Petition To Repeal County Commission Resolution To Remove Election Duties

Editors note: the following is a press release from Jeni Dodd.

Sign the Petition for Referendum to Repeal Resolution 23-62!

Cascade County Commissioners Briggs and Larson passed the resolution to remove election duties from the Clerk/Recorder, thereby negating the will of the voters who voted for a combined Clerk/Recorder AND ELECTION ADMINISTRATOR in November 2022.

Petition available to sign at Liberty Hall, 721 10th Ave S. (across 8th St S from Arbys).

Sun 1/21 10 am to ? Closing
Mon 1/22 10 am to 6:30 pm
Tue 1/23 9 am to 4 pm
Wed 1/24 10 am to 3 pm
Thu 1/25 9 am to ? Closing
Fri 1/26 10 am to 3 pm
Sat 1/27 10 am to ? Closing
Sun 1/28 10 am to ? Closing

Please pass along. Questions? Contact Jeni Dodd,

Bomb Threats, GGG Reelection Bid, And More

Our regular feature highlighting a few of the latest and most interesting local and national news items from various sources.

Gianforte to run for reelection, from MTN News:
Gianforte announces run for second term as Montana governor (

School bomb threats across Montana, from KRTV:

Great Falls Fire Rescue responds in brutal cold, from ABC/FOX Non-Stop Local:

Israel-Hamas War Comes To Great Falls

Over the past few months I have received quite a few emails in my city commission mailbox from local constituents with the subject line, ‘Reaffirm your commitment to America’s closest ally, Israel.

The content of the email is the same but from many different local folks concerned about the ongoing war in Israel. You can read it in its entirety here.

Here is a paragraph from the email:

“Israel is under constant threat, both from terrorists such as Iran’s proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, and from those who undermine Israel’s right to exist. The attacks of October 7 destroyed any assumptions that Hamas’ had a pragmatic interest in governing Gaza – its sole goal is the elimination of Israel and the Jewish people. As such, calling for a ceasefire gives Hamas credit and authority it no longer deserves. Calls for a ceasefire are not reasonable or realistic, nor is it the only way to guarantee that Palestinian civilians will be protected. Existing efforts to allow for food, water, medicine, and other essential assistance to flow into Gaza and to the people who need them must be bolstered.”

I agree with the sentiments expressed here – especially the point that a ceasefire is not “reasonable or realistic” given the circumstances.

So yes, I reaffirm my personal commitment to Israel and to our Jewish community in Great Falls. But I also recognize the horror of war and its hellish impact on all of the civilians caught in the crossfire.

And certainly I recognize that there are others in Great Falls who hold a different viewpoint from my own concerning calls for a ceasefire. One of them is Eamon Ormseth, who was invited by the Great Falls Public Library to give a presentation on Palestine. You can view the entire one hour talk, given on January 4th, here.

Ormseth is an activist with a group called “Montanans for Palestine” and he organized a rally in Great Falls the day after his talk at the library. The rally was covered by Joe Taylor at the Fairfield Sun Times and here is an excerpt from that reporting:

“I have friends whose friends have been killed in the Israeli airstrike on the church, the orthodox church in Gaza. Another friends’ relatives are sheltering in the catholic church in which Israeli snipers killed two of them, two people in that church recently. And a friend of a friend was just murdered by the Israeli army very close to where I live. So, it’s very personal. I have friends in Palestine and I just don’t see how the United States continues to support such a brutal occupation,” said Ormseth. 

Around 8-10 people were at the rally at the Civic Center and chanted along side Ormseth, “Free Palestine” “Stop the Bombing” and “Cease Fire” were among the chants.

We live in a such a time that even far-flung controversies and wars can reach across the distance and touch us right here in Great Falls, Montana. Interesting times indeed.

Cascade County Courthouse Reopens After Bomb Threat, Judge Puts Hold On Zoning Legislation, And More

Our regular feature highlighting a few of the latest and most interesting local and national news items from various sources.

