Moderator Gary Moseman; questions asked by KRTV anchor Cindy Cieluch and former Tribune staffer Tom Kotynski
NOTE: I typed the following as I watched the forum on TV, and I was not able to catch everything, nor was I able to get verbatim quotes. What you see below are, for the most part, my words, based on what I was hearing. If either candidate feels that I have mis-stated their opinion or position, I apologize and will correct any such errors.
Candidate Dona Stebins talked about fiscal responsibility, referencing the Lewis & Clark Signature Event, the city pools and the water-park.
Candidate Randy Gray talked about his experience and his background in city government.
Citizen Involvement in Local Government :
Candidate Gray: “There is always room for improvement; we’re not a town run by ‘Letters To The Editor,’ but Letters To The Editor make a big impact.”
Candidate Stebbins: “I’m not happy with the level of citizen involvement in city government.”
Proposed Coal Plant:
Candidate Stebbins: “I support the coal-fired plant on one hand; this issue has torn me in half; I support anything that brings good-paying jobs to Great Falls; I would like the city to have a little control over what happens there; on the other hand, I am concerned about the level of contamination and the potential for environmental problems; I would like to see 100% capture rate.” We need to explore that issue a little further.
Candidate Gray: “Like Dona, I’m somewhat torn on this issue; gut-answer support for the plant; 44 pounds of mercury released each year from the plant; within 50KM of the plant, 2.2 pounds will land. What does it really mean if you have 2.2 pounds spread around over that area? This plant likely will be built whether or not the city of Great Falls is a participant; it makes sense to me that we be a participant and have say in it.”
Lewis & Clark Signature Event:
Candidate Gray: I don’t want to minimize a half-million dollar loss; we have the technology to refer all issues to the voters (via the internet); generally I wouldn’t be in favor of referring something like this to the voters; don’t have much modeling to follow for bicentennial events; based many decision on experts, such as Stephen Ambrose; predictions of attendance were based on expert opinions; it will return the investment over the years, three to five years we will see more tourists as a result of L&C.
Candidate Stebbins: lack of oversight on the expenditures is key issue; did city ever calculate how many visitors we would have needed to break even? 40,000 visitors, versus estimated 114,000 to break even. Ticket sales in March and April were not where they needed to be, somebody should have been paying attention, events should have been downscaled at that point from 34 days to maybe 10 days.
Candidate Stebbins: John Kramer is doing an excellent job; GFDA one of the finest, most aggressive groups that I’ve ever seen; city needs to support them a bit more; we need to be a little bit more aggressive about development; too many hoops to jump through to start a new business, we need to bury those hoops.
Candidate Gray: John Kramer and GFDA, in partnership with city and GTF, we have three legs of the stool working hand-in-hand on economic development; takes a while to market your community when it hasn’t been done in the past. ACM is no longer here, farming in the doldrums, flying mission at Malmstrom is gone; let’s make use of that clear air space we have up there.
Thoughts about the LEADERless Pamphlet:
Tom Kotynski asked: “Was Dona Stebbins in any way behind or responsible for this?”
Candidate Gray: I attribute this to the days of Ben Franklin and pamphleteers; I have thick skin; people will castigate you for making decision; Bob Haffner is apparently responsible for the pamphlet; some people are angry at me for lobbying for the gaming tax; attribute it to creative politics.
Tom Kotynski asked Candidate Stebbins if she was involved with the pamphlet.
Stebbins: No, I didn’t do this; first I knew was when it wound up in my mailbox; if I was going to publish something like that, I bloody well would put my name on it. If you contact Mr Haffner, he will tell you I had nothing to do with that.
Combining City & County Government:
Candidate Stebbins: I’m not for combining them; there are some things that we could be pooling on; healthcare costs one example. Should be kept separate, they have separate responsibilities and separate interests.
Candidate Gray: Two separate functions; we already participate in a shared liability insurance pool, workers compensation pool. It’s true that the cities have a different structure than counties; they have more power than counties. Counties are dinosaurs of the past.
Conflict of Interest:
Tom asked about McKenzie River Pizza parking lot.
Candidate Gray: I recused myself from that vote, per statute. “Poor Richard” Haffner piece was incorrect.
Tom asked Dona about possible conflict regarding her husband, who is a city employee.
Candidate Stebbins: I would recuse myself from any decision or input that affected his job.
What is the Chief Issue that GF Should Take to Legislature:
Candidate Stebbins: city powers are limited by legislative restrictions, according to Mayor Gray; see no reason to lobby them on any specific issue; just talking to our legislators as private citizens should usually suffice.
Candidate Gray: lobby the Legislature to allow city to put issue to citizens for a possible city sales tax favored by the “Seven Sisters” (7 largest cities in Montana); we do have a dog in the fight in the Legislature. Candidate Stebbins: just the words “sales tax” raises the hackles on her back; people of Montana have voted that down four times, and if it’s brought up again, the people will vote it down again. We pay enough taxes.
Does GF Offer Enough to Attract & Retain Young Adults:
Candidate Gray: good-paying jobs that allow well-educated young adults to put their education to work.
Candidate Stebbins: my daughter left after graduating from high school; returned shortly, stating that this is home, where she wants to stay. There are a lot of things for young people to do, not as many as I’d like; more concerts, more opportunities to meet and mingle, other than bars. If kids want to stay here, help them to make it possible. I chose to stay in GF when I decided to raise a family. Lots of amenities in GF that don’t get a lot of press, but you have to be proactive in seeking them out.
Candidate Gray asked Candidate Stebbins – “You would be in favor of John Lawton moving on…how are you going to work with other City Commissioners who support John Lawton?” Candidate Stebbins: I don’t have a problem working with anybody; I just think at this point that we need to take a look at what the future of GF is going to bring.”
Candidate Stebbins asked Candidate Gray – How can you continue to justify these tremendous expenditures (re: proposed buyout of Northwestern, Lewis & Clark Signature Event, etc)?” Candidate Gray replied: details of bond issue, shaving debt (couldn’t follow answer clearly enough to type it accurately – sorry)
Candidate Dona Stebbins: by being here tonight, you all honor the democratic process; government derives its power from those who are governed; it’s your power to give, your power to take away; you elect people to represent you, not rule you; earlier, I asked where’s the fiscal responsibility, which is the hallmark of strong government; you will find the answers in the voting booth on November 8th.
Candidate Gray: privilege to serve community for 10 years; local government affects our health, our children, the water we breathe (direct quote!), the water we flush down the toilet; this city has been well-managed over the last 10 years; I support our City Manager; we’ve had an excellent City Commission; the Mayoral job is more than just sitting up here overseeing meetings; it’s working with GFDA, BRAC.