Park Pickpocket

Did you know that the City of Great Falls is spending Great Falls taxpayers money to promote a ballot measure to, wait for it…get more of Great Falls taxpayers money!

The Great Falls Parks and Recreation Department’s yearly Summer Guide, paid for with our tax dollars, came out today in the Tribune and last week at various locations and it was filled with “information” about the new proposed consolidated Park District tax which will be on the ballot this May, including warnings of the dire consequences if voters don’t vote in favor of it and a big, red “VOTE MAY 8, 2018”.

In addition, city staff, paid for by our tax dollars, has been busy with “informational” presentations and flyers and meetings with Mayor Kelly and others. Your city government has been using its resources and moolah, our tax dollars, to promote the Park District plan. And the cost of that plan to taxpayers?:

“The cost of the proposed improvements for the district is $1.5 million annually for the first three years; the assessment method will be based on taxable value; the estimated 2018 assessment for a property with a 2017 Market Value of $100,000 would be $22.92 per year ($1.91/month).  The amount of the assessment can be adjusted annually and must be set by resolution and adopted by the City Commission.” – (emphasis added)

This expenditure of your money by the city in a campaign to get more of your money is made possible because the City of Great Falls formed an Incidental Political Committee registered with the Montana Office of Political Practices for the purpose of influencing the May election in favor of the Park District levy. The City of Great Falls Incidental Committee lists Melissa Kinzler as Treasurer. Ms. Kinzler is also the Director of Fiscal Services for the City of Great Falls.

It appears that so far the city has spent $6052.78 to promote the Park District plan to get more of our money. Here is a detailed accounting.

This kind of stuff shouldn’t surprise anyone here. Remember last year when the city spent $16,403.35 (not including labor cost) on a full color fancy brochure mail insert promoting the Park District levy which they included with the tax levy protest form! You can’t make this stuff up.

So even though they are not explicitly declaring “VOTE YES FOR THE PARK DISTRICT” in their “informational presentations”, which would not be permitted even under the label of an incidental committee, the City of Great Falls is nevertheless promoting a big new local tax and they are using your tax dollars to do it.

“So even though they are not explicitly declaring “VOTE YES FOR THE PARK DISTRICT” in their “informational presentations”, which would not be permitted even under the label of an incidental committee, the City of Great Falls is nevertheless promoting a big new local tax and they are using your tax dollars to do it.”

Are you okay with that? We’re not.

Reader interactions

11 Replies to “Park Pickpocket”

  1. Michael J Winters April 6, 2018 at 7:00 PM

    I am wondering “Is there a conflict of interest here “? Seems that way to me !! Perhaps I may be uninformed !
    And I may be wrong–seems like the coyote is watching the hen house !!


  2. Here’s an interesting little tidbit:

    The cost for critical capital improvements for the Natatorium, $600,000, is found on page 140 of GF Park Master Plan:

    But it appears the GF City Commissioners have written off the Natatorium and want to build a new facility. This following is from the GF City Commission Special Work Session Meeting Notes, 03/27/18:

    “Additionally, ALL AGREED THAT THE NATATORIUM IS UNSAFE AND BEYOND SALVAGEABLE (emphasis added). The Commission discussed the impact of a closure, and suggested planning for its replacement before closing it down. Manager Doyon again noted that once they know the outcome of the Park District after the May election, Park and Recreation staff will have the ability to explore creative opportunities. It was also noted that the community deserves handicap accessibility in parks.”

    Meeting minutes:

    BTW, City of GF, where is the video of this meeting? I didn’t find it posted yet.

    And how convenient for the city commission that the Park Master Plan lists a new facility to replace the Natatorium as an option under Capital Improvement Program, Visionary, on page 142 of the Park Master Plan:

    “Construct a 50,000 sq. ft. Multi-Generational Center that replaces the existing Recreation Center and Moronoy Natatorium $20,000,000”

    Yep, you’re reading that right–20 million dollars for a new combined Recreation Center/Natatorium.

    Granted, that is listed as a “visionary” project, which the Park Master Plan defines as:

    “…illustrating the ultimate goals of the community, and by providing a long-range look to address future needs and deficiencies. The following new development and redevelopment projects have been identified as relevant to the interests and needs of the community and are relevant to the city’s focus because they feature a high probability of success.”

    But considering that, once passed, the Park District levy can be adjusted annually and that the city commission appears hell-bent on writing off the “unsalvageable” Natatorium, is the handwriting on the wall for taxpayers to pay for a new Recreation Center/Natatorium if this levy passes?


  3. Correction to the above, GF City Commission Special Work Session Meeting Minutes, 03/27/18, not “Notes.”


  4. Michael J Winters April 7, 2018 at 7:20 AM

    Still no answer —-Is this a conflict of interest or not ? Is the incidental Political Committee and Ms. Melissa as treasurer not a conflict ? Is this the coyote watching the hen house ? Or not ! Any one have an answer or opinion ?


