Wednesday, December 20

Umm, I guess we get to choose?

I was intrigued by the story on Multiple Sclerosis featured on page one of today's Trib.

Apparently, Vitamin D may keep one from contracting MS. Where does one get Vitamin D? Sunlight.

Yes, the same sunlight that can cause skin cancer. The reason that so many people wear floppy hats and long-sleeved shirts at the beach.

If this study proves to be true, do we have to choose which we want, MS or Skin Cancer?

Remember Carl Sagan Today

Today is the 10th anniversary of Carl Sagan's death.

Sagan was one of the most important popularizers of science. His vision created a respect for the scientific process, reason and for nature in generations of children (and adults).

I miss this man. Today, we should remember him and his vision.

Why Does the City Erect Crèches on Municipal Property?

I have thought a long time about this post. I still don't know whether it is a good idea to write it or not. Quite frankly, I don't want my yarmulke nailed to the wall right next to Rabbi Bogomilsky's.

However, every time I pass by the crèche (manger scene) on the civic center steps or the one on flag hill, I get upset. By erecting these displays (or allowing them to be erected), the city is telling me that I really am not welcome here. Sure, I can live here; but just don't get too uppity.

I have no problem with the trees. For that matter, I can deal with (but am still unhappy with) the way that normal life grinds to a halt the day after Thanksgiving and only starts back up after January 1st. Truth be told, I think that the lights are pretty and I do like the smell of pine.

I also don't want to erect an "equivalent display." I neither need nor want to display a series of big, municipal chanukiot. The little menorah in my window is fine for me, thanks.

When it comes down to it, a crèche is just too much and just too in my face. It is overtly religious and Christian, and just does not belong on city property. If it does belong, why doesn't the city just put up a sign that says "Christians Only" at the gates of our town?

Bah, Humbug.


You may have noticed labels cropping up on my blog posts over the last month or so. I switched over to blogger's new beta, and labels were the feature that swung me over.

Not all my posts are categorized (yet?). Especially the older ones. However, as time permits I hope to put labels on my golden oldies.

While you are at it, check out the "label roll" to the left.

We Need to Put Up or Shut Up

Let me be clear; Great Falls and Cascade county would be fools to allow any encroachment on Malmstrom's runway. Our future is tied to Malmstrom AFB. We need to give the Pentagon every assurance that we support the base.

If you think that they are not watching our local municipal decision here, you are crazy. Whether or not we allow any development in the runway's potential accident zone will send a message straight to Arlington about whether or not we support the Air Force here. We need to send a full throated vote of support.

If we don't, I suggest you look to places like Havre and Fort Benton. Because within a very few short years, Great Falls will very strongly resemble those places. If we are lucky, we will be as successful as Shelby.

Not that my 2¢ means much, but I will work to oppose any city, county or state politician that votes to allow encroachment. I work hard to not be a single-issue voter, but this one is too important for the future of our town.

HOWEVER, we need to put our money in place of our mouths. We could not, and should not, take away property owner's rights to their own property without fully reimbursing them. To do otherwise would be as bad as stealing these landowner's property.

Whatever the vehicle used (an easement, eminent domain, etc.), the city and/or the county needs to buy that land and lock it away from development for as long as it takes. What's more, we should pay whatever the appraised value of that land would be if they were allowed their development.

Wednesday, December 13

Borscht for Beginners

Today for lunch, I visited an establishment in downtown Great Falls that shall remain nameless. This establishment prepares a different soup of the day, each day.

I was delighted to see "Borscht" on the menu. For the benefit of those of you whose ancestors were not living in fear of the Tzar 110 years ago (Fiddler on the Roof most resembles a family history to the Weissmans), Borscht (or "soup" in Russian) is what I call Jewish soul food. Absolute heaven. Such a meal!

I, of course, inquired about the Borscht. I was informed that it was a vegetarian beet soup, served hot. The horror! Quite frankly, I had never heard anything so goyish since I first saw a blueberry bagel.

So, a lesson is in order. During the summer, borscht is a COLD vegetarian beet soup, best served with a cold slice of baked potato and sour cream. Summer borscht is simply not served in the Winter, and December in Montana qualifies as Winter.

December in Montana, however, is a perfect time for Winter Borscht. Winter Borscht is a hot cabbage and beef stew. No beets. Beets belong in Summer Borscht. I can't imagine anything worse than hot beet soup.

I will dig out a recipe in the next few days.

Tuesday, December 12

Dror Edar to Perform in Great Falls on December 14

Dror Eydar, a lecturer in Hebrew literature, Jewish thought, Jewish mysticism and Israeli politics at universities throughout Israel, will present an evening of chosen Israeli and Jewish songs in Great Falls on Thursday, December 14 at 7 p.m. at the Cozy Tea Hut, 200 Central Avenue.

Eydar's performance, called "Heaven and Earth: The Israel Experience" comes to Great Falls courtesy of the Israeli outreach group SoulTrain in cooperation with Aitz Chaim, the Great Falls Hebrew Association.

Absence continues ...

Not a lot of fresh content here, and I can't promise much before the New Year. Of course, then it is tax and ski season, so I can't promise much then, either!

Do yourself a favor; go over to Firefly's place and read what she has been writing about Flag Hill. Then, go over to ECW and read about the finances of the new proposed coal plant. Good writing by thoughtful people.

Check back here every once in a while; I might even have something worthwhile for you to read. Not today, though.

Saturday, December 2

Game called for fog?

Boston University goalie John Curry searches for the puck in the fog as Matt Gilroy and Boston College forward Brian Boyle battle in front of the goal.To Terrier or Eagle alum, the annual BU/BC mens hockey game is a really big deal. Boston's version of the Cat-Griz game. To make things even better, CSTV was scheduled to broadcast the game last night.

So, I popped the popcorn, uncapped a brew (bought in a nice six-pack) and settled in to watch the game.

However, the game was called 10 minutes in due to ... fog. Couldn't even see the puck on the ice. Never saw that one coming.

Game is rescheduled for tonight. And damn, it isn't going to be on the tube here.

Friday, November 24

Skate Park Covered with Graffiti

On this blustery day after Thanksgiving, I took a long bike ride instead of fighting shoppers. I know, I know, I am not doing much to help our consumer driven economy. However, I had much turkey that needed to be worked off.

During the workout, I rode by our municipal concussion generator. I was surprised to see that most of the park is covered with graffiti. Examples of all this spray-paint artistry are displayed on this post.

Now, the city is very quick to notify property owners that they only have 72 hours to remove graffiti on their property. If not, the city will remove it for the property owner at $200 per hour.

These paintings look like they have been up for a lot longer than three days. I would guess that the pumpkin display above has been up since before Halloween. Other paintings have been up for so long that they are beginning to fade.

I am assuming that the city just doesn't know about it; otherwise they would be following their own regulations, right? Right. And if you believe that, come see me about some beachfront property in Kansas. Unfortunately, the city is damned either way here. Either they are not following their own regs or they are not paying attention to their own facilities.

The city needs to clean up this mess.

Tuesday, November 21

Welcome to Chaim and Chavie!

Chabad is coming to the Big Sky State!

I just received an email from Rabbi Chaim Bruk. He and his wife, Chavie, are planning on moving to Bozeman this Spring! They will open the first Montana branch of the worldwide Chabad Lubavitch movement.

Organized Orthodox Judaism has existed in Montana before. At the turn of the last century, there was an Orthodox synagogue (and even a schochet) in Butte. However, almost all of present-day Montana Jewry is either affiliated with the Reform Judaism movement or is very liberal in its practice.

Personally, I am very excited to learn from Rabbi Bruk. May he and his wife have safe travels!

Twenty-Four Percent ?!?!?!?!

My company just received our annual Health Insurance renewal quote from Blue-Cross/Blue Shield. An across the board twenty-four percent increase. 24%. That is on top of double digit increases every year for the past ten years.

Who can pay this kind of rate? This year, the individual rate is as much as the family rate was when my daughter was born eight years ago.

Obscene and disgusting. Makes me want to throw up.

Monday, November 20

Say it Ain't So!

A short break from local Great Falls political ramblings ...

A news item just crossed my inbox. Apparently, New Line cinema has fired Peter Jackson from directing their upcoming Hobbit movie due to a contract dispute over the Lord of the Rings movies.

LOTR would never have been such a faithful interpretation of Professor Tolkein's vision if it were not for Peter Jackson. As a result of his actions, those of that have spent part of our lives living and breathing Tolkein were shown three very majestic and inspiring films. There and Back Again should be nothing less.

Bring back Jackson! New Line should be ashamed.

Channel 5 wants to hear what I have to say

I was just interviewed for News Channel 5. I think that the story will air tonight.