Bomb threat at Cascade County Courthouse, from the Great Falls Tribune:

Gallatin County District Court Judge Mike Salvagni issues temporary halt to two zoning bills, from MTPR:

Emergency crews respond to fire in Great Falls Fox Farm area, from KRTV:

Cascade County Commissioner Grulkowski Recaps First Year

Editor’s note: as is the case with our ‘letters to the editor’, the following editorial content by Commissioner Grulkowski doesn’t necessarily reflect the views or opinions of E-City Beat, our volunteer staff, or contributors.

As we move into a New Year in Cascade County, I will take an opportunity to reflect on 2023, a year as your newly elected Cascade County Commissioner.  It has not been the experience I had hoped for.  Assuming office nearly a year ago, I was unwelcome.  Having to stumble to find my own resources was a good thing in that I had to stretch my arm outside our local government offices.  This brought quick realization of problems, and solutions.  I pray this community will come together to encourage their Commission Office to begin the journey of getting turned around.  In my opinion, we are currently in trouble.

Recent actions by the body of Commissioners to usurp the obligation of duties as Presiding Officer of the board, was dramatic and confusing to the community.  The majority of other large Montana counties have not changed their selection process in decades and those Commissioners readily work collaboratively to decide which amongst them will serve as Presiding Chair each year.  Cascade County Commissioners chose instead to air animosity in public.  The next recent action of forcibly taking the Elections Department under the Commissioner Office, by way of a resolution was again dramatic and confusing to the community.  The speed at which this took place was also, in my opinion, disrespectful to the Clerk & Recorder Office, Commission Office, and especially, our community.  This decision also lacked fiscal consideration.  Both of these processes were highly politicized, highly agenda motivated by use of media and damaging to the confidence of our community.  One might think this was a Federal government, not a local government.

Three questions and answers to close out 2023:

Number One: Why did I run for the office of County Commissioner?  For the same reasons many of you reading this have said you wanted; to see change.  Your government is not representing you the way you desire.  For me, it began with a County Commissioner being allowed to advance their private mission of pursuing federal designation of my private property – without my knowledge or consent – using taxpayer resources.  Those working files are still in our County electronic folders.  For you, it may be something different.  Our government was intended to have citizens actively involved, serving for a period of time then, passing along the gavel, so to speak.  I saw my opportunity to serve and now I am here.  I expected help from the senior officers, in navigating government structure.  That help is still welcomed yet only comes if I ask.  There is something called Continuity of Government.  This ensures your government will function in the absence of one or more of its key members.  It creates transparency and sharing of government policies, protocol and procedures among staff and Officials.  When it isn’t practiced, your government gets stuck.  That’s where we are in Cascade County.  Three elected Commissioners each bring unique governing abilities to the table.  We all have to partake and we all have to be willing to negotiate how to do that, in public meetings.

Number Two: Why is it that the county commission doesn’t seem to work well together?   There is no relief valve when politics dominates.  I am newly elected, fresh from the constituent pool.  Those elected in this seat prior to me were bureaucrats.  I have a different view of the problems in our government.  It is not as though good relationships deteriorated, they never existed.  I see numerous problems in our County government.  As a business owner, I don’t tolerate inefficiencies and diversion from set policy.  As a Commissioner I recognize obstacles in our processes, predominantly, others wishing to continue to “do things the way they’ve always done them” rather than doing the heavy lifting to change things.  Or, I often get no response at all to my initiatives to make change.  Those behaviors are adversely affecting good employees, and ultimately, our taxpayers.   As often happens when Elected Officials are in office for extended periods of time, they tend to take a position of authority over other Commissioners and county operations, often times neglecting to mentor to ensure continuity of government.  This greatly inhibits equal representation by all duly elected.  I’m concerned about the personal shots being fired at me from other Commissioners; politics at its worst, I suppose.  It certainly isn’t serving the People.  It’s confusing and disrespectful.  

Shortly after taking office, I established regular Commissioner Briefing meetings where I could be caught up on issues concerning the county and commission.  These were very useful but became uncomfortable as our conversations were becoming deliberations and decision-making sessions, without minute recordings.  We ceased holding these update meetings.  The last one held was September 19, 2023.   During our county budgeting season, our former Budget Officer (retired November 2022), offered to return on a temporary basis to assist with budget.  I was pleased with this offer as she was always eager to assist our County and I find her very competent.  Her offer was declined by the other two Commissioners.  On June 27, 2023, I had set up regular Commissioner office budget meetings to become a part of the process.  When 2 Commissioners meet, it is a quorum and Open Meeting Laws apply.  The last budgeting meeting ended with the closing of our FY24 budget in September.  Since then, we have had one Public meeting to appropriate capital expenditures.  Any other means to familiarize myself with government accounting and our County budget has to be sought from alternate means of what is available in a healthy government structure.  In part due to quorum issues, in part due to relationship issues fueled by politics. 

