We've Moved.

Due to lack of interest either way, I am moving Electric City Weblog to this new location:


Please update your records.

(Contributers, please email me with a new username and password, and I'll get you set up on the new site.)


Last Chance

Last chance to hear the candidates tonight:

Civic Center
5:30, p.m.
Missouri Room

I'm So Proud

My alma mater made the national news:

If the Supreme Court takes Flint's appeal, it will see that the University of Montana is indeed teaching students a lesson about politics -- the pernicious lesson that politics should be conducted under tight restrictions on advocacy. The university is preventing students from learning such essential civic skills as how to raise and allocate political money for advertising and organizing. Thus do the grossly anti-constitutional premises of McCain-Feingold seep through society, poisoning the practice of democracy at all levels


Housekeeping Issues

I have a couple housekeeping things that have come up.

First, it has been suggested to me that I should try to get an Offline Version out before the election. I would try to include excerpts from the Bloggers' Debate, as well as information about the Pilot Program (since the Tribune is obviously going to studiously ignore the story).

I have some problems, though. If I get the thing done this weekend, I can probably email it up to the publisher over the weekend. If so, I might be able to get it printed, leaving 6 days to distribute it before the election. The short timing leaves two issues. First, how do I distribute it in 6 days? If anyone wants to volunteer to help, please email me at fallsblog@yahoo.com.

Second, I need to sell a few ads to cover the cost. I'm going $150.00 for a full page, $100.00 for a half page, and $80.00 for a quarter page. Any takers? I'm already out of pocket a few hundred dollars on this election and, considering that I can't even vote in it, I would like to at least break even on the print version.

The next housekeeping matter is the move. I am going to move this blog, I think, to Wordpress at www.electriccityweblog.com. Please go over, check out the template, and let me know what you think. Do you like it? No? Leave me a comment somewhere or an email, if you wouldn't mind.

We now resume our regularly scheduled programming. LK? Wolfpack? Anonymous?

GF Debate-Conclusion

GF Debate-Candidates Question Each Other

GF Debate-Ambulance Service

Only Susan Kahn believes that the ambulance charges should be established by the City of Great Falls. The rest are undecided, oppose it, or didn't answer the question.

GF Debate-Police Issues

Ms. Hensley and her job at the City-Update

A poster below left a comment: "No one on the city staff urged Hensley to run for the commission seat. Has anyone asked her why she resigned her position at the city? She was a witness to the day to day happenings in the fiscal department. Could it be that she was unsatisfied with the way things were being managed so she quit because she was fed-up? (Remember: City Employees are hard workers, homeowners, and tax paying citizens too!) Is it possible to think that she is really trying to make things better for Great Falls by using her 'inside information' to improve city government? It is possible that management doesn't want her on the city commission because she knows the truth."

If this is true, and it may be, then I guess I am a little disappointed in her stealth dissatisfaction. She has as much of a stage right now as she will probably ever have on this issue, and she is silent?

If she quit the City because she was "fed-up" with "the way things were being managed," yet chooses to remain silent on that point in a City election, I guess that causes me concern. What, we only get to learn her "inside information" if she's elected? If she loses, she'll keep it to herself and the City will go on being managed in a way that is unsatisfactory?



At 21:33 of the Coal Plant Video

At 21:33:

Ed McKnight: I would like to ask Commissioner Kuntz, you talked about stepping up and taking leadership in this power process. And yet all the information I have, either the coal plant or Electric City Power, you have done nothing but lose money.

Channing Hartelius: So is that your question?

McKnight: If losing money is an indication of leadership, is that the kind of leadership that we need?

Hartelius: Did you under...did you get the question?

Diane Jovick-Kuntz: I did. And again your figures and my figures are different on the losing money. You've gone to the budget and picked one particular line item out of our budget and said we're losing, we're losing, we're losing. You have not gone and visited with Coleen Balzarini on a regular basis regarding this issue so you view us as losing, losing, losing. I don't view it that way, and I think with Electric City Power, because of the obligations that we have, for the contracts, for the next 20 years, there will be enough revenue to carry us through. And we will not continue to lose money.

Hartelius: Thank you Diane.

[Emphasis Added]

See, p. 28, p. 7 in Adobe Acrobat: Operating Loss, Electric Fund:

Actually, I think we have the same figures, don't we? And yes, I am picking out one line from the AUDITED financial statements. It's the line called "Operating Income (Loss)."

The obvious: If we're not losing, losing, losing right now, how can we "continue" to lose money? Good question, eh, Dr. Freud?

GF Debate-How often do you attend Commission Meetings?

Candidate Debate-Candidate Introductions

Sorry for not putting these in order!


From 1973...

Thanks, Alan!

Candidate Debate-What New Ideas or Changes Do You Have?

Candidate Debate-Thoughts on City Manager

Power Deposits

Some may recall that, back in July, I argued that the City of Great Falls was giving SME a gift when it agreed to provide a 1.4 million dollar security deposit that was not otherwise required by contract. I stand by the questions I raised at the time.

In any event, though, the security deposit was justified by City Staff: "A standard industry practice requires security deposits equal to two months of energy supply costs."