They are doing another story on local bloggers. They are following up after their story about greaterfalls.netcom, which was broadcast yesterday.

Beer Sales Issue Needs More Attention

As I have discussed before (here and here), there is a public vagrancy problem in Great Falls that need attention. However, I think I have been too hasty in supporting a proposed measure to ban convenience stores from selling single cans of beer.

The more I read and discuss about this issue, the more unworkable this ban seems to be. Most problematic is the definition of a single can of beer; is a 24 oz. bottle to be banned? It is very difficult to construct an ordinance that narrowly does what is necessary here without raising additional questions.

In addition, such an ordinance would also inappropriately affect merchants, like Vintage Sellers on the West side of town, that import high-end beer that is only available by the single bottle. I have no desire to impact that business in any way.

However, I think it a mistake to throw out the baby with the bath-water. We still have vagrancy, public drunkenness, and public nuisance problems in our downtown. Many of those problems could be solved by restricting access to single cans of been.

So how do we do it? How do we write an ordinance that works to clean up our downtown without painting with too broad a brush?

I suggest that the ordinance be amended, to state that the total transaction for any sale involving carry out alcohol must total at least $3. The effect is the same (it is still more difficult to panhandle that much) and one can still buy a can of Bud at the M&H. However, you will have to buy some chips and maybe a sandwich with your brew.

What do you think?

Friday, November 10

Neighborhood Council 7 Meeting Agenda

Monday, November 13, 2006
Heisey Memorial, 313 7th Street North
6:30 p.m.

Please note: This agenda format allows citizens to speak on each issue prior to Council discussion. We encourage your participation. In the interest that all parties can be heard, please limit your comments.


Great Falls Public Schools—Trustee Stuart Nicholson


Approval of October minutes
Weed and Seed application for the North side—Jayci Kolar
Whittier teacher parking

Longfellow School traffic problems
Neighborhood Concerns

City Commission meetings
Coordinator’s Report


Next Meeting – December 11, 2006 – Civic Center, Gibson Room, 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, November 8

Benefis Deserves Hurrah

Also swept aside with the election was news that Benefis decided to drop their suit against the Clinic. Personally, I think that Benefis deserves some community hurrahs for taking the first step toward a détente in the war among health care providers in our community.

Benefis could have continued their suit, and patient care in our community would have suffered. Yesterday, Benefis signaled that they were more interested in caring for their patients than they are in fighting.

Now is the time for the Clinic to make the next step. There is no reason that our hospital and our doctors can not work together.

Northside Schmucks should return Teacher's bike

Lost among the election news in today's paper is a blurb about a 3 Wheeled bike that was stolen from Mrs. Staiger, a handicapped HANDS teacher at Whittier elementary. Whoever stole this bike should be ashamed.

As a community, we can help right this wrong. I have priced a replacement bike; it will cost about $475 to purchase a new bike. The Whittier PTA will raise that money.

Want to help? Please send a check to the Whittier PTA, c/o Whittier Elementary, 305 8th Street North, Great Falls, MT 59401. Please mark on the subject line that the funds are to be used to replace Mrs. Staiger's bike.

Yesterday was a Good Day

When I started this blog, it was with the idea that I would highlight what I believe to be the "purple" majority in this country; people that are less Democrats or Republicans than they are Americans.

Yesterday was a very good day for that majority. Personally, I think that part of the reason that the GOP Congress did such a good job from 1995-2000 was that our country had a Democratic President.

The past six years have been something of an anomaly in our post-war history. Having one party hold undivided power is neither common nor is it good for our nation. I welcome the new Democratic majority in Congress, and hope that it provides a necessary check on our government.

Let the hearings begin!

Tuesday, November 7

If you haven't done so already, go and VOTE already!

The one thing that separates the great idea of democracy from other forms of government is the ability of a plurality of the people to determine who governs.

Today, options are before us regarding not only who will make our laws, but about what many of those laws should be. In the past several days, I have posted some of my opinions about those laws.

Whether or not you agree with me, I urge you to go to your polling place and VOTE.

Saturday, November 4

Vote Yes on Aquatics Bond Issue

Another issue that Electric City voters will have before them on Tuesday will be the aquatics bond issue. If passed, this initiative will spend $2.3 Million to fix up our neighborhood pools.

Specifically, about half the funds borrowed through this initiative will fix up the Jaycee and Water Tower pools so that they can be reopened. The other half will go to maintenance on the Mitchell Pool.

We need to keep our city aquatics facilities. Without this initiative, the Jaycee and Water Tower pools will have to be shuttered permanently.

Vote Yes on the Aquatics Bond Issue.

Vote No on I-151

This Tuesday, we have some decisions to make. One of those decisions will be whether or not to increase the minimum wage.

As I have argued before, a $1 increase really doesn't make too much difference in today's economy. The market has taken care of things; there is no real job (except service jobs primarily held by high school kids) that pays the "legal" minimum. In the business I run, the starting wage is now over $8; that is really the case anywhere in our State.

The real danger of I-151 is mandated annual increases in the minimum wage, based on the growth of the federal Consumer Price Index. The CPI is based on the average federal inflation rate.

Now, prices in New York or Los Angeles do not necessarily have any relation to prices in Great Falls, MT. To tie our minimum wage laws to the national economy is a recipe for disaster for many Montana small businesses.

Like I said, a $1 increase will not have much impact on either Montana workers or the (mostly) small businesses that employ them. However, annual increases will. If such a thing happens, one of two things will have to happen; either prices will have to go up or businesses will have to reduce growth and potentially shutter their doors.

There is only so much room a business has to raise prices. When they reach that ceiling, the next decision will have to be to, say, hire five people for a new venture instead of ten. Worse, the decision might be to not open a new business instead of be forced to pay more for a job than the position is really worth.

Vote no on I-151. It takes control of our economy out of our hands.

Friday, October 27

Benefis ER is Top Notch

In this space, I have reserved a great deal of criticism for the administration and management of medical care here in the Electric City. However, I would like to take this opportunity to note what wonderful care we do have here, despite the bickering and fighting between the CEO offices of the various institutions providing that care.

I spent a great deal of last night in the Benefis emergency room, tending to an elderly aunt who had fallen earlier in the evening. The ER staff was professional, kind, considerate and attentive to her needs. She had broken her femur, and the staff their deserves all the kudos and kind words I can muster.

I fear, however, that the professionalism and devotion to patient care that was so evident to me last night does not extend to management offices of the Hospital or the Clinic. Despite this, their staff does a great job.

If any of you read this space, thank you for the care and attention you gave my Aunt.

Thursday, October 26

The Sound You Hear is Hell Freezing Over

In the past few days, the Tribune has issued opinions on three ballot initiatives, Initiative 153, Constitutional Initiative 43 and Constitutional Initiative 151. In all three cases, I have no choice but to conclude that someone in the Editor's office is spot-on.

Initiative 153 would ban State employees from going right into lobbying after they leave State employment. This is a good idea, and I think it should pass. Apparently, so does the Trib.

CI-43 would change the name of the State Auditor to the State Insurance Commissioner, and I think such trivia is silly and foolish. Again, the Trib and I are on the same page.

CI-151 would raise the minimum wage by $1, and then tie annual increases to the national Consumer Price Index. While a $1 increase may be a good idea (and also irrelevant), annually tying the minimum wage to the CPI would be harmful to small businesses and their employers. I think that this initiative goes too far, and again, the Trib and I agree.

I doubt that this streak will last long, but for the moment, I urge a vote as the Trib has recommended. At least for these three issues, anyway.

Wednesday, October 25

Walt Schweitzer Brouhaha

I read with interest a Missoula Independent story about the role that Walt Schweitzer, the Governor's brother, plays in our State Government. This story did give a valuable perspective on how our Governor thinks and acts. However, the relevations in that story did not make me think less of our Governor.

Powerful people need people they can trust. The Governor obviously trusts his brother. I do not see a problem with the Governor relying upon his brother.

I wonder how many people that object to Schweitzer's arrangement with his brother would have objected to RFK's appointment as Attorney General. Now, I know that this is a debatable point, but I submit that having RFK in a powerful position of trust make JFK a better President.

Now, I agree that it would be nice if there were some way to make Walter Schweitzer more accountable for his actions in his position of authority, as RFK was answerable to the Senate. However, if this is the worst charge that can be leveled against Schweitzer then he is doing very well, indeed.

Monday, October 23

9th Street -- Not a Raceway

To my mind, very little epitomizes poor civic planning more than 9th Street. In the past 20 years, what was designed and intended to be a sleepy residential by-way has become one of the main North-South arteries in Great Falls.

There are several reasons why this has happened, including the location of the Mall, the building of the 9th Street Bridge and the location of Wal-Mart.