There is a “2 to 1” attitude that also fails our community and is nurtured in our County government.  This attitude overflows into Department Heads and Public creating a slippery slope of eliminating representation and censorship.  This is bad practice and does not allow building of common ground. 

The adage “because we’ve always done it that way” resounds.  I have caused a disruption by questioning operations, researching on my own and asserting laws and policies be followed.  I have been called stupid and accused of holding up government processes without justification for these damning comments.  Perhaps it is because I read each contract and document prior to affixing my signature.  Isn’t this each Officials’ obligation – to remain cognizant of your actions on behalf of those you serve?  Does government ever move quickly?  And, does not the community deserve deliberative actions by government rather than to move quickly as it had done recently with Resolution 23-62:  a matter of significant public interest voted on with just 6 days prior notice and introduction to the Public?

Number Three: What can be done to ease what publicly appears to be a disconnect in the Commission Office and unite our elected leaders towards the common goal?

  • Cascade County currently lacks a Finance Officer.  Budgeting and financial matters is a key function of each County Commissioner.  In the absence of a Chief Financial Officer, these duties have been siloed to one Commissioner.  While I can appreciate their ability and desire to handle our books, it conflicts with Best Practices and Separation of Duties.  The Finance Officer is accountable independently to each Commissioner and, again, budgeting and County fiscal responsibilities are obligations of each County Commissioner.  Allowing “a” Commissioner in this role leads to ostracization of any other Commissioner due to quorum requirements, relationship issues, and unilateral decision-making.
  • Begin conversations toward restructuring our Commission office to include a Chief Administrative Officer (CAO).  Our current structure has no mechanism to keep the Commission from being “stuck” in resolving deep division or other situations impacting progress of our local government.  This “relief valve” allows staff a neutral ground when politics gets in the way.  Many other Montana counties, smaller than Cascade County, incorporate a CAO.  Cascade County continues to grow and our local government structure is being forced to grow with it.  This position would be funded by current vacancy savings in the Commissioner Office, as well as cost savings from tightening up other staffing inefficiencies as earlier mentioned.  This position does not take authority away from Commissioners and accelerates forward movement that is now stifled with quorum issues, hindering decision-making amongst fellow Commissioners and amongst Department Heads.   Where elected Commissioners lack management and/or interpersonal skills, a qualified CAO alleviates discourse.  A Chief Administrative Officer would focus on the Administrative duties; thus, freeing up the Commission to focus on Policy and Legislative duties.  Commissioners have 11 department heads reporting to them.  Do you really think three Commissioners are operating efficiently with constant meetings and remaining “in the weeds”?  How often do you see us in the community visiting our constituents, learning what is important to those we represent?
  • Enforce Cascade County Operations Manual policies within the County to include the Commissioner’s Office and begin creating County-wide Continuity of Government policies.  Yet another benefit provided by a Chief Administrative Officer position as part of their responsibilities.  County policies apply County-wide and are already adopted by the Commission, yet our office is deficient in enforcing these policies.  This office should be setting the standard for the entire County. 
  • Encourage public involvement and attendance in all County Commissioner meetings.  Earlier this year, I introduced a resolution (which was passed), to include public comment opportunities in our Work Sessions.  We have to hear from you.  You have to be part of the decisions we make.  Keep your presence in front of us.  I also encourage public to visit each Commissioner, in their office, regularly.  Office visits allow you the transparency in a government we all wish to strive for.  As we continue to grow, we also must continue to build relationships amongst Officials in our incorporated towns / cities.  I am excited to work with the new leadership of these governments in the next year.  I enjoy interacting with members of our community and also plan to continue attending our Towns’ Council meetings – hope to see you there. 

In conclusion, I thank you for the opportunity to reflect on my first year in office.  It is unfortunate that more time was wasted on politics than on building a strong foundation for our County government functions and processes. 

