Wednesday, October 31


I went a bit overboard in an earlier post about the October 20 candidate's forum.  I used a word, jail, that was not mentioned by any candidate.  However, to be fair, at least one candidate, Stuart Lewin, did talk about referring "stuff" to the Attorney General.

Mary is right.  Neither she nor any other candidate specifically said that they wanted to put people in jail.  That was only my inference.  So, I apologize.

Tuesday, October 30

Revised Cost Estimates for One Way Conversion

I just got back from the Council of Council's meeting. Andrew Finch,
the senior transportation planner for the city, gave a presentation
on the BID's proposal to convert downtown one way streets to two way.

I will spare you from the entirety of the discussion. However,
remember the city's original estimate of $500,000 to perform the
conversion? Mr. Finch told me that the State transportation
department added some requirements to any conversion that will push
the cost of the conversion to the range of $1.5 Million - $2.5 Million.

Anybody still think this is a good idea?

Logically Critical shutters its doors

One of my favorite podcasts is Logically Critical.  It is funny, thought provoking, intelligent and extremely well-produced.  Unfortunately, as of October 28, it is also no more.

Great Falls Citizen Council Agenda and Minutes

TSJ's notes:  Does anyone find anything interesting about the list of attendees at the last meeting?  Or rather, by who is not on this list?
Council of Councils Meeting

Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Gibson Room—Civic Center—7:00 p.m.

Please note:  The Great Falls Citizens Council 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.

CALL TO ORDER—Chairperson Ron Mathsen—Neighborhood Council #1

 Approval of minutes from the last meeting

Disaster Preparedness—Asst. Fire Chief Steve Hester & Emergency Preparedness Officer Sarah McCafferty (15 minutes)
One-way conversion—Sr. Transportation Planner Andrew Finch 
(15 minutes)

Council information sharing

Great Falls Citizen's Council
Council of Councils Meeting Minutes
May 29, 2007

Delegates and voting members of the Council of Councils present were: Ron Mathsen, Neighborhood Council #1; Phyllis Hemstad, Neighborhood Council #2; Tim Austin, Neighborhood Council #3; Tawny Newth, Neighborhood Council #5; Matt Ott, Neighborhood Council #6; Aaron Weissman, Neighborhood Council #7; and Gary Schoenthal, Neighborhood Council #9.  

Others present were Brandyce Berg, Emily Costea, Shelby Lilley, Ashley Lilley, Shannon Newth, Betty Stimac, Larry Stimac, and Patty Cadwell.

The meeting was called to order at 7:05 p.m. by acting Chairperson Gary Schoenthal, Delegate for Neighborhood Council #9.

The one order of Old Business was a discussion, and subsequent consensus of opinion, on the proposed Neighborhood Council boundary changes.  All delegates present agreed that leaving the boundaries as they are would be best and several commented that "if it's not broken, let's not try to fix it."  All agreed, also, that a goal of trying to match Council boundaries to voter precincts would be unattainable, now and in the future.  Matt Ott, NC #6, and Phyllis Hemstad, NC#2 both expressed their concern about the already small size of their Councils.  Gary also reminded everyone that the County has decided to have the single voting location at the Montana Expo Park, but for those who can't or don't care to vote there, absentee ballots are available for any reason.  Aaron commented that he believes the single voting location will present a hardship for many of the citizens in his Neighborhood Council area.

The only item of New Business was a presentation by General Deltoro, Commander of the Montana Air National Guard (MANG).  He was accompanied by and introduced Colonel Mike McDonald who will soon become the new Commander of the 120th Fighter Wing of the Guard.  He stated that MANG also oversees the 219th Red Horse Squadron.  He explained that MANG's responsibilities are to uphold the Constitution of the United States and to uphold the Constitution of the State of Montana.  The members of the Guard are local people who stay here to protect the citizens of Montana.  They all have been or will be deployed to Iraq, acting to protect the Constitution of the US, but they work for the Governor of the State of Montana all the time.  He pointed out that concern for new missions at Malmstrom may not be GF citizens' highest priority—that building on the capacity of both MANG and Malmstrom would be the best benefit locally.  Currently, MANG is working to implement a program where experienced MANG pilots will work with inexperienced Air Force pilots for the benefit of both.  Other things MANG has done recently include development of a wireless system that enables MANG, GFPD, and Great Falls Fire Rescue to communicate, and chemical and biological detection and containment systems for disaster response.  Future training for the Guard includes a train derailment exercise in August and a FEMA level exercise next year.  General Deltoro also made a recruitment call to anyone in the audience who might be interested.  Ron Mathsen and Phyllis Hemstad addressed the General on their concerns around the airplane noise containment issue which affects both of their areas.