However, none of these reasons address the problems that 9th Street creates for Lower North and South side residents.

Pedestrians are constantly forced to play a game of chicken when crossing this street. And they have to cross it all the time: at 9th Street at 3rd and 4th Avenue North to get to and from Whittier Elementary; at 6th Avenue South to get to Longfellow Elementary; at multiple locations to get to work and shopping downtown; etc.

We need to better control traffic on 9th Street. We need more pedestrian crosswalks on the South side of the Street and (dare I say it) traffic light at 4th Avenue North and 6th Avenue South.

What do you think?

UPDATE: Of course, there is a light at 6th Avenue South. However, there is still a need for better traffic control between 2nd Avenue South and 10th Avenue South on 9th Street.

Wednesday, October 18

Moroney Natatorium to Close November 18

The Natatorium is now scheduled to close on November 18 for at least a month. During that month, the Nat is scheduled to get a new pool liner and a new gutter system.

Tuesday, October 17

Learned a Few Interesting Coal Plant Facts Today ...

This afternoon, I attended a speech given by Tim Gregori of SME, providing status on the Highwood Generating Station. He brought up a few interesting points. As I have repeatedly stated, I am not an expert on these kinds of issues. However, I would like to hear what kind of response others have to these points;

1) Whatever debate we have as a community should not be IGCC vs. CFB. IGCC is a new, promising technology. However, only two IGCC power plants are operational in this country today, neither sequesters CO2 emissions, and both only operate at 80% efficiency. New technology needs to be matured, and five regional Montana municipalities are probably not the best agents to mature this technology.

What's more, the gas created by the IGCC technology has a higher value if sold as gas than it does by burning it in a turbine. This is why the Governor's IGCC plant will not be generating power.

Finally, IGCC utilizes a CFB in order to capture its pollutants. The only advantage of IGCC would seem to be that it turns the coal into gas. CFB skips that step.

2) The Highwood CFB plant is proposing to sequester CO2 emissions. For the past several months, we have heard that the biggest problem with the coal plant will be its CO2 emissions. We have also heard that one of the biggest advantages of an IGCC plant is that it can sequester carbon, and that CFB was a dirty technology because it did not sequester.

This also appears to be bunk. Today I heard that the proposed CFB Highwood plant is planning on sequestering emissions.

So, today I ask another question. If it turns out that the CFB plant will be just as clean as an IGCC plant for 30% less money, why should we not support it?

Monday, October 16

Hockey Season Has Started!

My Terriers had their season opener this weekend; a 4-4 draw against RPI.

The dogs lost 5 seniors last Spring. However, of the five new freshmen that Coach Parker recruited to fill their places, three have already had draft interest from the NHL.

Go Dogs!

McGrath leaves Benefis' COPA in place

In one of the most shocking and welcome pieces of news I have seen in quite a while, our Attorney General has ruled that Benefis should still be required to operate under the Certificate of Public Advantage (COPA) put in place when the organization was created out of the merger between the Columbus and Deaconess hospitals.

Color me shocked; I figured that since the Supreme Court had allowed the Clinic to continue operating its Montana Surgical Hospital, the COPA was toast. Myself, I take it that McGrath figured that if Benefis could spend $75.2 Million on a new surgical tower, they didn't need regulatory relief.

Let's see how this plays out in the next few days ...

Thursday, October 12

Read Hartelius' Resignation Request to Harris Here

I have just received a copy of the letter. I find this to be a scathing attack, and one that should result in Harris' removal from the bench even if he were not facing election.

I know that there is personal bad blood between Hartelius and Harris. However, if that were to disqualify someone from criticizing Harris, at least 3/4 of the town should be disqualified.

My New Favorite Blog

Lately, I have been fascinated by OrthoMom, a blog written by an Orthodox Jewish mother living in the New York area.

Click here to read her update on a developing scandal in Staten Island, about a kosher grocery store selling non-kosher chickens as kosher birds, at a kosher price premium.

The tale reminds me of one told by my Great-grandmother, about why she stopped keeping kosher.

During Butte's heyday, there were three synagogues and a kosher butcher. My great-grandmother kept kosher, and regularly purchased the family meat from that schochet. One day, it became known that the butcher bought one cow from a local rancher. The next day, the shop had three fresh beef tongues for sale.

The next day, my great-grandmother stopped keeping kosher.

Need a Job? We are Now Hiring for a Tax Assistant

Local CPA firm seeks qualified applicants for position as a Tax Assistant. Position is full-time from January-April, and 30 hours per week May-December.

Salary begins at $8.50/hour. Beginning wage is flexible, depending upon experience.

Position requires prior tax and bookkeeping experience. Applicants are expected to be detail oriented, self-starting independent workers with computer literacy. Primary computer applications used will be Quickbooks, Excel and tax preparation software.

Any potential hire will be subject to a background check. Interested? Call 406-454-8988 to submit an application.

Wednesday, October 11

Noted Great Falls Attorney Asks JP Harris to Resign

I just learned that noted Great Falls attorney Channing Hartelius wrote Justice of the Peace Sam Harris a letter today, asking him to resign for gross violations of the Canons of Judicial Ethics. Let's see if the Tribune chooses to print the letter tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 10

Jury is Still out with Mandriva 2007

Well, I downloaded the 4.3GB install DVD for Mandriva 2007, and so far I have only installed it on my old workhorse 1 Ghz AMD. Install went smooth, and the eye candy in KDE is very nice.

From some very light usage so far, it seems more stable than the 2006 install. However, I think that some of the squirrely behavior might be due to a failing graphics card, which isn't really the fault of any OS.

From what I have seen so far, Mandriva with KDE is a very smooth and polished OS, if a bit slow on that older machine. However, IceWM is still a very viable option and let me get my work done very quickly.

I will post more after I have had the opportunity to use it more.

Helmets, Bicycles and the Skate Park

In its infinite wisdom, a few years ago the city decided to build a very elaborate concussion machine across the railroad tracks from Gibson Park. A great amount of public money was spent, and like the White Water Elephant, we own it and are obligated to manage it correctly.

For this reason, I was both pleased (that the paper was bringing the issue to the forefront) and frustrated (that the city is abdicating its responsibility) by the publication of this article in yesterday's Trib.

Now, before I come across as a big fuddy-duddy, let me say that I think that the Skate Park is a very nice asset for the city. If managed correctly, it provides youth an avenue for both exercise and entertainment and creates an incentive for both tourists and potential residents. It would have been nice, however, if private enterprise had built this asset on its own dime and liability risk.

We do now own it, however. Soon after its completion, the city began mandating the use of helmets and other protective equipment at the park. Violation of this ordinance is sufferable by payment of a $65 ticket.

However, as a short visit to the skate park will readily make obvious, that ordinance is regularly flouted. Kids usually have a police scanner on hand; when the police drive by, they sit down for a few minutes.

I brought up this issue at the Neighborhood Council 7 meeting last night. I was told that the police were told to enforce the helmet mandate after the fact, and that they were not doing so in a kind of not invented here mentality. For those of you that feel that I blindly back the the GF Police Department, take note: the Police shouldn't have the option of choosing which ordinances to enforce.

As a community, we are exposing ourselves to significant liability by not sufficiently enforcing the helmet mandate. Some kid is going to get hurt, and we will all be faced with increased taxes after they win their liability case.

Now, I know that resources are limited. I also balk at paying a city employee to do nothing but sit around the skate park handing out tickets. However, it does not require a fully-trained Police Officer to hand out tickets to kids not wearing helmets. I submit to you that it doesn't even take a city employee.

City parking enforcement is a contracted activity. There is no reason that the city could not let a contract to a firm that could station a guard at the park.

Here is the really controversial part; that guard's salary could be based upon the tickets he or she writes. If the guard's firm gets paid, say, $20 for each $65 ticket, the whole deal could be revenue neutral.

What say you?

Increasing Number of Commissioners Bad Idea Whose Time Has Not Come

Among the items that voters will decide in the upcoming election is a recommendation from our City government analysis board to increase the number of City Commissioners from five to seven.

The stated reason for the change is be to increase the likelihood of geographic diversity among our commissioners. However, this proposal does nothing to guarantee such diversity; it only puts two more at-large seats at the table.

I am not sure where I stand on at-large representation of the commission vs. having commissioners run from areas or wards. However, this proposal only talks around that issue and does not really deal with it.

In addition, this proposal could excacerbate the problem being cited by the proposal's backers. Under such a regime, we could very well have seven commissioners from the same part of town instead of five.

Fundamentally, I oppose this proposal because it is poorly thought out, ineffective and therefore philosophically dishonest. I encourage you to vote against it.