Help build this foundation in 2024 by attending our meetings, listening to previous meetings at, and calling our office at 406-454-6811 with suggestions to create the government you wish to see.

Festive tidings to all your family and wishes for peace within our County in 2024, and always.

Rae Grulkowski


Opinion by Jeni Dodd

At the December 15 Cascade County Commissioner special meeting, we learned the latest Banana Republic move by the commission — one that should be memorialized in county history as ‘Bucketgate’.

The special meeting’s agenda revolved around the commission’s previous 2-1 decision to pass Resolution 23-62 on December 13. That resolution removed election duties from Clerk and Recorder Sandra Merchant, who took office in January 2023, and allows the commission to appoint a non-elected elections administration of their liking. Commissioners Joe Briggs and Jim Larson voted in favor, Commissioner Rae Grulkowski against.

Briggs, aka wannabe lord of the Cascade County fiefdom, spearheaded the change to an appointed elections administrator, which he touts as less partisan. Yes, but timing is everything and this change came less than a month before candidate registration opens on January 11 for the June 2024 primary.

Briggs claims he’d been considering idea of an appointed election administrator for some time, but it seems evident that he doubled down on making the change only after Rina Fontana-Moore was ousted from the Clerk/Recorder/election administration position. If she had she won again, I opine there would still be a Clerk and Recorder with election duties.

But back to the special commission meeting and more relevantly, the aforementioned bucket. In a discussion that could be paraphrased as — “we stripped election duties from the clerk and recorder and now we have no plan” — we learned that a county maintenance worker removed a bucket of keys from the elections office. The bucket contained the keys to Expo Park where the voting tabulator machine is stored, and now, there’s no accounting for the keys.

Yep, you read that right. A voting tabulator machine that should be secured under lock and key at all times may not be secure. The keys have been unaccounted for, for days. So how can we be sure the machine hasn’t been, or won’t be, tampered with unless we inspect the machine and immediately change the locks?

Grulkowski raised the question about the keys, asking Briggs and Larson to identify who gave the directive to the maintenance department to take the bucket from the county election office.

“Something that did just land on my ears that is of concern is that there was a directive that the keys be taken from the elections office. I think the intent was to get keys from our former election administrator but they took a bucket of keys including keys for the security of the tabulator machine and I have no idea where they were and I did not know that directive was given. That was by our maintenance department so can I ask, who gave that directive? I was unaware of that,” Grulkowski stated.

Neither fessed up. Larson mumbled something not giving any direction other than asking for keys from the clerk and recorder.

Commissioner Grulkowski went on to state that an email was sent to the recently deposed election administrator (but still Clerk and Recorder) to turn in her keys to the elections office so she had left them at that office. But Grulkowski related that someone from maintenance went to the elections office and asked for all the keys.

“So they [elections office staff] gave them the bucket of keys that they had been trying to pick from whenever they needed something because that’s how it was left for them. There weren’t designated keys…and in there [the bucket] were the keys to ExpoPark, which houses our tabulator machine.”

So the current elections staff doesn’t have access to the tabulator machine and it appears unknown who might have access, now or in the future. Chain of custody for government property appears lax in the fiefdom.

The county maintenance supervisor later joined in on Zoom and stated he had told the maintenance worker only to collect the keys for the election office and the election storage. He claimed he had no idea why the maintenance worker would take the bucket of keys.

We also learned that not only did the county strip election duties from duly elected Clerk and Recorder Merchant, she was asked to give up key/keycard access to the County Annex building.

“I just don’t see where we would do that with any elected official,” said Grulkowski.

Although Briggs and Larson agreed the Clerk and Recorder should continue to have such access to the County Annex, it just seems like it could be yet another Banana Republic move. Why would anyone with the county move to restrict an elected official’s access to a building where much of the county’s business is conducted?

Grulkowski asked about the directive for this action, to which Briggs claimed that “it was nothing that was discussed in my presence; to go to that extreme” Hmm, “to that extreme.” Hmm, “discussed in my presence.”

In past opinion pieces, I’ve called those “wiggle words.” I think you get my drift.