It occurred to me, then, to see what our City Manager's power contract has to say about deposits. It's a little bit better deal than the city got. The contract provides that a deposit can be required only if service has been terminated for non-payment within the last year, if the customer has received 2 or more termination notices (for non-payment) within the last year, if the customer has a current delinquent account with ECP, for tampering with the utility services, or an unsatisfactory credit history.

None of those would apply in the case of the City's gift to SME (which was not provided for by contract prior to July 17). Further, the deposit in the City Manager's contract will be refunded with 5% interest if he were to make his payments on time for 12 months.

$1,400,000.00 x .05 = $70,000.00.

Candidate Debate-The Coal Plant


Ms. Hensley and her job at the City

Below I posted a City Directory showing that City Commission candidate, Elna Hensley, worked for the City of Great Falls and shared a telephone number with Coleen Balzarini, the Executive Director of Electric City Power.

Several people I respect pointed out in comments and through the back channel that I was somewhat unfair in my questioning of Ms. Hensley's motives. I have to agree; the fact that I distrust some of the people she worked with should not serve to imply that her motives are anything less than honorable.

Thus, I have stricken what I believe to be the unfair portion. I didn't remove it all the way, because that looks too much like I am covering my tracks. Let the strikeout be a reminder of the error of my ways in making unfounded suggestions about Ms. Hensley.

I do not agree, though, that the fact that she worked with Ms. Balzarini as late as this year is wholly irrelevant. Come on, people. We do not have to be ignorant to be fair.

The coal plant/city utility is the most significant issue in this election. It is simply not reasonable to suggest that we must ignore the fact that one of the candidates worked closely with a key player in this debate. The relationship is fair game; the baseless implication that she is a shill or a plant is not. I apologize for the latter.

City Directory

City Commission Candidate, Elna Hensley, shared a telephone number with Coleen Balzarini.

I wonder if anyone in the City Staff urged her to run in order to get a friendly ear on the Commission? Does anyone know?

What does this even mean?

In the comments, LK takes Elna Hensley to task for her remarks in the paper about the 5 minute rule. Wolfpack thinks she did a good job. For the record, Ms. Hensley said:

Montana's public meeting laws are very clear — the business of the public must be conducted in public. However, a distinction needs to be made between a public meeting and a meeting held in public. Unlike a public meeting, the meetings of the City Commission are for the purpose of conducting the business of the city and are held in public. The commission members must consider comments on matters they will be making decisions about, but at some point they need to be able to move on and make the decisions that the voters have entrusted them to make. Setting reasonable limits on the time for public comments is not inappropriate. I do think that commissioners need to make themselves very available to the public in other settings, such as neighborhood council meetings or other public meetings convened to discuss specific issues, to hear the comments of members of the community.

Excuse me?

While she may have "made her point very well," what she said is gobbledeegook. There is no distinction between a "public meeting" and a "meeting held in public."

A meeting is "the convening of a quorum of the constituent membership of a public agency or association described in 2-3-203, whether corporal or by means of electronic equipment, to hear, discuss, or act upon a matter over which the agency has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power. " Unless dictated by the needs of individual privacy or private litigation, meetings need to be opened.

According to Ms. Hensley's statement, City Commission meetings, "unlike a public meeting, are for the purpose of conducting the business of the city and are held in public." In other words, City Commission meetings are meetings for the Commission to "hear, discuss, or act upon" matters "over which the [Commission] has supervision, control, jurisdiction, or advisory power." Sounds like a public meeting to me.

Ms. Hensley can be excused, maybe, for ignorance of the finer points of the open meeting law. But I cannot excuse a mindset that would suggest that when the City Commission conducts the business of the City, it merely happens to hold those meetings in public, apparently at the leisure of the Commission, and there is really no requirement for public input.

While Ms. Hensley seems like a very affable and reasonable person, her comments bespeak a real misconception about the fundamental nature of the democratic process. This almost sounds like something a staff member might try to make up to justify exclusion of the public.

Unless she retracts her statement, I don't know how anyone could vote for someone who does not recognize the public's role in its own government.

Vote for Private Property Rights

I attended the Town Hall Meeting on Saturday night. After hearing the candidates (that were present) unanimously oppose the coal plant on the grounds that it would, at a minimum, visually impact the Lewis and Clark Trail Landmark. Wait, I guess I shouldn't say unanimous. Larry Steele does not oppose the plant on those grounds, although Mr. Steele failed to offer an articulate reason why he did not believe the plant would harm Trial visuals.

As I listened to the others, though, it occurred to me that the coal plant is planned for private property. And, while it might be easier to argue that we should be able to prevent a coal fired generating station on someone else's land, our City Commission potentially makes many decisions impacting one's private property rights. What about the Design Review Board telling a businessman, who is about to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new building, that he needs more shrubs? What about making a personal decision about how tall someone else's signs should be?

Notions of private property are very important to me. In this modern era, where people think they should have some say in what you do on your own land because they drive by it every day, we need to be very vigilant to ensure that we do not elect those who would presume to dictate our conduct due to their preferences. This is an extremely serious and important principle in our society. (For more on the history of this issue, see this post.)

Therefore, I asked the candidates about it.