Friday, October 6

Electric City Medical News This Week Deserves Comment

While I know that the GF Blogosphere has been very busy with JP Harris' Foley-esque imbroglio, I have been thinking a great deal about a group of stories that appeared in the Wednesday and Thursday Tribunes.

Now, regular readers of this space (both of them) might remember that I have some considered opinions about how to solve the dispute between the Clinic and Benefis. Mostly, it involves sticking John Goodnow and Greg Hafgors into a small, windowless room, locking it, and not letting them out until they work out their problems with one another. But I digress ...

On Wednesday, the paper announced that Benefis has begun work on a $75.2 Million dollar, 7 story expansion of their East campus facility. This facility will convert every room in the hospital to private, add additional Labor and Delivery, Neonatal intensive care, cardiac services and pharmacy facilities to the hospital. I note that Benefis is able to do this work even under the financial burden they must bear under the provisions of their COPA agreement.

Buried next to the article trumpeting Benefis' expansion is an article about how Benefis is splitting from a 15-month partnership with a for-profit company that was to run cardiac services for the hospital. The amicable split seemed to revolve around the companies inability to bring additional cardiac surgeons to our city.

Hold the phone.

Benefis' argument as to why it can't work with the Clinic always seems to return to the canard that as a non-profit entity, it cannot reconcile its mission with a for-profit partnership like the Clinic. While making that argument, Benefis had entered into a contract that would have made this other for-profit company, MedCath, a 49% owner of Benefis' heart services program.

So why can't Benefis and the Clinic make an effort to enter into such an arrangement together? Half the doctors in our city are part of the Clinic; it seems to me that such an arrangement would be in everyone's best interest.

Of course, Thursday's paper announced that the Montana Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Clinic, allowing them to move forward and operate their Central Montana Surgical Hospital. No doubt that Benefis will now say that they cannot survive under the competition and must drastically raise rates. However, I doubt that they will miss a payment on their construction project.

Now, I know that throughout this post I seem down Benefis and up on the Clinic. This is not the case. The Clinic is just as at fault as is Benefis in the medical mess in this town. I also think it wonderful that Benefis can expand its services here. However, I am tired of seeing good doctors leave our town and I am tired of this never ending bickering. Bury the hatchet and go to work.

Agenda for Neighborhood Council 7 Meeting on 10/9




Monday, October 9, 2006

Civic Center, Gibson Room

7:00 p.m.

Please note: This agenda format allows citizens to speak on each issue prior to Council discussion. We encourage your participation. In the interest that all parties can be heard, please limit your comments.



Approval of September minutes

Change meeting time??


GFPS Trustee

Individual Development Accounts—Kate Riley

Neighborhood Concerns


Police Advisory Board

City Commission


Next Meeting – November 13 – Heisey Center, 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday, October 4

Habeas Corpus

At Article I, Section 9, paragraph 2, the Constitution of the United States of America states:

The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.
Now, the Civil War was a "Rebellion," and Lincoln did suspend the writ. I am not a lawyer nor am I a great historian. Given that there is now neither Rebellion nor is there Invasion facing our country, how is what Congress enacted last week legal?

Tuesday, October 3

Mandriva 2007 Released

The newest flavor of my distro of choice was released this morning. I am downloading it now.

This new version includes the latest Gnome 2.16 and KDE 3.5.4. Posts about the release have made much of a new 3D desktop.

Since Mandriva 2005, my linux has not been as stable as I would like. (It is more stable than Windows, but that ain't much of a complement). I am going to try out 2007, and will report my thoughts here. However, if it suffers from as much feature bloat as 2005 and 2006 without comparative stability, I will be searching for a new distro. I hear great things about Ubuntu ...

How Should We Approach Jonah?

Yesterday was, of course, Yom Kippur. During the musaf service during this holy day, Jews read the book of Jonah.

Especially when viewed against the lens of the text we read during Rosh Hashanah, the Akeidah, the book of Jonah is a very difficult text. In Jonah, we read the story of a prophet who appears mean, vindictive and insubordinate to Hashem.

As compared against Abraham, who argued with Hashem over the life of the inhabitants of Sodom, Jonah "sat on the east side of [Nineveh], and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city." I imagine him popping a bowl of popcorn so he may be entertained by the big show.

In Jonah, we have a prophet who refers to what are normally referred to as the positive attributes of G-d (gracious, compassionate, long-suffering, and abundant in mercy) as a negative!

In addition to the contempt that Jonah seems to show for life, in Jonah we have a prophet who makes every effort to disobey Hashem. When instructed by Hashem to go to Nineveh (present day Baghdad) to proclaim against it, he hurries to try and hide out in Tarshish (present day Spain). He is only dissuaded by his attempt to run away from G-d when he is swallowed into the belly of a fish.

After being spit up by the fish, he doesn't rush to do as he was instructed; G-d had to instruct Jonah a second time. As I mentioned above, the reluctant prophet then castigates G-d for being merciful.

What are we to learn from Jonah? I look forward to your thoughts.

ECW and Firefly have Brought Legitimate Concerns about Judicial Hypocrisy

In a fascinating and well researched series of posts, Firefly and Geeguy have explored JP Sam Harris' culpability in the death of form JP Mike Smartt.

In addition, they have exposed Harris' hypocrisy; made evident in a series of posts Harris made in an online gaming forum. Their work was the subject of a front-page story in today's Trib. (While Newhouse attributed his source, he could have provided a link.)

Now, with the possible exception of breaking and entering Smartt's office, nothing that Harris did was illegal. However, Harris' posts ("The last time I got gay porn off a guy's computer it cost me 2 years of my life and ended with the guy hanging himself,") show a contempt for human life that is jarring.

In addition, Harris' self serving quotations to the Tribune (he said that Smartt's gay porn images "will remain with me for the rest of my life." He said he "couldn't sleep that night and kept visualizing another of the screen images of 'one man giving another man oral sex.'" Earlier Harris had said that, as a result of viewing the images, "my stomach has been upset and I am having difficulty sleeping.") during his castigation of Smartt have been revealed to be the worst of hypocrisy.

At the end of the day, Harris brought this upon himself. If Harris had not made a point to castigate Smartt over his online sexual exploits, Harris' posts could and should have remained his own business. However, those in glass houses should be wise enought not to throw stones.

Geeguy and Firefly's investigative reporting have resulted in a Steven Fagenstrom sign on my lawn. Thank you for your good work.

Friday, September 29

Now is the Time to Prepare Yourself for the Fast

As those of you that will be fasting are already well aware, Yom Kippur starts on Sunday evening. I will, hopefully, have something relevant to post before Kol Nidre.

Until then, I strongly recommend this guide on how to prepare your body for the fast, from a Dr. Segal in Boston.

Thursday, September 28

Strep Throat in Great Falls Public Schools

I thought someone should say it. The reason I know is that I have been flat on my back for two days with a 103º F fever. At least at Whittier, a number of kids are out with it. At least there are anti-biotics ..

Strep is nothing to play around with. Parents, if you kid is sick, have him or her stay home from school and get them to a doctor.

BUMP TO TOP: Multiple Strep cases at Whittier have been confirmed by a conversation with school administration. In addition, they have seen cases of Scarlet Fever. As David said, the first weeks of school always bring the crud.

Wednesday, September 27

Fundraising Season is Ridiculous

OK, I understand that kid's groups need to raise money. I also understand that the only real way for them to do so is to sell crap.

Why, however, do all the groups in the city need to take the same four week period for their sales?

Right now, the boy and the girl are selling crap out of a catalog for the PTA. The girl is selling crap out of another catalog for her baton twirling group. The boy is selling popcorn for the Boy Scouts.

Now, realize that this is all very nice crap. However, people don't buy any of this stuff because they need it (with the possible exception of BSA popcorn, which is better than the stuff in the store). They do so to "support" the organization.

By scheduling all these fundraisers for the same time, these groups are causing these wells of support to dry up.

Tuesday, September 26

The Exodus from the Downtown Continues

The Courthouse is going across the river. The clinic moved their Immediate Care facilities out by the hospital. Now, the Social Security Administration is moving out by the hospital, as well.

Literally hundreds of downtown jobs are vacating the area for new office spaces on the periphery of town. What are our downtown boosting organizations doing about it? Apparently nothing. There will be no executive director of the BID, just a secretary/receptionist.

Block parties in the summer are not the answer.

Monday, September 25

What are the current emissions?

Central to the arguments of most of the opponents to the building of the Highwood Generating Station is that this new plant will significantly pollute our virgin environment here in Cascade County.

This argument leads me to ask for some firm data about the state of the current environment in that area.

