Mayoral Forum-First Question

Is Great Falls' City Government broken? Why or why not? If so, what do you propose to do to fix it?

Candidate Susan Kahn:

Broken? No, the basic services are being performed. Is Great Falls' City Government working the best it can? No, there is room for improvement. The people are missing from the equation.

We have open government and the public needs to be engaged in their city. The Mayor is a position to serve the public and votes should be cast to represent the best interest of the public with preference to their opinions. The Mayor position does influence and controls the atmosphere of public meetings. I want to increase fairness, common sense and participation as our government was designed.

With over 20 years of business experience from purchasing to selling, my style is to consult experts with varying viewpoints, share information, and plan short and long term obtainable goals. Goals must be measurable and city leadership must be held accountable. I will make better spending decisions which will save the taxpayers dollars and restore confidence in our city government.

I am a person who stands on principles and my values are what I base my decisions
on. Most things in life can be reduced to a decision. A successful person is one who takes responsibility for the decisions they make. It is not what you’ve done or what happens to you but what you are doing about it.

Candidate Ed McKnight:

Absolutely not. Physical things break Our government is a living breathing entity that changes over time because the people that make it happen. In fact all the brouhaha surrounding the issues shows our government is alive and well. If we are dissatisfied with our elected leaders we replace them. If we are dissatisfied with the rules we change them. Great Falls City Government may not be in the healthiest state right now but there are plenty of citizen “doctors” monitoring the patient closely.

I'd like to approach the question from this point of view - Are we doing the best we can? If not what can we do to improve? There is never a perfect government but there is room for improvement.

Having a full time manager to run the business of the city and not be involved in politics is a good idea. What if behind the scene the manager is involved with political decisions? What if the manager is extremely intelligent and strong but also conniving while the commission is naive? What if the manager and commission are too friendly instead of maintaining a supervisor employee relationship?

Citizen oversight is what open government is all about. Access to knowledge of what is going on, no closed door meetings and confidential information, reduces suspicion and we don't let our imagination run wild with speculation about whats going on. I think the trek of openness in government is a step in the right direction and we should use all available tools, namely communications technology, to improve the implementation of that philosophy.

Currently leadership puts too much power in the hands of the manager and not enough power in the hands of the citizens, even though the city charter says, “All powers of the City of Great Falls are vested in and derived from the people of Great Falls.” However; with the current administration, people are at odds with the commission. Yet, the Charter requires citizens to resort to a disproportionate amount of time and effort for a ballot initiatives to get results.

Problems lie in the fact that people are flawed and the rules need to clearly address not just how they should be but also remedies for when things go bad. To improve the situation I think clarifying the charter to better balance power between Manager, Commissioners and Citizens is in order. For example, do the neighborhood Counsel elected bodies have to be advisory only? Can they have some veto power or demand action? When you are at a commission meeting and your questions are not answered how long should you have to wait? Who will facilitate or be responsible for getting answers?

I view myself as a consensus builder. As Mayor, for collecting the opinions of the people, I would use Neighborhood Counsels as elected representatives of people's concerns rather than special interest groups. I would be open to any discussion about identifying problems and what changes are desired. I'm not advocating huge or sweeping change. Small and consistent steps can enable a smooth transition over time.

Candidate Larry Steele:
Yes, the current council refuses to listen to the people of Great Falls . I would be willing to listen to the concerns of the citizens. I concern that I hear from the people they do not understand why Great Falls has a part time mayor and a full time city manager while the county has 3 full time county commissioners. Some citizens do not like the idea of have a city manager that they have no say over. The city manager is not an elected position.

Incumbent Mayor Dona Stebbins:
Chose not to participate in this forum.


Anonymous said...

Thanks GEEGUY, Democracy prevails and how refreshing.....I don't see why current mayor couldn't submit a statement......Tribune should invite our elected officials to write columns periodically, rotate between elected officials. When was the last time you read something written ENTIRELY by one of our elected officials, by themselves with no 'coaching'? I challenge the Tribune and elected officials to WRITE.

Anonymous said...

Did Stebbins not respond at all or did she refuse to answer the questions? That's what I want to know.

How can we have a online debate when the incumbent blows it off? This is unheard of if politics, unless this is not viewed as legitimate. Apparently 75% of the candidates saw this as legitimate.

Whos right? Is the fix in?

GeeGuy said...

Mayor Stebbins did not respond at all to the questions, nor did she respond to a seperate, personal email seeking her input.

Whether or not this forum is legitimate, certainly the regular readers are legitimate.

Anonymous said...

Stebbins is responding to this debate the way she responds to all things originating from the citizens. Ignore it.

She's not an incumbent, she's a lame duck. Let's just concentrate on our viable choices.

WolfPack said...

Question for Ed McKnight regarding:

“I would use Neighborhood Counsels as elected representatives of people's concerns rather than special interest groups.”

Are you saying that you think the neighborhood councils are currently overly influenced by special interest groups or that they are only consulted for select areas of interest?

Anonymous said...

Wolfpack & Ed McKnight

It seems critics of Neighborhood councils have noted concerns about empire building over the years. It escapes me now but someone posted something about councils allegedly being solicited in some thread weeks ago.

The premise that councils were developed can be found here

"Following the meeting held July 15, 1997, which set the public hearing for Ordinance 2727, a City Commissioner requested that Staff draft an amendment which would encourage the involvement of minorities, ethnic groups, community service organizations, environmental interest groups and other like organizations to ensure broad participation in the neighborhood council program. The amendment was explained in a memo to the City Commission dated July 18, 1997, from City/County Planning Director, Bob Horne."