    1. Mike, it’s not a legal conflict of interest but it certainly has the appearance of impropriety in my opinion.

      I don’t understand why they they would go ahead and proceed with using taxpayer resources and personnel to promote this tax levy. Especially after the recent conflicts of interest and unethical behavior on the part of certain city commissioners in the CDBG fiasco and the underhanded way they dealt with the park district tax protest forms last July.

      No wonder public confidence has once again been undermined and is rapidly eroding once again.


    2. Mike, I think the city’s position is that they’re merely “educating” us on the Park District versus promoting or lobbying for it, and in that way, perhaps they feel they can avoid being accused of conflicts of interest. I base my assumption on City Attorney Sexe’s comments, City Commission Special Meeting Minutes from January 8, 2018:

      “City Attorney Sara Sexe explained that if the Resolution requesting that the Special Park District be placed on the ballot is adopted, an Incidental Political Committee would be filed to help the City with regard to educating the public (electioneering communication), and tracking time and expenses would start. She further reported that Director Kinzler would be the Treasurer for the C2 and C4 forms filed of the Commissioner of Political Practices.
      She further explained that if the Commission or City staff were utilizing City resources, such as email, time, and buildings etc., they would need to make sure they were engaging in the educational component versus the promotional component.”

      My take from her communication is that she’s letting them know that educating is okay, whereas promoting (or lobbying for) the park district might draw attention from the Office of Political Practices.

      It appears to me that Montana Code Annotated 2-2-121. Rules of conduct for public officers and public employees, covers what the city commission and city employees can and cannot do related to ballot issues:

      “(b) As used in this subsection (3), “properly incidental to another activity required or authorized by law” does not include any activities related to solicitation of support for or opposition to the nomination or election of a person to public office or political committees organized to support or oppose a candidate or candidates for public office. With respect to ballot issues, properly incidental activities are restricted to:

      (i) the activities of a public officer, the public officer’s staff, or legislative staff related to determining the impact of passage or failure of a ballot issue on state or local government operations;”

      So, educating us on the impacts of the ballot issues passage or failure, appears to be within the law, but in my opinion, they’re walking a thin line on this one.

      Of course, I’m not an attorney, so this isn’t a legal opinion 🙂


  5. Philip M. Faccenda April 7, 2018 at 11:22 AM

    A comment to Jeni Dodd’s comment about a $20M recreation center: Why not let developers incorporate that rec facility into the Electra Arena instead of picking the taxpayer’s pockets? All the City has to do is donate the property and let private enterprise do its thing.


  6. Michael J Winters April 7, 2018 at 5:13 PM

    I think with due respect–this legal jargon and interpenetration is quite clear as muddy water. In the nut shell it still appears as the coyote is watching the chickens,fooling the farmer into believing he is doing the right thing and the farmer is thanking the coyote for the education.I love our parks and they should be maintained properly. But giving any commission an open ended opportunity is not the right way to go. Lets see better management of the funds (tax monies ) before we pour more into the city coffers.


    1. Mike, I’d agree with that…what it boils down to is them asking us to trust them with a TWENTY-YEAR-LONG, OPEN-ENDED tax and spend on parks.


  7. Cory McKinney April 8, 2018 at 9:59 AM

    This solves nothing. The majority of our city does not visit the pools on a regular basis because they cant afford to take their family to them, The city cant afford to maintain them obviously, so let’s take more money from people who cant afford to use the services as it is and build another more expensive pool! Who in the hell thinks this will help our city? Our parks are decaying, our pools are decaying, our local shops are being regulated out of business and replaced with corporate chains that suck money out of our city, while more and more people are resorting to theft or drugs to earn a living as they are tired of working multiple low wage jobs to barely make ends meet. I believe our city is so out of touch with reality or so corrupt its going to take a major uprising to get them to open their eyes. Now I’m not advocating a uprising I’m just saying they no longer willingly listen to the population or care about trying to improve living conditions for the families in great falls. Seems to me if they can afford to no longer work for the people we should no longer pay them. I will vote no on every future levy or tax until the city starts working on plans to fix the real problems in great falls. Number 1 issue that keeps great falls people from advancing financially is costly over regulation that only help corporations because they have funds to meet the regulations. Wealthy out of stater lease rates is another thing keeping our citizens on welfare as it takes all the profits from anyone wanting to start a business. These are real problems that keep our economy stagnant.


    1. Philip M. Faccenda April 8, 2018 at 7:32 PM

      You are right on every point. Please ask your neighbors, family and friends to vote No on both levies. It is the necessary first step in restoring some sanity to government and showing elected officials that we are not going to take it anymore. VOTE NO ON MAY 8TH!


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