In Other Business, the Council Delegates commented on their thoughts concerning the upcoming Animal Appeal process and their involvement in same.  Aaron Weissman offered his displeasure with the City Commission for "dropping this in our laps," referring to each Neighborhood Council's option to hear the appeals of Neighborhood Council area citizens denied or revoked the permit to own multiple animals.  Gary Schoenthal saw no problem with the appeal process but did have concerns about the fee schedule that goes with the new Animal Ordinance.  Ron Mathsen pointed out that each Council has the privilege of opting out of hearing appeals.  Tawny Newth was concerned that the Council members would not have clear instructions on how to hear the appeals and Tim Austin also wants training.  Patty Cadwell mentioned that Kory Larsen did indicate that he would do a training prior to the Animal Ordinance's effective date.  Aaron Weissman anticipates problems with hearing some appeals and not hearing others.  Ron Mathsen thought that hearings at neighborhood levels would be positive measures.

Also in Other Business, the Council Delegates expressed concern over the City Commission's lack of response to their February letter requesting that the Commission put in place funding for capital improvements to the City parks.  Patty said she would follow up on that.  Tawny talked about the New Neighbor Packets that were being developed by the members of the ACTION Team.  Also mentioned was an upcoming Leadership training opportunity and the Councils' involvement in Riverfest.

Gary adjourned the meeting at 8:35 p.m.    

Saturday, October 27

0-3-1?? Worst Season Opening in Memory ...

I can't remember a worse October for my Terriers.  However, this looks like it was a good game.

Michigan's goaltender, Billy Sauer, turned away 27 shots on goal in just the first two periods, and held BU scoreless.  I would say that this guy has a future.

Here's hoping to a better November ...

Monday, October 22

Candidate Stand on Downtown Street Reconfiguration

Question:  Do you support the idea to reconfigure 5th and 6th Streets, and/or 1st and 2nd Ave S, as two way roads?

Bronson:  Did not attend October 20 forum.

Helnsley:  Did not attend October 20 forum.

Jolley:  Does not support without more public input.  Thinks this may be "solution in search of a problem."

Jovick-Kuntz:  Did not attend 10/20 forum.

Kahn:  Does not support without more public input.

Lewin:  Does not support, as he feels it will increase traffic on 9th Street.  He thinks that 9th Street creates a "wall" through an existing neighborhood.

McKnight:  Does not support.

Stebbins:  Did not attend October 20 forum.

Steele:  Does not support.

For those candidates that did not attend, or wish to further explain their answer, I offer comments to this post as a public forum on this issue.

Candidate Stand on Southern Arterial

Question:  Last month, the City and State held a public meeting to move forward their plans for a Southern Arterial connecting 57th Street to I-15.  Their idea is not for a bypass, as was the original plan for this route.  Do you support this plan, and if so, what do you envision for this new road?  Will it be like I-115 in Butte, King Avenue in Billings, etc.?

Bronson:  Did not attend October 20 forum.

Helnsley:  Did not attend October 20 forum.

Jolley:  Attended public meeting, and listened to about 70% of attendees that they did not want this route.  She thinks this should be studied further, but wonders why we are building a bypass that will not be used by any through truck traffic.

Jovick-Kuntz:  Did not attend 10/20 forum.

Kahn:  Supports construction of road.  Unclear as to design.

Lewin:  Supports route as good opportunity for well planned commercial development, with service roads, etc.  Does not think route should follow alongside Missouri, thinks it should cross it to minimize environmental impact.

McKnight:  Does not support condemning any private property for public road.  He discussed his grandparent's home in Western Montana, which is now under I-90.

Stebbins:  Did not attend October 20 forum.

Steele:  Thinks a bypass for truck traffic is a good idea.  Agrees with Lewin that it should not be alongside river, as that makes roads icy.

For those candidates that either did not attend or wish to further explain their answer, I offer comments on this post as a public forum on this issue.

Candidate Stand on Police Staffing Levels

During the last two candidate forums, I have had the opportunity to ask a few questions.  In the next three posts, I will attempt to summarize my questions and the responses received.

Question:  Over the past several months, the Great Falls Police Department has been operating at less than a full budgeted force.  What are the reasons for the staffing shortfall?  If this is a problem, what would you do to correct it?

Bronson:  Insufficient pay is the reason for the problem.  He would offer more pay to officers.  He also feels that the new contract with the Police Beneficial Association will solve much of this problem.  He says that he has reviewed the contract.