Mary Jolley and Ed McKnight both stood strongly in favor of private property rights.

I'm not sure what Larry Steele really thinks. He discussed the "American History of signs" and "intimate domain."

Stuart Lewin is not a property rights advocate. He correctly noted that we "granted these rights to ourselves in the Constitution," raising the implication that what we have granted we can take away. According to Mr. Lewin, "we have to be willing to adjust how we manage ourselves if we wish to survive...Private property rights are being used and abused to harm the planet."

I am not going to argue Mr. Lewin's point about property rights vis-a-vis environmental issues, although I disagree with him. I am going to argue a more fundamental point. Acknowledging the Constitutional importance of private property, he discussed the need to, perhaps, move past a strict understanding of private property for the greater good. What he did not mention, though, is amending the Constitution. This signals, to me, a predisposition to ignoring...wait, let's be more tactful...interpreting the Constitution in accordance with his own beliefs. Once we presume to do that, though, all bets are off. Is this a sign of how he might govern?

Susan Kahn discussed the more practical side of private property issues in Great Falls, arguing that 10th Avenue South needs more unity among the various players, something akin, maybe, to the Downtown Business Association.

She used a couple terms, though, that lead me to question her commitment to private property rights and property owners' freedom. She talked about planning and directing property uses to the "universal good." In my experience, this is a buzzword used to support the agendas of those who would tell others what to do. Didn't we hear a similar term wielded in favor of the sign code?

She also discussed the need to regulate property owners to "attract the right kind of businesses to Great Falls." I disagree. We need to attract legal businesses to Great Falls. It is not our leaders' decision what is a "good" business and what is a "bad" business.

Ms. Kahn and Mr. Lewin's positions remind me of people who are smarter than you.

As far as the remaining candidates, well, we don't know where they stand on this, do we?

UPDATE: Ed McKnight clarified my paraphrasing of him as follows: "My brief answer was that I read the 213 report by the park service which said the impact can not be mitigated. I did not say that I opposed the plant for that reason.

I oppose the involvement of the city against the will of the public, If the public had voted for it I would not oppose it. I oppose the city spending so much money on something I think will fail for technical reasons."

UPDATE: Susan Kahn states in a comment that I misquoted her. Maybe I did.

My notes reflect that she stated she would accept regulation of property uses for the "universal good" and to attract the "right kind of business." In response she says that she was referring to the expenditure of public dollars, rather than regulation. If my notes were wrong, Susan, I apologize.

Certainly spending public money for the "universal good" and to attract "the right kind of business" is more palatable than regulation to like ends, provided, however, that we assume the money should be spent.

A legitimate private property argument can be made, though, that the government has no business taking away my property (money) in order to give it to someone else in order to entice that someone else to conduct commercial activity in our town.

Local Subject Alert: Service

Dave at GreaterFalls has a post up about service in Great Falls. (He actually cites to this post by Hutch)

I have to disagree with Hutch's premise. I find that service is usually pretty good around town.

I should clarify, though, that I draw some distinctions here. When they screw up my order, that may or may not be a service issue. It's a service issue when, to my chagrin, I encounter a waiter or waitress who refuses to write things down (what is up with that, anyway? Are we supposed to be impressed?). If they do write it down, though, I consider that it is a kitchen issue and don't consider it bad service.

Likewise, when the waitstaff is running around, and the place is clearly disorganized, I don't consider that a service issue, I consider that a management issue.

A service issue, to me, is when the waitperson is rude or unhelpful. I rarely encounter that in Great Falls. I find that, when someone walks up to the table and you smile and make conversation, people are almost universally receptive. Thus defined, I receive very good service in this town.

Management issues, though, can be prevalent. For example, has anyone else stood in a long line at the Pita Pit watching while 3 of the five pita makers are constructing sandwiches for delivery orders, those who couldn't be bothered to come to the restaurant? Is that the fault of the server, or the manager?

Thoughts on Prey

The President of the Center for the Study of the Environment and professor emeritus in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says about global warming:

Some colleagues who share some of my doubts argue that the only way to get our society to change is to frighten people with the possibility of a catastrophe, and that therefore it is all right and even necessary for scientists to exaggerate. They tell me that my belief in open and honest assessment is naïve. "Wolves deceive their prey, don't they?" one said to me recently. Therefore, biologically, he said, we are justified in exaggerating to get society to change.

The climate modelers who developed the computer programs that are being used to forecast climate change used to readily admit that the models were crude and not very realistic, but were the best that could be done with available computers and programming methods. They said our options were to either believe those crude models or believe the opinions of experienced, data-focused scientists. Having done a great deal of computer modeling myself, I appreciated their acknowledgment of the limits of their methods. But I hear no such statements today. Oddly, the forecasts of computer models have become our new reality, while facts such as the few extinctions of the past 2.5 million years are pushed aside, as if they were not our reality.

He also goes on to disabuse us of the notion that even if the global warming alarmists are wrong, it doesn't hurt us to try.

Many of my colleagues ask, "What's the problem? Hasn't it been a good thing to raise public concern?" The problem is that in this panic we are going to spend our money unwisely, we will take actions that are counterproductive, and we will fail to do many of those things that will benefit the environment and ourselves.