We already process fossil fuels here. In addition to the tens of thousands of cars and trucks driving around Great Falls, there is already a coal-burning plant on Malmstrom AFB and a fuel refinery along the river. What are the environmental impacts of these factors? How much of a difference will the Highwood Generating Station make to our environment, after factoring in those inputs?

When I was a kid, the signature feature of our fair city was the Anaconda Smokestack. One of the tallest structures in the world, you could see it when driving to Great Falls from at least 75 miles away. This plant was the foundation of our economy and one of the main reasons for our city to be built.

That copper smelting plant was much dirtier than any coal plant would ever be. I am not saying that we should build anything, environment to be damned; but I am saying that we need to build.

Let's cut to the chase; the Highwood Generating Station finally begins to rebuild that economy. This is about people and jobs. I am convinced that the technology being used to build that plant is just about as clean as is possible with the burning of coal. We should not be hasty about denying our community this opportunity for real and sustainable growth.

Friday, September 22

May Your New Year be Sweet

Tonight is Erev Rosh Hashanah, the first day of of the New Jewish Year. Tomorrow begins the year 5767.

Unlike the secular New Year, this holy day does not mark the beginning of raucous celebrations. It begins, or rather continues, a period of intense personal reflection that will conclude in ten days with the end of Yom Kippur. It is during this period when Jews believe that Hashem inscribes our fate for the coming year. It is a time of t'shuvah and tzedekah (repentance and charity).

At the conclusion of services on Sunday, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, (not tomorrow, as it will be shabbos), we hear the shofar. Midrash tells us that the sound we hear will, at least symbolically, be blown through the horn of the same ram that was sacrificed in place of Yitzhak on Mount Moriah. Interestingly enough, the torah portion we read tomorrow will be the Akeidah, or the Binding of Yitzhak; one of the most challenging sections of any theology.

In this parasha we learn of Hashem's instruction to Abraham to sacrifice his son, only to have that command belayed at the last possible moment; just as the knife was speeding to Yitzhak's throat. This loyalty to Hashem was rewarded by our people being bound to Hashem.

I have always had a great deal of difficulty reconciling the Abraham we read about in this parasha with the patriarch we read about earlier in Breishit. The Abraham who argues and debates with Hashem over the lives of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gemorrah only pages later is willing to sacrifice his own flesh and blood with neither argument nor comment? What lessons can we take from this seemingly blind loyalty?

I offer no answers here, just questions. Maybe I will have more thoughts after yontif.

L'Shana Tova Tiketavu!

Monday, September 18

Stepped into some Controversy, Hunh?

Surprise, surprise. This idea proves to be unpopular.

I am neither surprised nor am I discouraged by the idea that further regulation of alcohol purchases is not popular.

However, to my critics I would note that there is no such thing as free trade in alcohol in Cascade County. If you don't believe me, start trying to sell alcohol without a license!

The sale of alcohol already requires both restrictive licenses and burdensome regulations. Licensees have already agreed to be bound by restrictions that are subject to change. These regulations already severely limit the ability to sell alcohol except under a strict range of circumstances. Alcohol may not be sold to minors. It may not be sold between 2 a.m. - 6 a.m. Etcetera.

Let me also be clear; I support the general idea behind this ordinance. I do not support it because I know from personal experience that the idea will work. I support it because beat cops patrolling downtown Great Falls have told me that such a regulation will solve a great deal of the problems they face.

In the final analysis the officers protecting our City believe this idea will work. I submit to you that these officers spend more time examining this problem than anyone else in our town. I rely upon their experience, and believe it to be more persuasive than the arguments put forward by my critics thus far.

However, I thank you all for the continued debate. I look forward to your next argument.

Tuesday, September 12

OK, I guess the hiatus is (mostly) over

I guess after four posts in two days, I can call my blog vacation over. I had a very nice August, and can honestly say that I didn't once think seriously about writing anything here.

During the vacation, the family and I went to Seattle and Calgary, and refreshed our batteries. School has now started and the kids are doing homework most nights. I guess summer is over ...

I will start thinking about posting again. No promises about frequency, and especially no promises about quality.

Come Help your Neighbors on Good Neighbor Day

Sunday, September 24 is National Good Neighbor Day and the second day of Rosh Hashanah.

If you are not in shul, I ask you to help out with a project jointly cosponsored by Neighborhood Council 7 and Neighborhood Housing Service of Great Falls. For the day, NHS has identified a neighborhood house in need of repair. The owner suffers from a debilitating disease, and is unable to do this work herself.

On that Sunday, volunteers will paint the exterior front of the house, do some basic lawn work, repair some steps leading into the house and do some interior work. To me, this seems like a great way to be a "good neighbor," which I think is the real spirit behind National Good Neighbor Day.

If you can help, please email Sheila Rice at to volunteer your time.

Support Effort to Eliminate Single Beer Can Sales in Great Falls

The lower North or South sides of town have problems with both vagrancy and public drunkenness. In addition to harassment, random vandalism, petty thievery, physical assaults, this vagrancy consumes a great deal of our police officer's time and attention.

I submit to you that we can find more creative ways to combat this problem than committing our police officers to locking away drunks and fining the destitute. One such solution is eliminating single can beer sales.

There are a number of obvious problems that are created by single can beer sales. These include;

  • Public drunkenness. Single can beer sales are simply designed to allow someone to crack the top of the can as soon as they walk out of the store.
  • Promotion of panhandle. A single can of beer has a small enough cost that a person can panhandle for a very short time and raise the dollar or so that the M&H, Albertson's or the Loaf and Jug charge for a can.
  • Ease of evading police. A single can of beer can easily be hidden in a coat or shirt if the police drive by. A six-pack is much harder to hide.

I know, I know. This may seem like a flagrant over-reach by the city against our rights. However, I suggest to you that this is not the case.

Open containers are not legal in vehicles in the State of Montana, or on the streets of Great Falls. Why, then, can an individual purchase a single can of beer at a convenience store? To me, it seems that selling a single can is just an inducement toward violating a city ordinance or State law.

However you view it, opening and drinking a container of alcohol outside in the city (or worse, in your vehicle) is illegal.

We can easily stop it. An ordinance is pending before the city commission that will outlaw single can beer sales in Great Falls. This ordinance will also;

  • Require alcohol to be locked up between the hours of 2 a.m. - 6 a.m. (when it is illegal to sell it anyway); and
  • Outlaw floor displays of alcohol within a certain distance from the entrance to an establishment.

This ordinance is worthy of your attention. I also submit that it is worthy of your support.

Monday, September 11

Council 7 meeting tonight

Neighborhood Council 7 will be meeting tonight at the Heisey at 6:30 p.m., in a combined meeting with the Northside neighborhood watch.

Agenda for the meeting is posted below.





Monday, September 11, 2006

Heisey Memorial, 313 7th Street North

6:30 p.m.

Please note: This agenda format allows citizens to speak on each issue prior to Council discussion. We encourage your participation. In the interest that all parties can be heard, please limit your comments.


Northside Neighborhood Watch meeting

Community Policing Officer—Jesse Slaughter


Approval of August minutes

Fireworks discussion


National Good Neighbor Day activities—Sheila Rice and Council members

Weed and Seed north side application—Jayci Kolar

Whittier School teacher parking

Neighborhood Concerns


Police Advisory Board

City Commission

Council of Councils


Next Meeting – October 9, 2006 – Gibson Room, Civic Center, 6:30 p.m.

Friday, July 28

No Fresh Content Here

Been too busy to post for a few weeks, and now just trying to catch up with the pile of )(*& on my desk. I won't say that there will not be any posts here in the coming weeks, but check back in the Fall ...

Friday, July 14

Posting Should be Light Until Next Week

The family and I are heading up to Canada for my Grandmother's unveiling, so posting should be light or nonexistent until next week. I am getting so that I dearly love being away from computers.

Anyway, in my mind I have been mulling over a few posts about what I think thould be issue number one for Great Falls residents, the proposed Highwood Generating Plant. I have been reading as much as I can from both sides in this issue, and I believe we need to properly frame this debate.

In previous posts, I have talked about the economic impact of the plant and the "alternative" IGCC technology. I think it is also worth investigating the technology behind the proposed CFB plant. Another discussion that has been lacking is one about the costs to build this plant as contrasted to its economic impact. After all, while Great Falls taxpayers may only be on the hook for 20% of the expenses to build this thing, we are talking about a big number. Talking about the business plan to build this plant is very relevant.

On to Canada! More later ...

Wednesday, July 12

Ummm, Perhaps We Should Hire Someone Serious about the Position Next Time?

This just in ... the brand new director of the Business Improvement Director (BID) resigned today after just one day on the job. Apparently, a better opportunity came up.

Look, I can't blame a guy for looking out for himself. However, if BID is going to succeed we need to have an interested, engaged and committed person in the job. Back to square one?

