they don’t intend to use it that way. I just can’t trust their word.

    The “or” clause in this ordinance is particularly troubling.

    I don’t think it takes a genius to see the many ways the city could abuse your constitutional rights with this one. It’s especially scary that the City Manager or his designee has carte blanche to determine the definition of disorderly or abusive. City officials claimed they’ll use the disorderly conduct definition of the Montana Code Annotated as a “guideline.” Their claims are only words; there’s no requirement in the ordinance that they keep their word.

    According to the Great Falls Tribune, January 17, 2017, the ordinance came about because of an incident at the library.
    The proposed amendment was prompted by an incident that occurred in October, when a library employee was struck in the arm by an unruly patron.

    From the Tribune: ““There was a man in the library who appeared to be sleeping,” library manager Kathy Mora said Tuesday. “Our written policies state you can’t be sleeping in the library. One of our staff members approached him. We do not touch any patrons and we do not get too close to them. She attempted to wake him, and it took her a couple of attempts by speaking to him. When he awoke he jumped out of his chair and hit her on the arm.”

    Mora said library staff immediately called the police, but the man had left the area before officers arrived.

    “We did not know his name at that time, and they could not located him,” Mora said. “She (the library employee) declined to press charges.”
    Mora said the man was banned from the library premises after he returned two weeks later. While the proposed city trespass ordinance would not have measurably altered the outcome of the incident in October, Mora described it as “another tool that we can use on city property when these types of occasions arise.””

    In both the first reading of the ordinance in January and again last night, much was made about this library incident. Yet, as the Tribune article suggests, the ordinance wouldn’t have made much difference. So then, why is the city using this incident as their proverbial last straw? Doesn’t Great Falls already have public nuisance and loitering laws that would have applied in this case? If it was really about the library incident, why wasn’t the ordinance limited to problems on city property? Why does it include all of Great Falls ordinances and all of the MCA? There’s really no reason to be this imprecise when it comes to the law.

    I’ve seen some city commission meetings get a bit disorderly. Are they going to ban people from city commission meetings when they feel they’re disorderly (i.e. saying something they don’t like)? Oh wait, the city already tried that. Remember the Mayor Stebbins-Susan Overfield fiasco? The city paid a cool half-million for violating Overfield’s rights. You would think that since the city already bought the t-shirt on that one, they’d be a bit more careful about an ordinance that could chill free speech and public assembly. Except now, with the passing of Ordinance 3148, they can throw you out for a whole year. Things could get interesting.

    City officials further postulated that ordinance is required because unlike private property where law enforcement can ask trespassers to leave, police can’t ask someone to leave city property.

    This idea was again echoed by City Commissioner Tracy Houck, who claimed the ordinance was necessary for public safety for people using city property. She told the room that her son is involved in many activities at the Rec Center and if there’s trouble there, the police currently can’t force anyone to leave.

    Really Commissioner Houck? Really City of Great Falls? That isn’t my experience. I’ve witnessed police force people to leave several city properties—including the parks hosting Alive at Five, Elk’s Riverside Park and the skatepark, so that argument is invalid.

    There was some talk at the meeting about an appeal process for someone who feels they’ve been unjustly banned from city property. It didn’t appear as part of the ordinance language and in my quick perusal of the Municipal Code, I haven’t found anything remotely related. If there’s someone out there that knows where I would find the appeal process for being banned from city property, please respond as soon as possible. I’m probably going to need it 😉


  7. Jeni do you know all who voted for this and anyone opposing it just curious thanks


    1. Don, I didn’t hear any nays, only yeas from the commissioners. So all supported it. Commissioner Bob Jones was not in attendance that evening.


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