Of Smoke…And Fire

On May 15, 2017, I had the opportunity to sit down with City Manager, Greg Doyon, City Attorney, Sara Sexe, and City Planning Director, Craig Raymond, to discuss City Commissioner Tracy Houck’s involvement in the allocation of CDBG funds to the Paris Gibson Square where she serves as the Executive Director. Some takeaways:

The March 20, 2017, letter from the City Attorney to Commissioner Houck warning her away from conflicts of interest was hand delivered to Houck after the March 20, 2017, Work Session where Houck was clearly involved in the CDBG funding discussion, but before that day’s City Commission meeting.

There was a meeting between Mayor Kelly, Houck, and others to discuss the conflicts, and she has deferred from involvement since then.

The information that was provided to Houck regarding the Community Development Council’s deliberations and scoring of competing applications is public record and was requested by at least one other agency representative besides Houck. I have requested this information from the City, and will post it when received.

The City Attorney is working on a disclosure form and process for outside interests.

First, there should have been a tight, well-designed process in place already given the number of potential conflicts of interest in a small town. However, if closing the barn door after the cows leave was an uncommon phenomenon, there wouldn’t be a handy phrase to describe it.

Second, while Houck has apparently stopped participation after her conflict was noted by staff, this is not an exoneration. She has an independent responsibility to understand the rules that govern her service, and to follow them. I would be very surprised to learn that she was not given some sort of orientation about City rules and requirements; I remember a detailed orientation and I was only a Neighborhood Council member.

This is the second time, then, that Commissioner Houck finds herself in a position where the best thing that can be said about her conduct is that she was very careless. I have a hard time believing that there is someone who would not understand that it is inappropriate and unethical to communicate with the administrator of CDBG funds on behalf of an applicant agency while wearing her City Commission hat. In addition, I found her gossiping on Facebook about a local business person in a matter involving the City Commission. Commissioner Houck should recognize that she needs to dial it back, know the rules, follow the rules and, as one of my friends always said, just stick to the knittin’.

Posted by Gregg Smith

Gregg Smith is a Great Falls attorney and businessperson. He writes a monthly column for the Great Falls Tribune.

Reader interactions

7 Replies to “Of Smoke…And Fire”

  1. Steven Vinnedge May 16, 2017 at 11:13 AM

    You know, there were others on the Council who had to make the decision with Houck. It appears, that of the Commissioners, only one doesn’t have any ick on him.


  2. Thanks much, Mr Gregg. Watching for your follow up.


  3. Bill Stuff - FUSION | architecture + design May 16, 2017 at 4:07 PM

    “Rumors are carried by haters, spread by fools, and accepted by idiots” – Unanimous
    The quote says it all as it relates to gossip. Keep exposing the truth Gregg and E-City Beat!


    1. Has it ever occurred to you that some of us may actually want a great park system in our city and are willing to pay for it? I’m not sure why this possibility bothers you so much. Do you even live in the city? Some of us citizens actually want “stuff” in out town to be proud of. Perhaps along the lines of a great (funded) school system.


      1. Mike Mikulski May 18, 2017 at 6:37 AM

        When I look at my tax statement, I see the lion’s share of my property taxes going to the Great Falls Public schools ( I guess the trough will never be full enough for the schools) and not a whole lot to cops, firefighters and basic infrastructure needs (road repair for starters). I appreciate and use our parks, however, another tax to fund something that is nice to have, but not an essential need, I believe goes too far. Maybe we ought to find a way to shift some tax funding towards our infrastructure, rather than stick it to working taxpayers.


        1. Agreed that critical infrastructure is even more important. As well as cops and fire fighters too. This years’ legislature was pretty frustrating because they just couldn’t seem to get past the partisan politics and get a good deal done. Sad…..


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