Grulkowski also stated that maintenance staff have keys to the room where live ballots are stored. What? Wait, what? Why would they have access? In case of any emergency? No dice — get election staff to let you in, accompanied of course, or break the door down if need be — but keep our ballots secure. It was yet another mind-blowing revelation.

So how long have these Banana Republic antics been going on? This didn’t start in January. It appears to me it’s “the way we’ve always done it” mentality. Long-standing, questionably ethical and maybe questionably legal, policy decisions which newbies Merchant and Grulkowski didn’t get the memo on. Yep, the fiefdom which has been the status quo for Cascade County for many years — now being revealed in part by a bucket of keys to the kingdom.


Despite opposition that significantly outpaced support during six hours of public testimony, Cascade County Commissioners Joe Briggs and Jim Larson still voted to strip election duties from the Clerk and Recorders Office. Commissioner Rae Grulkowski was the lone no vote on Resolution 23-62, which passed 2-1.

The proposed action didn’t sit well with the majority of speakers at Tuesday’s Cascade County Commission meeting, which was moved Exposition Hall in Expo Park in anticipation of a big crowd wanting to speak on the controversial resolution.

With the resolution’s passage, Cascade County will become another of the handful of Montana counties which have an appointed rather than elected, election administrator. Montana Code Annotated §13-1-301 allocates election duties to the county clerk and recorder, “unless the governing body of the county designates another official or appoints an election administrator.”

The governing body, Cascade County Commissioners, took advantage of this statue in the MCA to propose the resolution removing election duties from the clerk/recorder.

Comments against the resolution included concerns about the financial impacts of adding the new county position of election administrator, lack of cooperation from previous Clerk/Recorder/Elections Administrator Rina Fontana-Moore, her staff and commissioners in the handoff of election duties to Merchant, allegations of hostility and harassment of Merchant by supporters of Fontana-Moore and assertions that Merchant ran the Election Office according to the law while the previous clerk/recorder did not.

However, most resolution opponents expressed one common theme — removal of the election duties from Merchant would disenfranchise the majority of voters who elected her and would negate the will of the people, since the position they voted on was a combined clerk/recorder/election administrator, not just a clerk/recorder.

Supporters of the resolution focused mainly on alleged mistakes made by Merchant, including anomalies in a flood district election which led to a lawsuit. However, County Attorney Josh Racki stated at the beginning of the meeting that his department investigated various claims against Merchant and found no illegalities in Merchant’s actions related to elections.

Former Clerk/Recorder/Election Administrator Fontana-Moore also faced a lawsuit brought by a resident in a flood district in 2020, 13 years after she took office. The judge ordered a new election as it was found Fontana-Moore had sent ballots to all residents of the flood district and not just the landowners, as required by law.

Merchant faced demands to resign beginning early in her term when former County Commissioner Jane Weber; Pete Fontana, brother of former Clerk/Recorder/Election Administrator Rina Fontana-Moore; and local activist Jasmine Taylor formed the Election Protection Committee.

The committee actively solicited on Facebook for citizens to report any election anomalies directly to them and not the county elections office, and also submitted a complaint to the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices, who determined it was unsubstantiated.

Today’s county commission action comes on the heels of another recent controversial decision that changed the way the county commission chair position is filled. Commissioners Briggs and Larson voted to change from a 2-year rotation of commissioners serving as chair, to a chair selected by commissioners each year.

Commissioner Grulkowski, current chair, voted against the change.

Grulkowski became chair of the commission in 2023, after winning against Don Ryan in the November 2022 election. Ryan had been appointed in early 2021 to fill in for retiring Commissioner Jane Weber until the next general election. State law then required Ryan run again in 2022 to keep the seat through 2024, the remainder of Weber’s term.

Grulkowski’s win over Ryan in 2022 for commissioner also put her in the chair position due to rotation. Until the change voted in by Commissioners Briggs and Larson, Grulkowski was originally slated to remain chair through 2024.

Who Goes Down For The Count, Voters Or Commissioners

Professional wrestling returns to Great Falls, with the top card match beginning Tuesday at 9:30 AM December 12 in the EXPO Park arena.

The tag team match pits the Mayhem Boys against the team of Saint Joans of Arc in an epic struggle to determine who runs the Cascade County Elections office. It looks to be a down-for-the-count exciting event of which we have not seen in quite a few years.