For example, right now the clearest threat to many species is habitat destruction. Take the orangutans, for instance, one of those charismatic species that people are often fascinated by and concerned about. They are endangered because of deforestation. In our fear of global warming, it would be sad if we fail to find funds to purchase those forests before they are destroyed, and thus let this species go extinct.

(Hat Tip to Steve)

Must have been a stand in...

Commissioner Diane Jovick-Kuntz was quoted in the Tribune this morning on the 5-minute (formerly, 3-minute) rule for public comment at City Commission meetings:

I was never in favor of time limits. When people take time to voice their opinion or concerns, whether it is for one minute or 20 minutes, it is our obligation to listen to what they have to say.

Amazingly, when one reviews the records of the applicable meetings, here and here, both Resolutions passed with 5-0 votes. So Ms. Jovick-Kuntz voted for things she was "never in favor of."

Conscience or consensus?


Town Hall Meeting-Update

I was fortunate to be able to attend part of the Town Hall Meeting this evening. I had to leave due to family commitments (Apparently I am not alone in that; two other candidates bowed out for family commitments).

I hope to post more details later, but I was disappointed in this Meeting mostly for who was not there. Neither incumbent attended, Ms. Jovick-Kuntz for family commitments, and the Mayor for reasons unspecified due to her lack of a response to the invitation. Elna Hensley and Bill Bronson were both absent, due to prior commitments, one of them "family commitments" although I don't remember which one was family and which one was just prior.

I didn't see any media there, print, television or radio. Considering the Tribune publicized it, I think it's too bad they didn't attend.

I think it is fair to say that this was the anti-establishment debate. The two incumbents skipped it. Bill Bronson, while a good hand, is on the City's Planning Board. And, it was suggested tonight that Elna Hensley either works, or recently worked, with Coleen Balzarini at the City's Fiscal Services Department.

Nevertheless, it was interesting. I'll post more when I can.

The Global Warming Discussion

There's a good one worth reading at Scoop Montana.

As you can see, I have plenty going on in my life, so I only popped in for a smartass comment or two.

Scoop cut off comments, so let me post my response to Rebecca's last comment here:

The fact that a scientist takes grant money from industry is not, to me, conclusive. Plenty of global warming alarmists take money from environmental advocacy groups too. Or doesn't that count?

What is hard for me to take is the absolute certainty with which some folks discuss scientific theory and "consensus." I tend to stay out of those fights anymore...

US v. Canada

Ed Kemmick from down in Billings has a good piece up about the differences between the two healthcare systems.

Debate Results

I almost forgot to mention that the winner of the audience selected portion of the debate, Mary Jolley, donated her share of the winnings to the Great Falls Rescue Mission.


Town Hall Meeting

Don't miss the Town Hall Meeting tomorrow night at UGF, 1301 20th St South.

6:00 p.m.

Hopefully, this meeting will demonstrate what an idiot I was for charging admission!

Be there. But you could swing a dead cat and not hit an incumbent. (Ooops. Bad cliche.)

Critical Mass

Most Montana blogophiles are now aware of the travails of Moorcat down in Dillon.

He has an interesting point up about critical mass. He postulates that events in Dillon are reaching a political crescendo that he believes/hopes will lead to change.

Is it just me, or is Moorcat not alone?

Even before I read of Moorcat's struggles, it seems I had encountered case after case where bureaucrats, politicians, and other small people with power used that power to avoid, ignore, or squash the rights of citizens. Over the last year or so, I recall reading more than several articles from all over the country where tinhorn dictators are choosing to inflict their will on those they should be serving.

You can't smoke outdoors, you can't smoke in apartments. (And I don't smoke) You can't drink bottled water.

But hey, we don't have to go to California to find our petty tyrants. In Missoula, the elected officials crack jokes on email about those who muster up the courage and effort to make their opinions known. In Great Falls, we have a time limit on public comment. Our officials sign contracts to make public records private.

In all these cases, too, those in the spotlight feel they are in "public service." Every one of them would, I suspect, vehemently protest the suggestion that they are subverting the constitutions they are sworn to protect.

Nope, you can't swing a dead cat anymore without hitting some board member, council member, commission member or bureaucrat who is willing to ignore your rights in the interest of their own personal brand of expediency.

Yeah, there's critical mass alright. I just wonder what side of the podium it's on.

The Good News....

At least we're not alone.

Voting on the Coal Plant

A commenter takes issue with Mary Jolley's suggestion that we should have been allowed to vote on the coal plant:

"It has been explained to her numerous times that the citizens DO NOT vote on private business - like SME- even if the city is or is not involved. Let's vote on another WalMart, OK?"

What a disingenuous statement that is. Sure, SME is a private company and the citizens do not get to vote on what it does or doesn't do. Just like Walmart, as Einstein puts it.

But let's put on our retrospectoscopes, shall we, and assume that 5 years ago the citizens of this community voted overwhelmingly against the city's involvement in building a coal plant out on the Salem property. What would have happened?

No water contract. Dealbreaker. What would the County have done on zoning in the face of a negative vote? Dealbreaker. No city support on EIS. Dealbreaker? No contributing 25% of SME's development costs for a 15% (or less) ownership interest. Dealbreaker?