Tuesday, July 11

New Restaurant Opening Supports Local Causes

The grand opening for the Rio Ranch Grill, a new southwestern restaurant, is on Monday, July 24th from 5-9 p.m. $2 from every meal will be donated to CASA-CAN, the volunteer Guardian ad litem program, and the Great Falls Children's Receiving Home. Both organizations work with abused and neglected children in the community; CASA volunteers advocate for these children in court and the Receiving Home serves as an emergency foster care shelter.

The Rio Ranch Grill is located at the corner of Central Avenue and 3rd Street South. This is a wonderful opportunity to eat great food and support a good cause.

Library to Show Anti-Meth Films

The GF Public Library will be showing two movies pertaining to methamphetamine. Each begins at 7 p.m. and is 1 to 1-1/2 hours in length, as follows:
September 7, 2006--Dark Cloud Over the Big Sky
September 14, 2006--Methamphetamine on the Navajo Nation

Sunday, July 9

My Answers to the City Pool Survey

When filling out your City Pool survey, please consider entering comments similar to these below. I checked the " that made the following improvements:" box, and entered the following comments:

I am not really qualified to judge at what value the bond issue should be pegged. Please ignore the number listed, as I only listed a figure because your computer system would not process my comments without a number in that field. However, please consider the following:

* At least one of the neighborhood pools should be maintained.
* No frills (hot tubs, etc.) should be purchased for the Nat.
* $934k for repairs to the Mitchell is an extremely big number. You need to detail exactly what repairs are necessary.
* Innovative solutions must be found to stop the flow of red ink from the Flow Rider. Among those solutions may be analyzing the pricing structure at the facility to ensure that revenue is being maximized.
* No bond issue should shift the Flow Rider debt from the aquatics budget. Pretending that this debt does not exist by shifting the liability to a general obligation bond is just a dishonest accounting dodge. We bought the thing, and its financials should reflect the drain that it represents on our aquatics budget.

Tribune Admirably Lays out Pool Issues

Tribune reporter Richard Ecke has a series of stories in today's paper, admirably laying out many of the issues facing our city's acquatic facilities. He even found the time to quote me for one of the stories. I leave you to decide whether or not those quotes improve or denigrate the quality of the reporting.

I will have more to say about the pools later. However, I suggest that we have some hard decisions to make about both the nature, quality and quantity of the facilities our community is to provide for itself. I support keeping the neighborhood pools open, but I also do not think that the city should perform non-essential services in anything less than a break-even position. I suggest that pools are non-essential services.

In the 1960s, when Anaconda was going strong, we built four city-owned acquatics facilities. In the intervening decades, we have lost both population and jobs. It makes sense to debate what quantity of facilities are appropriate for our our size and ability to afford.

Deplorable State of the Practice of Medicine in the Electric City

I am a consumer of medical care. I am not involved in the industry in any way other than occasionally purchasing services from doctors, clinics, hospitals and pharmacies. I say this because the providers of those services have been involved in a very public and acrimonious argument. They need to stop arguing and find ways to work together.

The Clinic and the Hospital don't like one another. I get that. The argument is all about money and control. I get that too. However, the consumers of these services are caught in the crossfire, and I suspect that the end result is that the quality of care in Northcentral Montana is suffering. That I don't get.

In the past decades, there has always been some bad blood between the Clinic and the Hospitals. That situation only worsened in 1996, when the Deaconess and the Columbus merged to create Benefis.

However, I have never seen the situation as bad as this. I have never seen a situation where doctors are leaving town because of what some are calling a poisoned work environment.

Some doctors I know are telling stories of cleanliness and stock conditions at the hospital that are just plain scary. Today we read that next month, our community of about 60,000 people will be without the services of ANY ear, nose and throat specialists. Double up on those zinc pills, because you certainly don't want to get a serious cold for the next few months.

Great Falls medicine needs to get its house in order. The stakeholders at the Clinic and Benefis management have to work through their petty turf war and find a way to work together. Both parties need to learn to compromise. One possible solution; allow the Clinic's MontanaCare HMO to cover Benefis procedures in return for guaranteed hospital privileges for Clinic doctors. Maybe that is just naive, but it seems that such a solution answers many of the criticisms that each party have for one another.

In any case, a solution must be found. Otherwise, it is the health-care consumers in our town that suffer.

Movie Review

So, this space isn't usually used for anything like a movie review. However, my blog, my pontifications. So, here goes ...

This weekend, the family and I went to the new Superman movie. My son was very excited to see Superman on the big screen. He went to the movie wearing a red cape.

I found the movie to be an insipid waste. Why? Because the actors did not make the parts their own. Kevin Spacey was not playing Lex Luthor. He was playing Gene Hackman. Brandon Routh was playing Christopher Reeve. To a lesser extent, every other actor in the movie was playing the actors that portrayed those roles in the 70s and 80s.

The director, Bryan Singer, didn't so much make a movie as he did an homage to the Richard Donner films. That is nice, but it really handicapped the film. For that they spent more than $200 Million and made me sit in a theatre chair for more than two hours? Ick.

Friday, July 7

Help Support Diane Long

Diane Long is good people. She was the principal of Whittier Elementary for years. Last year, she decided to retire after over two decades in school administration. This Fall, a few short months after retirement, she was diagnosed with colon cancer.

The cancer treatments have exhausted the Long's family savings. To help cover these expenses, the community has organized a garden tour on July 16 from 1-5 p.m. Tickets for the tour cost $10. There will also be a raffle.

If you are interested in helping out, I would be glad to sell you a ticket. aaron AT weissman DOT com.

Where is the Follow-Through?

I was very pleased to lap swim at the Mitchell Pool this past Wednesday. However, when I arrived at the pool, I was surprised to find out that pool staff had not been told that there was now to be a lap swim period scheduled. No schedules have been changed, and no one had been informed. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, but I am.

No one will swim during that period unless people are told of the opportunity. Accordingly, I have made up this flyer. If you are interested, please post copies in prominent places in our fair city.

Thursday, July 6

Pool Survey is in YOUR mailbox

Check your water bill; the city is using it to gauge your opinion.

This survey was in my water bill today. It asks whether I support:

a) Repairing the Mitchell, repairing the Neighborhood Pools and adding a spray park for $2.35 million;

b) Repairing the Mitchell, demolishing the Neighborhood Pools and adding three spary parks;

c) No further spending on aquatics; or

d) Providing my own list of necessary repairs, at a cost I can specify.

This is a good first step. The city should make more efforts to communicate with the people in this way. However, the city seems to be deliberately making it difficult to come up with innovative solutions.

"D" seems like a good choice, but most of us don't have all of the information we need to provide the city with useful opinions. It would be very nice if the city had written up a point paper with this survey that spelled out some details, including:

1) What repairs need to be made to the Mitchell. What are the cost of those repairs?
2) What are the repairs that need to be made at each of the neighborhood pools? What are the costs, per pool, to make those repairs?
3) What would be the cost of keeping one neighborhood pool open and shuttering another? Could the cost savings of closing one pool pay for the cost of keeping that other pool open?
4) What is the cost per spray park? What are the annual maintenance and staffing costs of a spray park? Whatever the city says, it isn't zero; maintenance and continual testing of the water system for contamination will have some costs.

Also, can I assume by this survey that the city has shelved ideas for installing a hot tub at the Nat.? If so, I salute the city for cutting back on an unnecessary luxury.

Firefly Asks About White Water Elephant's Ad Budget

Firefly asks about the advertising budget for the flow rider. Unfortunately, I don't have a good answer. The city's budget for its aquatics program, available here (application/pdf Object), lists some general expense categories for the Mitchell Pool.

For the 2006 adopted budget, the city is to spend $363,497 on the Mitchell Pool (which includes the WWE). Of those funds, $173,808 are to go for "Personal Services" (which I assume should be personnel services, or payroll for pool employees). $72,900 is to go for supplies and meterials. $26,688 is to go for internal services (which I assume pays for city management salaries).

Finally, $90,101 is to go for "Purchased Services." I don't know what services are being purchased, but I assume that any advertising dollars are being taken out of that pot.

Back from Vacation, Maybe Back to Posting As Well?

The family and I just returned from a well-deserved vacation, camping and hiking at Glacier Park. I would venture to say that there is not a prettier place on our planet than Glacier Park, and it is always a real treat to spend time there.

The kids were only up to small hikes (the oldest is only eight, after all), but we made the most of them. The photo to left was taken just past the Hidden Lake overlook, about two miles from Logan Pass.

We camped just West of the park. I am now very enamored with using a double handled wok in a campfire. I made a stir-fry beef dish, and have never had a stir fry work out so well. The key is getting the wok really hot, which is impossible on a traditional stove. I stuck the wok right in the fire. The food was cooked and on plates within a few minutes of starting the cooking.

