More “Alternative Facts” In The Great Falls Tribune?

Has anyone else noticed a pattern in the Great Falls Tribune’s education beat? Do you recall its blatantly inaccurate coverage a couple weeks ago?

In an article about this Tuesday night’s GFPS budget meeting, Trib reporter Sarah Dettmer pointed to rising K-8 enrollment, but less high school students in the district this year:

According to the final 2016-2017 school year enrollment numbers, Great Falls Public Schools saw an increase in K-8 enrollment and a decrease in the number of high school students.

According to the School District’s own Power Point presentation, though, school enrollment for grades 9-12 actually increased in 2016-2017.

GFPS Enrollment

GFPS: 24 more HS students in 2016-2017 than in 2015-2016

Because funds allocated from the state of Montana are based on enrollment figures, the claim that the District is battling (partially) declining enrollment leads one to believe that GFPS — through no fault of its own — must now make due with less. Query: Do you think this “reporting” would help or hurt the District’s ability to sell a mill levy to the public?

What the Tribune did get right, however, is that HB 191 will reduce school districts’ funding this year (although inflationary increases will rise the following year):

The original bill inflationary increases offered 1.37 percent for 2017-2018 and 1 percent for 2018-2019. However, the bill has been amended to offer .5 percent for 2017-2018 and 1.87 percent for 2018-2019.

HB 191 was passed unanimously in the Senate and 93-2 in the House as amended by the Senate. Typically, HB 191 is a bill rammed through the Legislature and signed into law quickly, so school districts have plenty of lead time to budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Even the MEA-MFT lauded HB 191 as “a hopeful sign for k-12 school funding.”

What is the District to do, then? GFPS Director of Business Operations Brian Patrick laid out the options:

Patrick said the district can make up this deficit through budget cuts, reducing the number of staff, utilizing reserves or by running a mill levy.

It’s no secret: revenue is down in Montana this year. And while Democrats and Republicans may not agree on what to cut from the state budget, there is at least bi-partisan consensus that reducing spending is necessary. Even Governor Bullock proposed $74 million in budget cuts over the next two years. If the two political parties can agree on belt tightening at the state level, shouldn’t Montana school districts, and in particular, Great Falls Public Schools — recently a benefactor of overwhelming community generosity — exercise similar fiscal restraint?

Ever Been Criticized? It Was Probably By A Conspiracy Theorist

At least that seems to be the pathology of City Commissioner Tracy Houck, who lambasted citizens critical of her involvement in the City’s dealings with the Children’s Museum of Montana.

Specifically, Houck took aim at a post published on this blog:

After a wonderful weekend of down time and very little social media exposure, I realized there is quite a bit of scuttle going on in regards to the Children’s Museum, my involvement and a few other things. Quite honestly, I don’t have much to report other than that the truth that is out there is quite distorted, but then again, consider your sources.

She continued:

The accusations is [sic] a recent online article are ridiculous, speculative and supported by our community’s biggest conspiracy theorists. 

Here is the full and complete extent to which Houck was mentioned in the article:

So, what triggered the alarm bells? If both Kelly and Bronson oppose utilizing the Children’s Museum, then which elected official thinks it’s actually a good idea to gut the museum for office space for City staff? This doesn’t sound like the machinations of Bob Jones or Fred Burow. According to Edwards, that official is City Commissioner Tracy Houck, who is also the Executive Director of the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art. Now why would a fellow museum director want to drive out the CMOM?

Edwards met with Houck and City Manager Greg Doyon on Jan. 12. ‘[Doyon] told me this was Tracy’s idea. He has been wonderful to work with and is super positive about the future of the museum,’ Edwards said.

Houck did not respond to emails sent to both her City and personal email accounts seeking comment.

That’s it.

Commissioner Houck, when you invited your supporters to “consider your sources” (presumably to discredit them), who were you referring to? Me, more than likely? Or was it Sandie Edwards, the only “source” who was actually quoted in the article? You would have been quoted, too, of course, but you did not respond to my emails. I even sent emails to two separate accounts.

In my interactions with Sandie Edwards, I found her to be forthright, competent, and someone who cares deeply about children and the work she does. Most of all, though, I found her to be credible. She told me that Houck wanted the City to use the CMOM facility for staff offices, and I reported it. Period.

Houck did not respond to a request for comment, and I reported that, too. Period.

How is it “speculative” to quote Edwards as saying that Doyon told her it was Houck’s idea to take over the CMOM? What else does Houck want her supporters to “consider” about the “sources?” I ask, because she doesn’t say. She just throws out a cheap, blanket smear… “consider your sources,” as though anyone who has the temerity to question her should, by default, not be taken seriously.