What makes this contest unique is that a team of two men, Briggs and Larson, will be going tooth and nail against a team of two women, Merchant and Grulkowski. At this point we do not know who will be doing the announcing, but it should be worth the price of admission for sure.

Fans of both teams are lining up to provide plenty of hoots and hollers.

Backing the Boys are the Great Falls School District, the local Democratic Party, and Election Protection Committee. The Saint Joans are backed by over 14,000 voters and the vast majority of Republicans.

There will be no pre match before the main event, so get there early. At this point we do not know if beer and corn nuts will be available.

Briggs Wants Change In Election Supervisor, Shelter In Place At MANG, And More

Our regular feature highlighting a few of the latest and most interesting local and national news items from various sources.

Cascade County Commissioner Joe Briggs to offer resolution to remove election responsibilities from Clerk & Recorder Sandra Merchant, from the Montana Sentinel:
Two Cascade County Commissioners Are Hoping To Steal Your Vote On Dec 12th – Montana Sentinel

MANG shelter in place after phone threat, from NonStop Local FOX:

Teens arrested on assault charges, victim suffered significant injuries, from MTPR:
One charged, four arrested after assault on Missoula minor | Montana Public Radio (

Letters To The Editor: Briggs And Larson Criticized

Editors note: the opinions expressed in “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 to

Good morning,

I strongly oppose County Ordinance 23-01 because this Ordinance improperly serves only the personal agenda of Commissioners Briggs and Larson. It does NOTHING to serve the interests of the residents of Cascade County.

I have no doubt that this Ordinance was proposed in bad faith only to “punish” Commissioner Grulkowski for the outstanding performance of her duties (both as a Commissioner and as Chair of the Commission), despite the obvious and increasing hostility expressed toward her by her Co-Commissioners and their self-serving supporters (and donors?). It is clear that she is doing her best to make the Commissioners (herself included) more accountable to We the Pepole. Apparently, Commissioners Briggs and Larson do not believe they should be held accountable to ANYONE outside of their Chambers.

This Ordinance is nothing more than an invalid and thinly veiled attempt to prevent Commissioner Grulkowski from doing her DUTY as Chair of the Commission to ensure that the Commission performs its duties LAWFULLY and TRANSPARENTLY. 

As a resident and elector and of Cascade County, I believe that Commissioners Briggs and Larson are (at the very least) in breach of the public trust by their deliberate undermining of Commissioner Grulkowski in their attempt to remove her from her chairmanship, apparently BECAUSE she insists that the Commission conduct the business of Cascade County lawfully, transparently, and in the best interests of their constituents. Judging from the recent Canvass, Commissioners Briggs and Larson view Montana law as an UNWELCOME inconvenience that neither is willing to read, much less FOLLOW.

I urge you to retain Chairman Grulkowski for another year and vote NO on Ordinance 23-01.


Dena Burnham Johnson
Great Falls, MT 59404


Dear News Media,

I am alerting you this morning to the injustice and manipulative tactics of County Commissioner Joe Briggs and County Commissioner Jim Larson in their attempts to silence newly elected County Commissioner, Rae Grulkowski!  These  men are trying to silence Rae Grulkowski’s input and influence by removing her from her current position as Chair!  Their excuse is a false accusation of Rae’s ability to conduct meetings properly.  Rae has had many years of experience in conducting meetings as she is a local business owner and has been involved in conducting many business meetings.  I, personally, have sat in County Commissioner meetings and have witnessed her level headed ability to conduct their meetings properly.

In the past, there was an automatic rotation procedure that was an equal and fair representation of all three County  Commissioners.  Rae has stepped into a position that currently has the privilege of being the chair.  These two other Commissioners have lost their control and are attempting to regain their domination of the current procedure that is taking place right now.  This needs to be stopped! 

Joe Briggs has been in his position for 19 years!  We need new blood and fresh ideas to come into Cascade County!

Rae needs to have the freedom and liberty to conduct her Chair duties  without harassment from disgruntled “old guard” County Commissioners.

I am trusting you to get this very important information out to the people of Cascade County.  Thank you!

Sharon Thompson,
Great Falls, MT  59404