Yesterday a couple of sentences from an article by Phil Faccenda in E-City Beat caught my eye (“City Of Great Falls Caves To School District”):
“One has to understand the ‘special’ relationship between the City Commission and the Great Falls Public School District. In many respects, I think the school district has more influence on what goes on in Great Falls than does City government.”
Having researched and written several pieces here and elsewhere about the topic, I know something about the good ol’ boys and gals club in Great Falls and our current dishonest, do-nothing city commission. There is no longer any doubt that the current crony system is still alive and well here in River City. If anyone doubts it I would refer them to the following:
Believe me, there’s more – plenty more.
But back to Faccenda’s contention about a special relationship between the City Commission and the school district – I did a little digging. And it didn’t take too many shovelfuls to discover that the relationship is not just ‘special’ but so cozy as to be downright intimate.
Here are some facts concerning our current city commissioners:
Bob Kelly – On her LinkedIn profile, Sheila Kelly, Mayor Bob Kelly’s wife, is listed as a “Community Organizer” for the local political action committee Kids Education Yes (KEY) from “Dates volunteered Apr 2006 – Present Volunteer duration 12 yrs 3 mos…KEY advocates for a strong school system, educates voters on school funding issues and mobilizes community resources to ensure adequate funding for Great Falls Public Schools.”
Tracy Houck – Houck is currently the Executive Director at Paris Gibson Square Museum which is housed in a school district (taxpayer) owned building and property. That property is leased from the District for $1 per year contingent on yearly District approval.
Mary Moe – Moe is a former GFPS Board of Trustees Chair and longtime advocate for and employee of our local public education system.
Owen Robinson – Robinson donated $10,000 in 2016 to the Yes For Kids political action committee to promote and advertise for the passage of the taxpayer funded $98 million local Great Falls school infrastructure bond.
Bill Bronson – Bronson as a city commissioner in 2010 encouraged a GFPS Facilities Task Force to get some city Community Development Block Grant funds because there was some “grumbling” going on in the City about how those funds were being distributed and apparently he was concerned that the dishonest, crony process would change before the District could get some. You can find the details here.
Is there anything inherently wrong with these kinds of City Commission/school district relationships? No, not at all. In fact in most of the cases listed here the work by these folks is quite admirable and worthy of respect and kudos.
“When it comes time for our current City Commission to vote on or to exercise their individual or collective influence on any matter at the nexus of City and District interests, it appears very clear where their biases lie.”
But these relationships are also informative and in the interest of transparency the public should be aware of them. When it comes time for our current City Commission to vote on or to exercise their individual or collective influence on any matter at the nexus of City and District interests, it is very clear where their biases lie.
In addition, since apparently these city commissioners have never met a local tax increase they weren’t in favor of, whether it’s a Park District or a School District tax increase, it makes one wonder who’s looking out for taxpayers like Joe and Betty Sixpack here in Great Falls.
The current District construction projects within the city are one such example in which we’ll see this intimate relationship between the City Commission and the GFPS District play out.