It’s disappointing that a City Commissioner would stoop to taking potshots at the public she was elected to represent, and particularly at those of us who sincerely want to elevate discussion about an important community issue. This was not a “Tracy Houck” article; it was an article about the City and the Children’s Museum.

In an attempt to soften her position, Houck painted herself as a solutions-oriented “collaborator” who is looking out for the Children’s Museum:

The good that has come out of these conversations is the discussions and brainstorming. What if the Children’s Museum could be relocated to their own location? What if it was a donated space that could be used as an asset to leverage matching grants? What if a new space came with outdoor space that was not right next to railroad tracks? What if the Children’s Museum was closer to a bus route or other amenities? That option would benefit families and the museum. It would also diminish the city’s financial impact to the general fund over expensive renovations or long term leases. 

According to Edwards, though, “A better building was never discussed.” And remember, the Children’s Museum staff doesn’t want to leave their current space. They like where they are. Houck’s alternative “solutions” also do not align with Mayor Kelly’s unambiguous statement in the Tribune, one that wholeheartedly supports the Children’s Museum:

‘We have no intention whatsoever to remove them from the space,’ Kelly said.

I stand by my words 100%.

Hypocrisy In Action: Montana Democrats Welcome Sen. Cory Booker From…New Jersey!

There’s comedy, there’s high comedy, and then there’s the Montana Democratic Party.

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle’s Troy Carter has a story up that Montana Democrats hope will quietly just… go away. Of course, they have no one to blame but themselves:

Montana Democrats have announced that they’re bringing in a New Jersey politician for their keynote speaker at an annual fundraising event in Helena.
Executive board member Jorge Quintana tweeted Wednesday that New Jersey’s U.S. Sen. Cory Booker would be coming to the Democrats’ Mansfield-Metcalf dinner on March 18.

Gianforte’s team wasted no time in pounding away at Democrats:

By inviting Booker to Montana, the Democrats have taken their “New Jersey” attack off the table, said Brock Lowrance, Gianforte’s new congressional campaign manager.

‘Montana Democrats spent an entire election leveling false and dishonest attacks against Greg Gianforte and where he is from,’ Lowrance told the Chronicle on Thursday. ‘Being the hypocrites they are, they’ve invited a liberal senator from New Jersey to give them advice following their horrible election year. That’s not irony, it’s satire.’

How did the D’s respond? Crickets…

A spokeswoman for the Montana Democrats did not respond to a request for comment.

Gianforte should send a “thank you” card to whoever thought it would be a great idea to invite a senator from New Jersey. Too funny.

There’s More To The Story About The City And The Children’s Museum…

Move along. Nothing to see here…

What else is one supposed to glean from the Tribune’s coverage of the City’s relationship with the Children’s Museum of Montana? The City isn’t evicting the museum, they would never do that, and angsty, misinformed residents are spewing “alternative facts” on social media, etc.

But doesn’t it seem like there’s more to this story? Here’s the lede from the Trib:

The Children’s Museum of Montana and the city of Great Falls are in discussion about the museum’s plans for the future, and the city is considering converting the site into an office building if the move makes sense for both parties.

From this, one presumes that the Children’s Museum might inexplicably abandon its well-furnished home of 18 years, and not attempt to renew its very generous lease of $1/year, which expires in 2018. (How, then, would moving make sense for both parties?) Or, one could surmise that the City plans to raise the rent, and effectively serve the museum — not now, but next year — a de facto eviction notice. So, which is it?

Highlighting to readers what the museum wants out of the deal seems to be such a fundamental element to the story, yet this information is nowhere to be found in the Tribune. Instead, it is teased and suggested that, actually, maybe the museum wants out of its (also unreported) $1/year lease with the City. Children’s Museum of Montana Executive Director Sandie Edwards told E-City Beat, emphatically, “We want to stay.”

In the Trib’s article, Mayor Bob Kelly said the City was just wondering if the museum had gotten too big to operate in its existing home.

Great Falls Mayor Bob Kelly said, ‘It would be silly to start a big construction project if the museum comes to us when the lease expires in ’18 and says they’ve outgrown the space. We’re merely having the conversation to see if they want to go somewhere else.’

Fair enough. They don’t want to go somewhere else, though, and according to Edwards, “We do not need more space (as reported by KFBB). We rock the space we have and constantly change out the exhibits to bring new life down there for the visitors.”

(First, who told KFBB the Children’s Museum needs more space? Not the museum’s Executive Director. Second, it’s reasonable that the City wants to “[have] a conversation” about the museum’s intentions. But doesn’t it sound like this should make for an extremely brief discussion? They want to stay. Third, just how big is this “big construction project” Kelly mentions? The Children’s Museum is huge. How many new employees does the City plan on hiring? Enough to fill the museum? To what extent does the City intend to grow local government?)