Don't come on here and say stupid sh*t, whoever you are. Of course the City residents could have voted on the coal issue and of course it would have mattered.

If we had the vote now, could we extricate ourselves? That is a less clear possibility, although it is still possible.

Debate Critics

I try not to spend too much time elevating comments to post-level, but I think I need to defend the debate that David and I sponsored, as well as all the candidates who participated. In all honesty, when people come on here and take potshots at me and others, my initial inclination is to just delete them. I don't spend the energy to do this so that people can come and slam me; start your own damn blog or, better yet, go hang out at the Tribune Forums.

I usually resist that urge, though, unless the comments are really unfair or over the top. In this case, we have a few shills who have felt compelled to comment. Let's shine the light.

This person offered a "reality check." First, s/he argued that the debate was "[c]oal plant this, coal plant that, all issues lead to the coal plant." S/he must have been at a different debate than I attended. Sure, there were prominent discussions about the coal plant. There were also discussions about accountability, open government, budgeting, the animal shelter and other things. No, this isn't a 'one issue town,' but it would be silly to suggest that the coal plant is not a huge issue facing us, both in its own right and as a lens to focus attention on other problems with City government.

The same person went on to dismiss the vote of the audience as friends and family of the candidates. Wrong. I know the majority of the people who voted for Mary Jolley. They are neither her friends or her family.

This person finally looks forward to the Tribune's forum. I am not sure why s/he needed to blast on our efforts to endorse the Trib's function. I hope it goes well. I hope they will follow our lead and come up with a way to allow something more than soundbite speeches.

Then someone appeared in a different post to slam the candidates, offering little substance but just telling us that some are bad. This person's comments are, frankly, laughable. I would really like to know who this person is.

Most of the things I write about, I know. I hope I don't sound cocky, but I have have been a practicing attorney in this town for nearly 20 years. When I say that a contract means this, or a law says that, I have a very high level of confidence that I am correct. If some one calls me to task on an issue, and can back it up, I will discuss the issue or retract my statement.

So when someone comes online and makes a silly, blanket statement about someone's "information" or positions, and that statement is false, it says much more about the commenter than the candidate.

I don't know, maybe Ed McKnight does have "bad information," since our potshot commenter did not provide the specifics to support his or her slam. Not all of his information is bad, though, because I have read a lot of it myself.

It has been suggested that this commenter is Holy Hal from the Tribune forums. The drive by attacks lead me to believe that this is not an unreasonable suggestion.

Finally, LK, please limit the personal attacks. Having met you, I think you are often injecting some levity, but it does not always translate into the posts. Use a smiley face or something, wouldja?



Demand For Coal Falls Short

Four of the candidates made it clear at last night’s debate they are in favor of the Highwood Generating Station - Bill Bronson, Elna Hensley, Diane Jovick-Kuntz and Larry Steele.

There is an article in today’s Billings Gazette by the Associated Press that in recent months at least 16 coal-fired power plant proposals have been scrapped and more than three dozen plants have been delayed due to increasing pressure brought by concerns over global warming and rising construction costs. (This same article was published today in the Tribune’s offline edition, but I could not find the online link).

This is an issue that is brought up time and again at city commission meetings, but continues to fall on deaf ears. Why is our commission and those candidates who support this boondoggle so quick to ignore what is happening in the rest of the nation and assume this plant will be so different as to rise above the rest? Today’s technology is what it is, and SME, no matter what their spin, cannot change that.

It Happened Again

Mayoral candidate, Ed McKnight, was not chastised for "grilling the staff", but instead, asking a direct question of Commissioner Jovick-Kuntz. At the city commission meeting on Tuesday, October 16, Mr. McKnight asked Jovick-Kuntz the source of a comment she made at a public meeting. Evidently, Jovick-Kuntz said that ECP has saved the city 1 Million Dollars. (Really? I’ve been hearing the entity has done nothing but loose money). Mr. McKnight asked her what the source was for her information. She did not deny making the remark, but as has become the norm, she told him to contact the fiscal director’s office. She would not give a direct answer. To Mr. McKnight’s credit, he did not back down and Mayor Stebbins proceeded to tell him he was being "uncivil". Funny, I was there. His question was asked in a civil manner- it was their behavior that turned uncivil. He asked the question one last time and Jovick-Kuntz responded that the source was Colleen Balzarini.

If public officials are going to make bold proclamations in public, they have no business getting defensive and trying to dodge public questions when they are being asked to prove or provide the source for their statements.

Thanks to Rich Ecke

Thanks to Rich Ecke for a good piece about our debate. I thought he captured the gist of it pretty well.

Thank you.


The Great Debate

Whew. It's over.

I thought it was fun, and informative. While I would have enjoyed a larger turnout, the place wasn't empty. Plus, we had great media coverage and we will get the whole thing online before long.

Thank you very much to Channing Hartelius who did an excellent job. Thank you to Steve and Charlotte for Charla and everything else. (Unless I don't get my deposit back.) Hats off to Diane Jovick-Kuntz for coming, even though you had a target on your back. And thank you very much to all of the candidates for running and for coming and laying it out for us to see.