Then in 1997 our ECW leader brought this up to the commission:


NC #1

15. Greg Smith, Neighborhood Council 1, asked if the City Commission would revisit the ordinance creating Neighborhood Councils to further describe where the councils fit into the local government.

Commissioner Beecher stated that neighborhood councils were created to serve as advocates for respective neighborhoods. He added that a potential downfall of the Commissioner/Manager form of government is that sometimes citizens feel it is not an open government. He stated that the neighborhood councils are not meant to add another layer to city government, rather they are meant to serve as a communication vehicle between the citizens and local government officials and staff.

Commissioner Gray suggested that representatives from the neighborhood councils, the City Commission and Staff, meet to discuss this more fully."

When elected, is Mr. McKnight willing to revisit the ordinance creating Neighborhood Councils and discuss what critics claim is now another layering of city government?


Anonymous said...

No more layers please.. Voters don"t need a go between to reach their city commission.
This is Great Falls, not LA!

Anonymous said...

I agree we don't need a go-between, but we do need to be able to reach the commission(ers) which, presently, is not possible.

That being the case, what would any of the candidates offer, or suggest, to insure accessibility, which is presently denied.

Anonymous said...

The responses to the first question are very interesting. This forum is going to be a big factor in deciding who to vote for.

Ed Mcknight said...

Wolfpack -

The problem I'm trying to address is “peoples concerns” and how they are addressed. “Special interest” has a broad definition and is not always bad. I'm thinking of someone influencing local decision makers in a surreptitious way and that goes against the will of the people.

Because of the numbers involved and more intimate contact with people, neighborhood counsels would be more immune to going against the will of the people. Using neighborhood counsels as a communications medium is only one avenue. Speaking at the commission meetings is another for individuals to express concerns. Meeting and talking with me directly is another. I want to keep all avenues open and use them for the strength that each offers.


Yes, and I won't wait to be elected, lets do it now.

The counsels were created out of a perceived weakness of commission/manager and were retained by voters. In the capacity of advisory only, is that actually layering? Have the counsels lived up to the premise under which they have been created?

Anon 10:09

You don't need a go between for me. Part of what we are addressing is commissioners not being responsive when they should be. Then what?

To all, my blog is still open for input http://greatfallsopengovernment.blogspot.com/
e-mail edmcknight@bresnan.net homepage edmcknight@home.bresnan.net

Ed Mcknight said...


thats homepage

Anonymous said...

No thanks, I don't need a neighberhood quasi- representive. This is not our city charter system. One more level to co-op. Get real as was said, this is not LA with millions of voters in sub-divisions each larger than the city of Great Falls.

What I want is to be heard and actually get an answer when asking legitimate questions of the commission. No more just going though the motions because they must.

We elect a mayor and commission and they need to listen directly to the people.

Anonymous said...

To LA posts -

It appears you don't read or don't understand what you read. PL provided a link which clearly documents and the bold is my emphasis:


Ordinance 2727: In the last general election (November, 1996), voters approved an amendment to the Great Falls City Charter reinstituting a neighborhood council program.

What's interesting is the special advocate amendment....

"amendment which would encourage the involvement of minorities, ethnic groups, community service organizations, environmental interest groups and other like organizations to ensure broad participation"

And by the way PL.... it was May 19, 1998 when Greg Smith made his point....

No Offense

Anonymous said...

I would like to see a mayor and commission that actually listens to public comments that are on point. More importantly, a commission that gives a thoughtful response or two, or even a hint of debate among the members before voting unanimously to pass a bill.

It all seems like the vote is agreed to before the public comes into the room.


Anonymous said...

A 'consensus' style of decision-making make 'seem' effective, but ignores the majority/minority dynamic vital to Democracy, where the majority rules but the minority has the right of being heard. That's an important principle of Roberts Rules.

Anonymous said...

No Offense - thanks for the correction.

Ed - thanks for your response.

I agree that "“Special interest” has a broad definition and is not always bad." After all, I give money to those who look out for my special interests in government and work against those whose ideology opposes my own because I can't be everywhere watching every government meeting.

That you immediately started your open government discussion blog to generate discussions a week or so ago is impressive.


Anonymous said...

Anon 7:23 PM, August 18, 2007

Not sure what you mean by "consensus...but ignores the majority/minority dynamic vital to Democracy"

Ed Mcknight said...

In response to the question

what would any of the candidates offer, or suggest, to insure accessibility, which is presently denied?

As far as I go, you have direct accessibility already. I had a private meeting with one of the commissioners who was very cordial and said what I had to offer was interesting. This person gave me an e-mail address, asked for mine, asked me to send more information which I did twice, each time with no response.

Because I had a meeting, was the requirement of accessibility fulfilled?

Communications and a meeting of the minds was my point of the meeting. My points may have been a minority opinion, or because of the highly technical nature required a response from someone more specialized. In either case I think I deserve an explanation as to what became of my input.

The only recourse for citizens in the charter are

Article VII - Citizen Involvement in Government

Section 1 - Initiative, Referendum, and Recall
The qualified electors of the City of Great Falls may exercise the powers of Initiative,
Referendum, and Recall as provided by Montana law.

My open government blog is one way for an individual not only to have accessibility, but also have public review of sensibility, timely answers, or actions. I'm not suggesting there is one solution. Having parallel branches to choose from based on individual preference would be more enabling.

Ed Mcknight
Quality Leadership in City Government