To his credit, Kelly pledged to stand with the Children’s Museum.

Kelly’s wife, Sheila, was one of the Children’s Museum of Montana’s founding board members and served as president for several years.

‘We have no intention whatsoever to remove them from the space,’ Kelly said. ‘I wouldn’t be able to go home if those lines were crossed.’

So if the City has “no intention whatsoever” of displacing the Children’s Museum, and if the museum isn’t currently facing eviction (as the Trib’s headline screams), then why was there so much outcry and “misinformation” on Facebook in the first place? Are these museum-backers just a bunch of cranks? Not exactly. The City has been openly, albeit quietly, eyeing the museum, at a minimum, since the Jan. 3, 2017 work session, although it’s not an idea City Commissioner Bill Bronson supports:

With regard to space utilization, Commissioner Bronson commented that he would like more information and data. He expressed opposition with regard to doing additions to the Civic Centers, and utilizing the Children’s Museum. He expressed support with regard to maintaining a campus environment. Commissioner Bronson commented that all alternatives need to be looked at by the Mansfield Center for utilizing other aspects of the Civic Center. He requested more information before making a final decision.

So, what triggered the alarm bells? If both Kelly and Bronson oppose utilizing the Children’s Museum, then which elected official thinks it’s actually a good idea to gut the museum for office space for City staff? This doesn’t sound like the machinations of Bob Jones or Fred Burow. According to Edwards, that official is City Commissioner Tracy Houck, who is also the Executive Director of the Paris Gibson Square Museum of Art. Now why would a fellow museum director want to drive out the CMOM?

Edwards met with Houck and City Manager Greg Doyon on Jan. 12. “[Doyon] told me this was Tracy’s idea. He has been wonderful to work with and is super positive about the future of the museum,” Edwards said.

Houck did not respond to emails sent to both her City and personal email accounts seeking comment.

Edwards will meet with Kelly and Doyon on March 6 to further discuss the issue. “The City has always supported the museum. We look forward to working with them in the future. Bob Kelly has also been hugely supportive of the museum over the years. I’m looking forward to meeting with him in March, as well,” Edwards said.

What is the purpose of this subsequent meeting? The positions from both sides are clear. The folks who run the Children’s Museum want the organization to stay where it is, and it should stay where it is. It is a Great Falls treasure, one which proudly served over 70,000 people in 2016, including many low-income families. The museum has used over $2 million donated dollars to elevate itself to what, and where, it is today. The mayor’s words, while encouraging, now require action. Kelly says he won’t cross “those lines,” so why not put it in writing? At this point, the only reason the City should meet with Edwards and her board is to show them, not tell them, how important their organization is, and to extend the lease for the Children’s Museum of Montana, just as it is now.

The City Manager’s Weekly Packet

Have you seen the City of Great Falls’ new website? It’s very well done, and is for the most part a user-friendly hub of relevant information. In addition to the City directory and meeting minutes, there is also the City Manager’s Weekly Packet. While not strictly released on a weekly basis, the latest installment contains some awfully interesting items, most of which were from the City Commission’s retreat/strategic planning mission:

Remember the idea of a City-wide Parks Maintenance District we wrote about not too long ago? The City Commission likes it:

After discussion about implementation of the Park Master Plan, it was the consensus of the Commission to pursue a Park Maintenance District, but agreed that the fees imposed should be reasonable and not include golf or the Natatorium. Manager Doyon suggested that a more robust maintenance fee may result in more money in the general fund to support public safety and ultimately less cost to the public versus a public safety levy. The Commission concurred. [emphasis added]

The real question here is, What does the Commission consider to be a “reasonable” fee amount?

On another item, costs to repair the Civic Center are estimated in the $6 – 8 million dollar range. With the golf fund $1 million in debt to the general fund (and continuing to operate in the red), one option the City is mulling to offset these losses is closing Anaconda Hills Golf Course:

Manager Doyon reported that Director Raymond is putting together an RFP for the Civic Center facade project. Staff estimates the project will be $6 – 8 million dollars. Funding the project will be a challenge with the golf fund deficit. The golf course owes the general fund $1 million dollars. With the operating losses, the likelihood is low that the golf course will be able to pay back the general fund. The Commission was receptive to entertaining the idea of writing off the debt and closing the Anaconda Hills golf course. The P&R Master Plan has shown that the City of Great Falls doesn’t need two golf courses. [emphasis added] Golf funds could be used towards other needs instead of paying back the debt. The Commission requested cost figures of closing the golf course, and any land requirements when the property was deeded to the City. Manager Doyon discussed projected revenue increases and options to partially fund the facade project with debt and cash.