We had 'professional' judges from the ranks of both the CMR and GFH Debate Teams. (If any of you guys are reading this, thanks, and I hope all my kids are like you). They picked:

1. Ed McKnight
2. Stuart Lewin
3. Elna Hensley

We also had 'amateur' judges, also known as the audience. They picked:

1. Mary Jolley
2. Ed McKnight
3. Bill Bronson

Thank you to everyone who came, and we will have more in the next several days.

(P.S. Thanks Dave and Witsoe for helping me clean up. Now we know what "grassroots" really means.)

Great News! Diane Jovick-Kuntz will attend the debate tonight.

Be there.

Candidate Has Withdrawn

Michael Winters has withdrawn from the race.

Health Care Lotto

Dentist Shortage Has Some Brits Pulling Their Own Teeth

A shortage of National Health Service dentists in England has led some people to pull out their own teeth - or use super glue to stick crowns back on, a study says. Many dentists abandoned Britain's publicly funded health care system after reforms backfired, leaving a growing number of Britons without access to affordable care.

"I was not surprised to hear those horror stories," said Celestine Bridgeman, 41, of London. "Trying to find good NHS dentists is like trying to hit the lottery because the service is underfunded."

The National Health Service provides care to the vast majority of Britain's people, often for free. Unlike doctors who work for the health service, dentists work on a contract basis and can leave whenever they wish.

Though private treatment by dentists is available, the tradition of publicly funded care means most people rely on it. But now there are fewer dentists to see patients.

In April 2006, the government reformed National Health Service dentistry in an effort to increase patients' access to treatment and to simplify payments. Dentists objected, complaining it reduced income. Some dentists cut the number of health service patients - or stopped taking them altogether.

Forty-five percent of dentists surveyed said they no longer accept National Health Service patients. In the British study, 78 percent of private dental patients left the National Health Service because their dentist stopped treating NHS patients or they could not find an NHS dentist. Only 15 percent claimed they switched to get better treatment.

British dentists left the government plan because.... they can. What will happen in the US if 45% of primary care docs walk, run, or sprint out the door when they see HillaryCare. Or will she require some sort of bondage or indentured servitude to keep physicians in the plan? 'Trying to find a good HillaryCare physician will be like trying to hit the lottery because the service will be underfunded'.


Ok, I'll beg.

I thought long and hard before writing this post.

Blogging is still a relatively new phenomenon in our society. I do it primarily as a hobby, but also because it gives me an opportunity to express my beliefs. It provides me with an opportunity to use my training in a way that, hopefully, adds to the debate.

As one might expect, writing this blog, or any blog, helps one create the ire of others where it was previously unknown. Of course, there are any number of people in this community who disagree with the things I write, and disagree with me and the people who agree with me.

It has become a common tactic in our community and society to attempt to marginalize one's political opponents. Certainly, the Citizens for Clean Energy understand what I am talking about.

We are fortunate in our community to have at least three events planned where citizens can learn about our local government candidates. I am fortunate to be able to participate in the local bloggers' debate. Additionally, the Tribune will hold a more traditional candidate forum, and another local blogger is sponsoring a town hall meeting.

I didn't want to beg. There are, however, those in our community who would like to see the two, less traditional debates fail. How easy it would be, for example, to marginalize those who write and read the local blogs if, say, seven people show up for our debate tomorrow night.

So, I'm going to perform the figurative equivalent of begging you to attend our debate tomorrow night. Please, if you get the slightest bit of enjoyment or satisfaction from the local blogosphere, help us to make this grass roots event succeed.

No, it isn't the money. While I would certainly like to recoup some of my investment in the venue, I didn't plan this event as a fundraiser. I was sincerely surprised at the level of resistance to what I thought was a reasonable admission charge (I'll be $400.00 out of pocket tomorrow night when we open the doors). I was even more surprised at the resistance to the $10.00 per vote idea, an idea I thought would help make the event more fun and interesting.

It's not the money. I just want you to participate. If you haven't noticed, I am truly infatuated with the idea of citizen interest and participation. If that pisses some people off, so be it.

Participate. Just come.

Wednesday, October 17. 7:00 p.m.
Northwest Center, 2201 Northwest Bypass

A Donation

An anonymous benefactor has agreed to contribute the cost of hiring a videographer to videotape the debate.

Thank you!

It will be taped, and will be put online just as soon as I can figure out how to do it!

Remember: Wednesday, October 17, 7:00 p.m. Northwest Center, 2201 Northwest Bypass


Format Update

Due to popular demand (uprising?) we have changed the debate format.

There will still be a $5.00 admission charge to help me cover my out of pocket costs.

The $10.00 vote, though, will be optional. If you want to vote for a winner, it will cost you $10.00. You are, however, free to attend the debate and listen without voting.

Remember: Wednesday, October 17, 7:00 p.m.
Northwest Center, 2201 Northwest Bypass


Mission Possible

Confidential: Gregori

Good Morning Tim,

Southern Montana Electric requires energy urgently. Problem is, the best coal is in SW Montana but the local residents don’t want the exposure to more toxic waste. Red Lodge is the next Big Sky you know.