Helnsley:  Insufficient pay.  She would offer more.

Jolley:  Insufficient pay.  She would offer more.

Jovick-Kuntz:  Insufficient pay.  She would offer more.  She also feels that it is a problem that communities like Missoula hire officers that we have trained in our police academy, which is recognized to be one of the best in the region.  She feels that we are training individuals and then they are being hired immediately by other communities that offer more pay.

Kahn:  Insufficient pay.  She would offer more

Lewin:  Lewin recognized that insufficient pay was part of the problem, and that we should offer more.  He also referred to "the elephant in the basement," which was duplicative services being performed by both the city and the county.  He would like to work with the county to combine services whenever possible.

McKnight:  Insufficient pay.  He would offer more.

Stebbins:  Did not attend October 17 forum.

Steele:  Insufficient pay.  He would offer more.

For those candidates that did not attend or wish to further explain their answer, I offer comments on this post as a public forum on this issue.

UPDATE -- GeeGuy has posted a video of the candidate's answers on this question up on his blog.  Instead of reading my very sparse notes, go view the candidate's answers yourself!

Sunday, October 21

Lots of Red Meat at Last Night's Candidate Forum

For a good part of the evening, I struggled with the best term to describe last night's event.  Then I read GeeGuy's blog.  Last night was certainly a forum for the anti-establishmentarians out there; both the candidates and the audience.

It was very disappointing that the incumbents, those that support them, and all of our local media chose to skip this forum.  About three dozen people attended the forum, which was a 'debate' among Mary Jolley, Ed McKnight, Susan Kahn, Larry Steele and Stuart Lewin.  And yes, most of the questions were about the coal plant.

However, these candidates responses among what ended up to be a mutual admiration society or campaign rally were still instructive.  Quite frankly, I was horrified when Jolley, McKnight and Kahn suggested that the new commission spend its time investigating current city employees through use of its subpoena power.

Let me say that again.  Jolly, McKnight and Kahn said that they want our commission to hold hearings and investigate current city employees over past acts.  They want to exercise the commission's subpoena power, and they want to put people in jail.

I submit to you that we don't need a commission that spends our time and money making themselves into a Starr chamber.  We have real problems in our city government and neighborhoods that need to be solved.  Prosecuting a vendetta is not helpful to anyone.

Our city police department has been operating at less then full force for months, and I submit to you that this is part of the reason we have had a mini crime wave in the Lower North and South sides.  Part of the reason for these department vacancies is not enough pay being offered to new recruits and current officers.  However, a big part of the problem is that the city's recruitment officer, Lt. Lockerby, has had his hands full trying to run a dog pound.  This is one of the unintended consequences when the commission goes half-cocked into ill advised adventures.

Lewin was actually the most reasoned and moderate of the candidates last night.  He has it right; we need to move forward.

Thursday, October 18

Bypass??? What Bypass?

Dave over at Dave's Gift Shop Weblog has an interesting post up on his site supporting the idea of a Southern bypass.  (Dave, I would have left this post as a comment on this site, but didn't want to deal with the tsuris of creating an account on your wordpress).

Now, I think that a Southern bypass is a good idea.  I think that it has been a good idea for the 30 years it has been proposed.  My only question about the current plans for the "Southern Arterial" is that the current plan is NOT a bypass.  It will not be an "Interstate 25."

According to current plans, we are to spend between $100 Million - $162 Million for a 2 to 4 lane local road with controlled intersections every mile or so.  The likely speed limit on this road will be 40 MPH.

So, why are we building this?  It isn't to get a bypass.  It is to get an Arterial; one that likely will be not too much more than an opportunity for commercial development.

Now, commercial development isn't a bad thing.  However, it isn't a bypass.

Wednesday, October 17

Attend Candidate Debate Tonight

As I have been posting, two local bloggers are sponsoring a mayoral and city commision candidates debate tonight. I encourage any reader of these pages to attend the debate.  See you there!

October 17, 2007
7:00 p.m.

Northwest Center
2201 Northwest Bypass

View Larger Map

Admission: $5.00

To Vote for a Winner: $10.00

Sunday, October 14

Bike Thefts in Lower North and South Side

Over this Summer and early Fall, there have been a rash of bike thefts in the Lower North and South sides of our fair city. I haven't been unaffected by this; some young punk broke into my locked garage and stole my son's brand new West Coast Chopper bike, which we had given him for his birthday.

The city should do more to prevent bike theft. This is a gateway crime, that encourages punks to think of private property as something that is not worth respect.