While a tax assessment for parks and the closure of a public golf course do not appear to be imminent (as far as we can tell), they are ideas generally supported, and being entertained, respectively, by the City Commission.

Adam Hertz Might Be Our New Favorite Legislator

Adam Hertz

Rep. Adam Hertz is the man.

He’s young, he’s smart, and he’s getting things done in Helena. (Two of his bills, HB 297 and HB 300, were passed out of committee unanimously.)

Before entering the Legislature, Hertz served a term on the Missoula City Council, where he opposed Missoula’s unconstitutional gun ordinance. As a fiscal conservative, he found himself not just in the minority, but often as the lone dissenting voice on the uber-progressive council. (Note to Great Falls City Commissioners: it’s OK to disagree with each other on occasion.)

The freshman Republican has also shown a willingness to sensibly buck party orthodoxy. See his Facebook post on capital punishment:


And perhaps best of all, he recently introduced legislation, HB 430, that would allow retirement homes to purchase liquor licenses:

U.S. Senator Hertz? Governor Hertz?

Anyone Want To Run For School Board?

Three School Board seats are up for grabs in this year’s Great Falls school election, set for May 2, 2017. The election will be held by mail. Thus far, according to the Commissioner of Political Practices’ website, incumbents Jan Cahill (Board Chairman) and Don Ryan have filed for re-election. Trustee Jason Brantley is also up for another three-year term.

Cahill’s a good hand, and should be a shoe-in not only to win, but to receive the most overall votes. Ryan and Brantley should be formidable as well, as incumbents traditionally dominate Great Falls school elections.

If you’re considering serving on the School Board, there’s still plenty of time to decide.

The filing deadline closes March 23.

Bozeman, Montana: Sanctuary City?

How spineless.

Bozeman will not become a sanctuary city.

This evening, the Bozeman City Commission instead passed a mayoral proclamation declaring Bozeman a “safe, welcoming, and inclusive community,” to the chagrin of a handful of residents. The proclamation reads:

WHEREAS, for more than twenty years the City of Bozeman has passed Resolutions declaring itself to be a welcoming community, an inclusive community and a community that values

diversity; and

WHEREAS, one of the primary functions of our City is providing safety for all; and

WHEREAS, the difficulties and uncertainties of present times have created concerns about our community’s safety and resolve;

THEREFORE, I, Carson Taylor, Mayor of the City of Bozeman, hereby state and proclaim that our City continues to welcome all, continues to be an inclusive community, and continues to thrive in the diversity of experience and backgrounds that populate our City; and I specifically reaffirm that one of our primary purposes is the safety of all persons within our City, and I pledge that the City will continue to protect the safety of all people, regardless of their status.

This sweeping, all-encompassing statement was not meaty enough for some community activists:

‘I recognize that this City Commission is trying to do the right thing by this proclamation, but I find it too bland and insufficient to meet the needs of my heart,’ said organizer Margarita McLarty. ‘And I know that I am not alone in this community.’

‘I want more,’ she continued. ‘I want a community dialogue. I want to see us step up and deal with the issues that are happening now in the country.’

McLarty and several other speakers told commissioners they’re disheartened by the Trump administration’s efforts to crack down on immigration enforcement and want to see the city take a strong stance in opposition.

She and tens of other sanctuary city advocates showed up in force at last week’s commission meeting, urging the city to make the partially symbolic declaration, that would have affirmed the city’s commitment to supporting residents regardless of their immigration status and limited city law enforcement’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

McLarty makes a compelling argument: she has a voice, and a heart, and it has needs. How dare local law enforcement cooperate with federal agencies. Moreover, who cares if the Trump administration defunds the City? Surely, the citizens and legal residents of Bozeman would make due somehow. Taking a symbolic stand for illegal aliens undocumented migrants, at the behest of “tens of people,” is infinitely more important, and would better serve the community, than would continuing to receive heaps of money from the federal government.

Say what you will about some of the “gadflies” who attend City Commission meetings in Great Falls — they’ve got nothin’ on Bozeman.

Poll: GFPD Vs. The Great Falls Tribune

On Friday, the Great Falls Police Department issued a media release responding to a Tribune story about the Great Falls Rescue Mission. You can read the Tribune’s response to the GFPD release here.

Can anyone recall the GFPD ever scolding local media like this? The fact that our (excellent) police department felt compelled to make any kind of statement says a lot, frankly.

But what do you think? Do you agree with the GFPD, or did the Tribune get it right? Vote in our poll, and tell us why in the Comments…


[poll id=”5″]