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Bill Bronson Great Falls City Commissioner December 8, 2014 LOCAL GOVERNMENT REVIEW: The Great Falls Experience.

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Presentation on theme: "Bill Bronson Great Falls City Commissioner December 8, 2014 LOCAL GOVERNMENT REVIEW: The Great Falls Experience."— Presentation transcript:

1 Bill Bronson Great Falls City Commissioner December 8, 2014 LOCAL GOVERNMENT REVIEW: The Great Falls Experience

2 History of Great Falls Local Government, 1888 - Present “Weak Mayor”-Council (1888 – 1973) Commission-Manager [Old Form] (1973-1986) Commission-Manager [Charter] (1986-Present]

3 City Government, 1888 - 1973 “”Weak-Mayor” System: Mayor elected separately from members of the City Council (council members called “aldermen” under this system) All elected on partisan basis; alderman, by wards (five wards, two aldermen per ward) Department heads appointed by mayor with consent of council, and could only be removed with council consent Council was in charge of official meetings and elected its own presiding officer Council appointed numerous advisory boards and commissions Mayor had veto power; could be overruled by a 2/3 vote of the council

4 City Government, 1888 - 1973 Problems: Conflicting lines of authority/weak executive Problem identifying who was in charge “Ward politics” Financial issues: Unbalanced budget Bank concerns over city finances Unpopular “fees” Hiring practices (religion and cronyism)

5 Time for a Change????

6 The End of the “Old Regime,” 1972 Citizen initiative to convert to a commission-manager form of government, with at-large, non-partisan elections Robust public debate Special Election, December 7, 1972: To retain the mayor-council system – 3,307 (22%) To replace it with a commission-manager—11,633 (78%)

7 City Government: An Employee’s Perspective, December 8, 1972

8 Commission-Manager [Old Form] (1973-1986) First election for commissioners held March 1973 Under this system, candidate with highest vote became the presiding officer or “ceremonial mayor” New commission proceeds to hire a professional manager Much controversy as the new commission took the reins of power

9 Commission-Manager [Old Form] (1973-1986) Experience: Budget/finances eventually brought under control Lines of authority clarified Continuing disputes: Supporters of old system continued to “wage war” on the new form of government Issues over the power of the “mayor” under this system in relation to the city manager

10 Commission-Manager [Old Form] (1973-1986) Local Government Review (1975-1976): supporters of a “mayor-council” system make an effort to return Great Falls to a mayor-council system Proposal did NOT have unanimous support among members of the Study Commission Proposal overwhelmingly defeated, 35% for change, 65% opposed (November1976) Consensus: most voters were comfortable with the new form of government

11 Commission-Manager [Charter] (1986 – Present] Second Local Government Review Commission (1985-1986) proposed to retain commission-manager system under a “charter” Under this “charter government,” a mayor would be elected separately, but would have NO EXECUTIVE POWERS Styled as a “Tune-Up, Not an Overhaul” Proposal passed (June 1986)

12 Commission-Manager [Charter] (1986 – Present] This form remains in place today 1995-1996 Study Review Commission: recommends three amendments to Charter: Establish Neighborhood Councils – PASSED Increase size of the Commission from 5 to 7 members—FAILED Extend term of the Mayor from 2 to 4 years – FAILED


14 Reflections Was a change in “form” of government necessary to achieve political goals of the opponents of the “old system”? Is the form of government really as important as some may think it is?

15 Reflections

16 Viewpoint: Change UNNECESSARY Financial issues could have been addressed with policy changes Internal structural improvements Elect new mayor and aldermen: “Throw the bums out!”

17 Viewpoint: Change NECESSARY Reforms impractical/impossible under the old system: Ward system was self-defeating Partisan politics was getting in the way “Weak-Mayor” system was inherently dysfunctional A “Strong-Mayor” format was not even available statutorily until 1973 (RCM 11-802.1, now Mont. Code Ann. § 7-3-4101)


19 Summary Regardless of the form of government chosen, a community should consider the following: Establish clear lines of authority Ensure sound budgeting and financial planning, with assistance of professionals, or at least, “smart money-people” Acknowledge need for professional personnel management Utilize a chief administrative officer or equivalent, even if the government is NOT a “commission-manager” form

20 Sources In addition to the personal recollections and experiences of the speaker, the following sources were consulted for this presentation: Revised Codes of Montana, 1947, Sections 11-801 through - 803; 11-802.1; 11-3201 through 11-3286 Montana Code Annotated Sections 7-3-4101; Great Falls Tribune, December 1 through December 9, 1972; Peter Koehn, Ph.D., Unpublished research paper on the transition from the mayor-council to commission-manager form of government in Great Falls, University of Montana, February 1975 (in speaker’s possession);

21 Sources (continued) Great Falls City Charter; Montana Code Annotated, Title 7, Chapter 1, Part 1, and Chapter 3, Part 7; J. Lopach & P. Koehn, MONTANA LOCAL GOVERNMENT REVIEW: AN ANALYSIS AND SUMMARY(Bureau of Government Research, University of Montana, September 1977)

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