In addition to taking bike thefts seriously, Great Falls should follow Missoula's lead and institute a voluntary bike registration program. A bike owner should be able to register the particulars about his or her bike, including serial number, with the GFPD. Pawn shops should be required to check against this registry before they are able to buy a bike. The registered owner should be contacted by the shop or the GFPD whenever a bike is brought into a pawn shop, and it should be returned to the lawful owner if it was stolen.

I understand that the management of such a registry database is a bit daunting. However, the fact that the city just pooh-poohs current thefts is deplorable.

More Ideas for Questions

Well, I think that is enough questions from one source. However, there are a lot more issues that the Commission candidates should be prepared to tackle. Here are some ideas;

  • The 5th-6th Street/ 1st Ave-2nd Ave South reconfiguration idea. Should those streets be converted to two way? What issues and challenges do the candidates see in that reconfiguration?

  • Working to Ensure Northcentral MT remains a Medical Center. Many jobs come to Great Falls because of our medical facilities. All of Northcentral Montana utilizes our medical resources. However, I submit to you that the ongoing and continued spat between the Clinic and Hospital reduces both the morale and the effectiveness of these resources. In addition, many elderly residents of communities like Havre, Ft. Benton and Shelby have no way to get to Great Falls, as there has been no regular bus service between our communities for about three years. Our City Commission should work to make sure that our medical facilities remain effective and they continue to serve all of Northcentral Montana.

  • Promotion of Bringing Canadian Tourism Dollars to Great Falls. The strength of the Canadian Dollar presents a real opportunity to bring many outside dollars to our community. We should be doing everything in our power to make it easy for Canadians to spend their loonies and toonies here. These currencies will be strong for the foreseeable future. However, many Great Falls retailers will not take these dollars, and even have signs up saying that they will not accept Canadian change. This is largely due to policies at local banks.

    We should be be doing more than just promoting our shopping opportunities to residents of Lethbridge and Calgary (however, we should be doing more of that). To start with, we should begin accepting Canadian currency in our parking meters. While I would not support getting the city into the currency exchange business, we should support and encourage those in that business to set up shop here. What will our City Commission and Mayor do to promote Canadian tourism here?

Those are a few ideas off the top of my head. The candidate forum is on 10/17. More information can be found at and the Electric City Weblog.

Fifth Question for Candidate Forum; Point of Sale System for Golf and Swim

This is my fifth question I submit for consideration for the upcoming candidate's forum:

In recent years, Park and Rec officials have stated that they cannot provide firm numbers on the usage of our Golf Courses and Swimming Pools because they do not have a Point of Sale computer system to track entrances to these parks. They have proposed spending about $100 thousand on such a system. Is this a valid concern?

If so, would you support the acquisition of such a system? How much would you propose spending?

If not, would you characterize current procedures as adequate? If not, would you support the implementation of more rigid manual point of sale procedures at our golf courses and swimming pools?

Fourth Question for Candidate Forum; Skate Park Usage

Here is another question that I submit for inclusion in the candidates forum;

The Riverside Railyard is the most recent park built in Great Falls. It is used by many kids in Great Falls. However, there have been many public complaints about both profane graffiti and hooliganism at the park. Is this a problem, and if so, what would you do to help solve it?

Third Question for Candidate Forum; Police Staffing

Here is my third question for the upcoming candidate's forum:

Over the past several months, the Great Falls Police Department has been operating at less than full force. For what reasons do you think that we have been unable to recruit and retain officers? Is this a problem, and if so, what would you do to solve this problem?

Second Question for Candidate Forum; Southern Arterial

Here is another question I submit for inclusion in the upcoming blogger candidate forum:

In recent weeks, City and State planners have proposed spending $100 - $162 Million on a Southern Arterial, directly connecting 57th Street to I-15. This will require buying and demolishing anywhere from 13 - 21 private residences and building another bridge across the Missouri. Do you support this plan, and if so, how do you envision this road to be used? As a follow up question, what sort of zoning proposals would you support around this new route?

My First Question for Candidate Forum; 9th Street Safety

In the next few posts, I will pose a few questions for our city commission and mayoral candidates. David and Geeguy have put together a great idea for a candidate forum this coming Wednesday, and I hope that they will consider these questions for submittal.

Ninth Street currently has multiple conflicting uses. It is a major North-South thoroughfare through Great Falls, connecting the Riverview area to 10th Avenue South. It also is a residential street, used by hundreds of pedestrians daily. The current location of school zones require pedestrian elementary students to cross this street every day to get to and from both Longfellow and Whittier Schools. Does anything need to be done about the uses for this street, and if so, what?