I also had never made rice over a campfire. Also worked out well.

Ah well, I will have more to post after I finish finding my desk ... Posted by Picasa

Thursday, June 29

Guest Post by Tim Austin on Neighborhood Pools

(Ed. Note: Tim Austin has been a neighborhood leader for several years. He has volunteered many hours in support of the neighborhood pools, has organized work-parties to maintain the pools with volunteer labor and donated both hours and materials. Tim is a member of his Neighborhood Council. I asked him to write this post on the upcoming aquatics bond issue. Tim, thanks for the informative post. ---TSJ)

SPEAK UP GREAT FALLS or the POOLS end up like the Smoke Stack !!!

By Tim Austin,

If you and/or your family swim in the Neighborhood Pools (Jaycee Pool & Water Tower Pool), then pay attention to this web blog.

I attended a work session with the Commissioners & the Mayor the night they proposed the new Aquatics Bond Issue. I was shocked to read the Proposed Aquatics Bond presented by Patty Rearden from the City Park and Rec. Department. There were four (4) proposals presents and all of them had to do with the DEMOLITION of the Neighborhood Pools.

Visit: http://www.GreatFallsMontana.Info to keep updated on the FACTS not just the rumors. Take a look at the Proposal provided by the City Park and Rec. Department.

As leader, and a business owner, I feel it is my role to step up to the plate and be the voice for those who are afraid to take on the hard issues.

I have heard from a number of people who were shocked to here what was being proposed.

If you feel the Neighborhood pools could be an asset to our community then it is time to LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD.

Have everyone you know EMAIL, WRITE and/or CALL the Park & Rec. Department, but most importantly the Mayor, City Manager & Commissioners and let them know how you feel about the Park & Rec's Plan to DEMOLISH the Neighborhood pools. EMAIL or LETTERS are most effective because then you have a paper trail.

The Citizens of Great Falls need to start attending Neighborhood council meeting, Commission Work Sessions, and the Commission meetings.

Find out WHY the neighborhood pools have been under funded, and NOT maintained. Find out WHO is responsible for allowing the neighborhood pools to get in the condition they are in. The decision is NOT coming from the maintenance department at the City Park and Rec., it is coming from higher up.

Ask some very simple questions about what IS THE CITY OF GREAT FALLS doing to SAVE the neighborhood pools. I have included the email I sent every one of the commissioners and the Mayor.

It will take a lot of people's input to SAVE THE NEIGHBORHOOD POOLS.
I will begin a petition to save the neighborhood pools if one is needed.
Several people are chomping at the bit to sign them.

Please tell everyone to FILL OUT THE SURVEY that should be coming in the mail, probably with your water bill. It is vital for everyone to contact the commissioners to LET THEM KNOW YOU ARE SERIOUS about SAVING the Neighborhood Pools and your VOTES will prove it during the next election.

SWIM AT THE NEIGHBORHOOD POOLS (Jaycee Pool & Water Tower Pool)
– Bring your friends, family, and neighbors. If the numbers at the Neighborhood pools increase it will be difficult to justify their DESTRUCTION.

Please feel free to copy and paste this BLOG, send it to all your friends, neighbors or anyone who uses the neighborhood pools. Help SAVE the NEIGHBORHOOD POOLS (Water Tower & Jaycee Pools).

CALL, EMAIL and/or write letters the people listed below and let them know how you feel about the DEMOLITION of the Neighborhood pools.

City Clerk/Records Manager
Peggy Bourne
Phone: (406) 455-8451
Address: P.O. Box 5021, 59403
Located in Civic Center

Mayor Dona Stebbins
Phone: (406) 761-4108
Phone: (406) 455-8451
Fax: (406) 727-0005
Address: P.O. Box 5021
Great Falls, MT 59403

City Manager - John Lawton
Phone: (406) 455-8450
Address: P.O. Box 5021
Great Falls, MT 59403
Located in Civic Center

Commissioner Bill Beecher
Phone:(406) 453-8741 (work)
Phone:(406) 455-8451 (message)
Fax: (406) 727-0005
Address: P.O. Box 5021
Great Falls, MT 59403

Commissioner Sandy Hinz
Phone:(406) 761-0864 (home/message)
Address: P.O. Box 5021
Great Falls, MT 59403

Commissioner Diane Jovick-Kuntz
Phone:(406) 727-8929 (home)
Fax: (406) 727-0005
Address: P.O. Box 5021
Great Falls, MT 59403

Commissioner John Rosenbaum
Phone: (406) 771-0161 (home)
Phone: (406) 455-8451 (message)
Fax: (406) 727-0005
Address: P.O. Box 5021
Great Falls, MT 59403

Park & Recreation Deputy Director
Patty Rearden
Phone: (406) 771-1265
Address: P.O. Box 5021, 59403
1700 River Drive North
Great Falls, MT 59403

Park Maintenance Supervisor,
Giles Salyer
Phone: (406) 771-1265
Address: P.O. Box 5021, 59403
1700 River Drive North
Great Falls, MT 59404

Park and Recreation Board
John Trovatten
Ruthann Knudson
Bryan Thies
Doug Hickey
David Simmons
Wyman Taylor
Leslie Postlethwait

Neighborhood Council Coordinator
Patricia Cadwell
Community Development
Phone: (406) 455-8496
P.O. Box 5021
Great Falls, MT 59403

Jaycee POOL - District#3
Water Tower POOL - District#9

Here are some of the FACTS that you can discuss with the commission:

Let's begin with the FY 2004 budget. The City Manager and the commission have told us the general funds contributed $348,816 to fund swimming pools, however the TRUTH is both Neighborhood pools combined only received $36,284.

In FY 2005 the general fund contributed $330,960 to fund swimming pools. When talking about the Neighborhood pools the TRUTH is in FY 2005 the general fund contributed only $45,410 to both Neighborhood Pools combined.

In FY 2006 the contribution was increased to $538,200 to fund swimming pools. The TRUTH is the contribution to both Neighborhood pools combined was increased to $50,090.

I have not seen the FY 2007 budget, so I can not comment on it. If the funding is NOT going to the Neighborhood Pools, where did the rest of the swimming pool budget go???

How MUCH money is being contributed each year to the WAVE RIDER?
The Question has been asked, and the answer will be posted on www.GreatFallsMontana.Info when it is received.

Is the money listed as Mitchell Pool funding actually going to pay for the WAVE RIDER (White Water Elephant as the bloggers refer to it)?

If the answer is "YES", list the breakdown between what is being spent on Mitchell Pool and what is being spent on the WAVE RIDER?

Mr. Lawton has asked me to come up with some Solutions and/or Ideas to help SAVE the NEIGHBORHOOD POOLS.


1. Put together a commission of local businessmen/women who are willing to raise funds to purchase FREE PASSES that can be used for swimming at the Neighborhood Pools (Jaycee & Water Tower Pool) for the under privileged children in our community.

2. Promote (Advertise) and Allow local businessmen/women to sponsor FREE SWIMMING in the evenings at the local neighborhood pools.

3. Work with the Police Advisory Board & Police Department, Weed & Seed and various other organization allowing them to purchase FREE PASSES that can be used for swimming at the Neighborhood Pools (Jaycee & Water Tower Pool) for the under privileged children in our community. This would not only increase numbers at the Neighborhood pools it would help to build a relationship between the youth and our Police Department.

4. Begin evening swimming lessons (life skills) for children and adults and charge a fee, awarding scholarships to underprivileged children.

5. Promoted GET FIT Great Falls and promote evening or lunch time lap swimming.

6. Extend the fence around the Neighborhood pools so people can lay in the grass, and add a spray park on the outside of the pools. If spray parks were added to the outside of all the pools it may attract entire families that would want to spend the entire day at the pool. The children could play for free in the spray parks while the older children could suntan and swim in the neighborhood pools. It could be a win/win situation for everyone.

These are just a few ideas that I believe the City Manager and the commission should look into.

I have a heart and a soul for the citizens and the City of Great Falls, Montana.
Born and raised in Great Falls, Montana I felt is was my duty to help promote local businesses, and the City of Great Falls as a volunteer. After seeing the shape of the parks and the pool in the Riverview, Valley View District#3, I decided to run for neighborhood council. I was elected by the citizens of Great Falls, and have been asked by several citizens to take on the issue of SAVING the Neighborhood pools. As I have always enjoyed the neighborhood pools, I gladly accepted the challenge.

I am NOT writing this post as a Neighborhood Council Member, but as a Concerned Citizen, Voter and Tax payer of Great Falls, Montana.