Your mission Tim, should you choose to accept it, is to weasel your way into getting Geek Falls elected officials to trust you and convince them to eliminate a public vote on this controversial issue. Then use their pristine water, build a coal plant, leave the pollutants behind, and send the energy back to the Billings area so they can put up another Red Lobster or Olive Garden.

PS. Extra virgins if you piss off General Electric by building a conventional coal plant instead of one using their IGCC technology.

This message will self-destruct in 10 seconds. Good luck Tim.

Mr. Secretary

The "Scoop" on Global Warming

Our friend Scoop brings the global warming debate home.

Maybe it WAS the money

From the Great Falls Tribune, Sept 30

"They offered $500,000 in cash and we offered $500,000 in loans," Brett Doney, Great Falls Development Authority President said: "We just don't have the resources for cash incentives." John Oliver, a GE Commercial Finance spokesman, said he was not part of the final negotiations and can't say whether or not the cash incentive was the piece that tipped the scales in Billings' favor.
From the Billings Gazette, Oct 12

On Thursday, the Big Sky Economic Development Authority and a sister organization, the Big Sky Economic Development Corp., each agreed to pay $25,000 per year for 10 years to GE. The $500,000 in financial incentives played a big role in landing the GE operations center in Billings, said Joe McClure, executive director of Big Sky EDA. Big Sky EDA is financed primarily through a county wide tax levy. Big Sky EDC is financed primarily through contributions from private businesses.

"This is one of the items that set us apart when GE was looking at where to locate," McClure said. McClure said there were no strings attached on how GE can spend the money. He said offering financial incentives is part of the cost of job recruitment. McClure had no idea what other Montana communities had offered as incentives, but the Billings package was described as "convincing" by GE officials.

Show me some honesty. The city of Great Falls clearly has the financial resources for this level of cash incentive. The city committed 1.4 million dollars for the coal plant speculative investment. There now appears to be the equivalent of one or two full time employees working on this fiasco. Eliminating these positions would likely save $50,000 yearly.

We have resources, we lack leadership.


Remember the game, Stratego? It was supposed to be a great strategy game, requiring you to think far in advance about your opponent's moves and possible moves. I liked the game, but always thought it was more simplistic and tactical than strategic.

The law business, though, is more strategic. When you do something, you should have a specific reason for doing it, and you had better anticipate just what your adversary might do in response. If you do not anticipate opposing arguments, you can easily find yourself in a difficult position explaining to your client why you opened a particular can of worms to begin with.

Normally, though, when you're litigating, you do not try to 'refute' your adversaries arguments until he or she raises them. You see, there is always a chance that a good counter-argument could be missed, and we are not in the business of educating our opponents.

The same is true here. When I write a piece, I often try to anticipate what I think those with a differing opinion might say in response. Whether or not I include those arguments and try to 'refute' them in posts is primarily dependent on time.

I posted a piece a couple days ago about the City of Great Falls' Pilot Program. In that piece, I pointed out that the available evidence suggests that members of City Staff, Electric City Power's Board of Directors, and others, are receiving electricity from Electric City Power at a price below ECP's cost. In other words, according to what I can find, these people's electric bills are being subsidized by taxpayers. When I wrote the piece, I anticipated a few arguments against it, but time constraints prevented me from considering them at the time. So now I'll lay out what I think they are.

It's De Minimus.

This argument was already raised by our friend Wolfpack, and I think it's a relatively effective argument, at least against suggestions that the Pilot Program demonstrates some sort of inside dealing as opposed to simple ineptitude.

In other words, if one were acting with malfeasance instead of misfeasance, would one really go out on a limb for a few dollars a month? I don't think so.

On the other hand, given the amount of controversy engendered by the entire ECP and coal plant issue, one can easily infer that more adept management would anticipate that a sub-market power deal would simply look bad and given the de minimus nature of it (it is, after all, a few dollars a month either way) would not have bothered to risk the negative publicity in exchange for such relatively small savings.

The assertions about power costs are factually incorrect.

This might well be a legitimate statement. ECP purchases power from SME under various contracts at various prices. I focused on the November 2006 purchase contract because the Small Customer Pilot Program was specifically offered as a justification for purchasing that additional block of power. I fully concede that, by blending the rates from the various blocks of power, the actual cost to ECP of the power resold to Mr. Lawton, et. al., might be lower. There's really no way for us citizens to know.

But I do stand by this: Taxpayers are subsidizing the rates that the Pilot Program customers are paying. ECP has, in fact, lost money according to the audited financial statements (in excess of $400,000.00). Taxpayer dollars are helping to fund the development costs of the Highwood Generating Station and a public asset (water) is being used to subsidize some of the rates offered by ECP. ECP is being operated at a loss by government officials who are compensated by City of Great Falls tax dollars (some of whom are also getting below market power).

Given all of the taxpayer involvement in this particular operation, can one truly justify selling the insiders power for less than Great Falls citizens can buy it?

The below-market power is an incentive for the Pilot Program customers to take the risk of buying their power from ECP.

What risk? Seriously, what risk?

All Electric City Power does is buy power from SME and then re-sell it to ECP's customers. ECP is not out on the open power markets, buying contracts, hedging prices, etc.