What are We Going to Get for $162 Million?

With numbers like the ones being bandied around here, you would think I was talking about a coal plant. However, here we are talking about something as mundane as a new road.

Last week, I attended the public meeting for the planned Southern Arterial, which would connect traffic from I-15 to 57th Street. Over the past 30 years, this planned road has been thought of as a bypass, but that isn't what city planners are now thinking.

I have been hearing about plans for this road since I was in kindergarten. This route was first proposed in 1968. However, with the downturn in our economy in the early 1970's, the idea was shelved.

Now, it is back. However, this isn't a bypass to allow truck traffic from Calgary to Denver/Salt Lake to easily go around Great Falls and, in the process, stay off 10th Ave. South. Instead, this would be a local road (probably around 40 MPH), with controlled intersections every mile or so. According to city planners, they envision it to be used by people such as medical professionals living in Fox Farm going to the hospital and USAF drivers going to and from Malmstrom and MANG. They don't envision more than 8,000 - 10,000 vehicles on this road per day. This should be contrasted to 10th Avenue South, which currently has about 40,000 vehicles/day.

Now, I don't see an investment like this staying unused. If built, I see something more like King Avenue in Billings. That route has become a mecca for big-box stores, like the ones that were just built on 10th Avenue South at the Mall. Is that the real idea here?

To build this route, the City and State will have to condemn and purchase anywhere from 13 - 21 private residences. The completed route will cost anywhere from $100 - $162 Million, depending on final route configuration. Another bridge will have to be built across the Missouri.

Is this a good investment? Both City and State planners seem to think so. However, if we are not going to really provide a bypass for through truck traffic, what are we really accomplishing here? I look forward to your thoughts.

Candidates for Neighborhood Council 7, and my Request for your Vote

I am the current chair of Neighborhood Council 7, which represents the lower North and South sides of Great Falls. The council is up for re-election this November.

As of the August 23 filing deadline, the following individuals filed for election to the council. I have marked incumbents with an (i), and listed them in alphabetical order by last name:

Matt Anderson;
Ole Johnson;
Donna Sadler; (i)
Mike Taylor; (i)
Erin Tropila; (i)
Aaron Weissman; (i)

As I am running in this race, I am not going to make any recommendations, beyond asking for your vote (if you live in the downtown area). I don't know anything about the two individuals running for their first term on the council, but thank them both for expressing interest.

The council has five seats. Therefore, one of the six of us that have volunteered our time will not be elected to the council.

I ask for and would appreciate your vote. If elected, I will continue to urge the council to;

  • Slow down traffic on 9th Street. This is a residential street, partially as evidenced by the location of elementary school zones that require kids to cross this street to get to and from school. Since the new pedestrian median when in place on 4th Ave N., I have heard complaints that it has slowed down traffic on 9th. Good. I want the city to build more of these things.

  • Work to make the Make the Lower North and South Sides a Safe Place to Live, Work and Play. Great Falls is changing. The new courthouse and Medical centers mean that more and more Great Falls residents are working outside of the downtown. However, over 7,000 people live in the Lower North and South sides, and thousands of Great Falls residents work here. As the most 'urban' area of Great Falls, we have our problems. However, none of these problems are insurmountable. We need more police officers patrolling our area, more blocks protected by Neighborhood Watch and more proactive efforts by city and county code enforcement. Especially in the Summer months, this area gets too rowdy. It is up to us to make sure that our neighborhood is clean and safe.

  • Keep our Parks Presentable and Fun. Except for the golf courses, most of the city's Park and Rec resources are in the Lower North and South sides. This district includes the Skate Park, the Natatorium, Mitchell Pool and Gibson Park. The maintenance of these areas has significant challenges. These challenges include the profane (the Skate Park), the administrative (Usage of resources like the Nat and the Mitchell is difficult to track because of current cash register procedures) and the mundane (did you know that a Canadian Goose produces 2 lbs. of 'goose grease' per day? Do you know how many geese live in Gibson Park?) While the council has no direct oversight over the Park and Rec department, we will continue to urge the city to maintain these resources.

In addition to these overarching goals, if elected I will urge the council to continue meeting with the Neighborhood Watch and I will begin rotating meetings to locations throughout our council area, including the Lower South side. I am currently attempting to have our December meeting at the gym at Longfellow school.

Again, I ask for your vote. If you have any questions, please contact me at your convenience. A comment on this post is an excellent way to contact me. Thank you.