It is time for the City Park and Rec. Department and the City of Great Falls to begin placing their focus on some major Capital improvements that will benefit the Citizens of Great Falls, and NOT just the tourists. Put money into the Neighborhood pools, fix up the neighborhood parks and take pride in the many assets Great Falls has to offer. As new housing projects are developed the funds that are sent to the City of Great Falls to develop the parks in those areas should be earmarked and actually used as capital improvement funds for the parks and pools located around those building projects. As it currently stands the money is place into the general funds.

We all know what has been draining the general fund since it was created "the WAVE RIDER".

Check out the BEFORE and AFTER pictures of Jaycee Pool - located at It took my family and friends only a day to scrape down, sand, prime and place two (2) coats of paint at Jaycee Pool. The total cost to the tax payers of Great Falls was around $400.00 for the paint and the primer. Lumber Yard Supply Co. donated a ThermaTru Door to replace the delaminating wooden door leading to the pool. Our family could no longer drive by Jaycee pool and take pride in Great Falls when the pool looked like something you would see in the slums of New York City. Would you swim in a pool that was run down and looked filthy? -NO, and that is exactly what the people who stopped the maintenance and funding to the Neighborhood pools were hoping for.

It is vital for the City of Great Falls to take pride in the assets they have (Neighborhood Pools) and help provide recreation for the underprivileged children in our community.

If you loose the neighborhood pools the only place left to swim is the Mitchell Pool.

Something to think about:
"You will NEVER learn to SWIM or GET FIT in a spray park !!!"

If there is anything else I can do to help save the pools please let me know.

Thank you,

Tim Austin

Great Falls, Montana it is time to get the FACTS !!!

MOTTO has a Great Post on the Proposed Coal Plant - Go Read It

Jeff Mangan's blog, MOTTO, put up a great post this week on the proposed Highwood Generating Station.

Although I wish MOTTO would refrain from all those darned acronyms (Really, Jeff; CFP is a CCT? The EIS does not advance the issues fo the MEIC?), he advances some very valid points here. Go read the post.

Lap Swim Scheduled for Remainder of Summer at Mitchell Pool!

The Great Falls Park and Recreation Department has scheduled a lap-swim period from 12 - 12:30 p.m., Mondays and Wednesdays for the remainder of the summer.

The cost to swim will be $3 per visit.

This is extremely reasonable, and I would like to personally thank Patty Rearden for agreeing to our request.

Economic Viability of Coal Plant Depends on Outcome of US Supreme Court Decison

In the coming weeks, I will have a few more posts about the proposed Highwood Generating Station. The post will probably have to wait until after the Independence Day holiday, however.

In the meantime, I would like you to consider this upcoming Supreme Court decision. One of the arguments used by plant opponents is that the economic viability of the plant would be in question if the government enacts a "coal tax." They are right; if the government does enact a "coal tax," then the plant would have signficant increased expenses.

So, we have to ask ourselves how likely is it that the government enacts such a tax? This upcoming decision should weigh heavily on our calculus for or against plant construction.

Tuesday, June 27

Government Agencies Release Environmental Study on Coal Plant

Stop reading unknowing pontifications from the likes of me and the Tribune. I mean it.

If you are coming here to read about the coal plant, I freely admit that I don't have all the information. I have opinions, but they are not so grounded in actual, you know, facts.

However, there is now a place where you can get more knowledgeable opinions about the issues surrounding this new plant. That 'place' is a 700 page Envronmental Impact Statement just relased by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and the USDA Rural Utilities Service. This EIS probably reflects some bias of some kind, but at least we can be reasonably sure that the authors have some idea what they are talking about.

I haven't read the document yet, but you can read it and decide for yourself. Copies are available here.

I hope to read at least most of the document in the next few days. I will post more later ...

OK Class, THIS is where to find the Treasure State

Weird results yesterday on the server logs. Huge spike in traffic from the Google keyword "Where Would One Find the Treasure State?"

I assume that this traffic is from a class assignment. Anyway, you can find the Treasure State right here; the glorious State of Montana.

Wednesday, June 21

I Think This is Close to the Definition of Chutzpah

Rearden said the two pools "are really deteriorating[.]"
[...] Rearden said attendance has dwindled at the Jaycee and Water Tower Pools.
--Quotations from interim Park and Rec Director Patty Rearden, from Great Falls Tribune article here.
Priority Goals & Objectives - For The Upcoming Year
• Research costs/viability of spray grounds.
• Operate Jaycee and Water Tower pools during the 2005 season until major maintenance or mechanical needs preclude operating. The current budget reflects minimal maintenance.
--From page 227 of the City of Great Falls Operating Budget for Neighborhood Pools, online here. Emphasis added.

So let me get this straight. We need to close the Jaycee and Water Tower pools because they are deteriorating. They are deteriorating because city policy mandates that the city avoid performing maintenance on those pools. Does this seem a little circular to you? It certainly does to me.

So attendance is down. No kidding. Talk about a self-serving load of (*&*^%$#.

So now the city staff will "survey" city residents to find out what we want to do. This is a nice first step, and a welcome change. I ask, however, who are they going to survey? One nice first step might be traditional users of the neighborhood pools, including the directors of the kids summer camps (including Boys and Girls Club, the Rescue Mission, etc.) that make great use of them.

On a related note, while we are debating such an extensive bond issue for aquatics, I would like to see the city release financials for the White Water Elephant as its own "profit center." How much revenue can be directly attributed to the Wave Rider, as opposed to expenses (interest, maintenance, staffing, etc.) involved in its operation? Before we close our neighborhood pools, the city should have to tell us how much we are losing a year to own this luxury.

Tuesday, June 20

Not a Crash

This morning, the Trib awakened us with the headline "State's Computers Crash Again." Reading on in the story, we find that the system shut itself down due to a fire alarm tripped in the datacenter.

Sorry, that isn't a crash. A crash is a catastrophic failure, not an orderly shut down due to a safety protocol. Spinning down the hard drives is a smart thing to do if there is an actual fire.

Anyone know more about this situation? And shouldn't such a critical system have offsite backup facilities for emergency operation?

Another Modest Proposal

Instead of gutting facilities for kids to learn to swim, how about contracting out operation of the White Water Elephant, and letting that contractor charge what he needs to turn a profit?

Under such a scenario, JayCee, Water Tower, Nat and Mitchell would continue to be operated by the city on a break-even basis (JayCee and Water Tower currently charge $1 per day admission, families allowed to bring coolers. Mitchell costs $2, and Nat has varying fees depending on the class.

Will the City Commission Gut its commitment to Aquatics?

The travesty continues. And apparently, its time to pay the piper.

At a work session tonight at 5:30, the city commission will debate a $2.2 Million bond issue on city aquatic facilities. There are some non-controversial items included in that bond issue (the electrical system at Mitchell Pool needs some work, etc.), but others deserve some real comment and concern.

Included in the recommendation is about $100 Grand for a hot tub at the Nat, demolishing the JayCee and Water Tower pools (replacing them with "Spray Decks"), etc.

Most of the recommendations seem to be based on a report commissioned by the city last summer, and published in the Trib last July here. The numbers sure look identical.

Implementing these changes would leave the Nat and the Mitchell as the only public pools in Great Falls. So why spend a ton of dough?

Simple, the city aquatic program is hemorrhaging money. Why? One reason; the White Water Elephant. How much money are we losing in the operation of our aquatics? See for yourself.

In 2004, we lost about $285k. In 2005, about $105k. 2006 is only projected to lose $3.4k, and if you believe that, you are more gullible than you should be. (The 2005 budget only projected to lose $53k).

Of the $105k we lost last year, roughly $85k went to interest payments on the White Water Elephant. We will own the thing outright in 2015. (The original purchase price was $1.5M, and we are paying 6.65% on the debt).

The city is now doing only minimal maintenance on the JayCee and Water Tower facilities, waiting for the pools to sufficiently deteriorate enough to allow their permanent closure. Seems like a done deal? And its a good thing if you agree that "You have to entertain the swimmer, rather than just give him a pool of water," as was stated by a prospective contractor in the original Trib story.

Once the JayCee and the Water Tower are closed, the Mitchell will be the only option for Great Falls residents who want to swim in a public pool. Most will not choose to spend the entire day there, as coolers have been disallowed since the White Water Elephant was built, in favor of requiring people to buy the overpriced food at the concession stand.

I have said it before, and I will say it again. The city has no business providing any aquatic facilities other than holes in the ground filled with clean water. No wave riders, no hot tubs, no frills or aquatic "experiences." Let private industry fill that niche. The city should operate simple pools which are available to city residents at reasonable prices. The operation of those pools should be priced so that we break even on their operation.

I have posted on this before, here and here. GeeGuy has a good post about the situation here.

'Nuff said.