SME says it is more than qualified to provide power. The "core staff that launched Southern Montana Electric G&T (Warren Bickford and [Tim Gregori]) has a total of 58 years experience in the electric utility industry. [They] have a combined 32 years experience in wholesale power supply and transmission capacity procurement. From the time the decision was made to form Southern Montana Electric G&T in November 2003, Warren Bickford and [Tim Gregori]have negotiated contracts with the Bonneville Power Administration Power Business Line(BPA PBL), the Western Area Power Administration (Western), PPL Montana LLC, NorthWestern Energy Transmission Services Group, the Bonneville Power Administration Transmission Business Line (BPA TBL) and the Western Area Power Administration – Transmission Services Group."

So, then, what is this great risk that justifies below market power to insiders?

Avoidance of the Issue/Personal Attack:

This has occurred. First, we have some individual named "bramble," who argues that my position on the coal plant is 'revenge' against John Lawton.

"The blog I refer to is run by a local attorney who has ownership interest in local casinos. He believes the city's sign ordinance and other zoning policies hurt casinos, so he is trying to get even with Lawton by distorting the Highwood Power Plant facts."

Do you know what? The City's sign ordinance and other zoning policies do hurt casinos. They hurt lots of businesses. (Newsflash: It wasn't all, or even very many, casino owners who spoke vehemently against the sign code.) Do you know how many businesses I own that have been affected by the sign code or the zoning law? Zero. So, "bramble" wants to allege a conflict of interest on my part, but ignores the fact that power plant advocates get sub-market priced power.

I would like to believe that "bramble" is an insider, someone who works in City Government. Why? Because "bramble's" post confirms two assumptions many people make about City Government.

First, many critics allege that John Lawton, rather than the City Commission, really makes policy. The assumption in "bramble's" post is that John Lawton created the sign code and the zoning law. If not, why would I want revenge against him rather than the Commissioners that adopted these two acts?

Second, why would stopping the coal plant "get even" with John Lawton unless he has some personal stake in the process? He's about to retire; his benefits are not contingent on the coal plant's success. So, "bramble," what difference does it make to Mr. Lawton whether or not it gets built? Do you know something we don't?

There are several other 'critics' over at the Tribune's forums. That's fine. All I ask, though, is that readers note that not one of them directly questions any factual assertions; they just accuse me of being a "hateful zealot" who "distorts" facts. You tell me who is hateful. Have I personally attacked anyone, called them names, because of a political disagreement?

If one of them, just one, would show up and take issue with a fact, we could then have a discussion. When virtually everything I say is linked to a source document, or if my assertion of an unsourced 'fact' is qualified as such, it's hard to dispute, isn't it?


Those are what I believe to be the primary refutations of my position on the Pilot Program. I wish the Tribune would cover this story so we could see which ones the insiders will use.

To be honest, and I mean that, what I am about to say is absolutely true: I hope that our City's representatives can document that they are not receiving power at a sub-market price. If they can, I will apologize and be duly chastened. I don't want to think that people would do this.

I have friends, clients, and family who live on fixed incomes. They pay taxes. Their power bills hurt.

From Mayor Stebbins

I will be unable to participate since I will be in Billings on a family matter on the 17th and part of the 18th. I wish you well and hope you have a good turnout. As always, people who want to know where I stand on any particular issue are welcome to call me at 761.4108 or email me at donastebbins@bresnan.net

Warm regards,

Debate Coverage TV

It is my understanding that KRTV will be covering the Debate this Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. I sent an email to KFBB, but have not received a response.


Debate Coverage Radio

David from Greaterfalls received a note to the effect that the Debate will be taped by KGPR Public Radio for replay at a later date.

Debate Format

After meeting with the CMR Debate team a couple times, we have devised a format for the debate.

As you can see, this format will be best suited for an in-depth consideration of a few issues, rather than a cursory study of many. There will be other formats, including the Tribune's, that will offer, perhaps, a broader insight into the candidates' positions.

Introduction-Moderator: Channing Hartelius will explain the format and introduce the candidates. 5 minutes total.

Candidate Introduction: Each candidate will be allowed 2 minutes to introduce themselves, and will be asked to focus on biographical, rather than political, content. In other words, it might be like a resume'. Where are you from, where did you go to school, what have you done. Total time: 14 minutes total.

Question. Each candidate will have 2 minutes to answer each question. 14 minutes total.

After all candidates have answered the question, each candidate will then have 30 seconds to ask ONE other candidate a question or questions. 3.5 minutes total.

The candidate asked will then have up to 1.5 minutes to respond to the question. 10.5 minutes total.

The moderator will have 3 optional minutes for follow-up after each question as he may choose to use it.

Each question will then run approximately 31 minutes total.

Closing Statement: Each candidate will have 1.5 minutes to give a closing statement. 10.5 minutes total.

The audience will select a winner by ballot and $10.00 donation. The CMR Debate Team will also select a winner based on more structured criteria. (Their ballot will be available to the candidates before the debate.)

A member of the Debate Team will time the debate's segments.



I can't say it any better.

Pilot Program-The Contracts

I always try to provide the source material for what I write, so, here are the contracts: