We Have an Election!

the election is coming

Colstrip will have an exciting election.  Two are running for mayor and four are running for the two open council seats.

For mayor, you’ll have your pick from long time community member Darla Davidson and former mayor John Williams.  What makes this race interesting is that both candidates have huge name recognition and have been long time been servants of the community.

For the two open seats on City Council, you have your four candidates:

  • Michael Esser
  • Sarah Smith
  • Wendy Smith
  • Jolene Verlanic

Keep your eyes open for campaign flyers and signs and start thinking who you think would best represent and serve your city.

Somebody Does Want to Be Mayor

NovemberisComing-150As of yesterday (June 29) there are two candidates for the three open Colstrip City offices.

Darla Davidson has filed for the office of Mayor.  Mike Esser has filed for the office of City Council-member.  That means there’s one more spot for Council still open.

Filing for the ballot closes at 5:00 PM on Thursday (7/2).  That’s only two days away!

Does Anybody Want to be Mayor?

Mayor buttonDid you know that this November Colstrip will vote to elect a new Mayor and two City Council members?  Did you know that as of last Friday (6/12), no one has yet registered for the openings?

Regular filings for political office ends on Thursday July 2, 2015.  That’s a mere two weeks away!

Have you ever considered serving your community as a Council member?  Do you know someone who would represent Colstrip well as the Mayor?

Colstrip city politics is an important job that gets little attention.  Council members approve all financial policies, procedures, and all financial bills.  The mayor provides the executive leadership of the City staff, acts as the official spokesperson for the entire city and works directly with department heads and employees to ensure: public funds are responsibly used, services are provided efficiently and fairly, and oversees the daily operations of all City services.

Anyone can be a candidate for Council and Mayor, but not everyone is best suited for the jobs.  Political leadership is the butt of many jokes, but leadership is no joke and it’s not always easy.  A good leader is someone with honesty, integrity, and a true desire to serve those they represent.

The deadline for filing is coming soon.  So encourage a  trustworthy, honest, and hard working neighbor to run for office.

get involved badge

Highlights of the DEQ Discussion

EPA LogoThe turnout was huge on Tuesday night at the moderated discussion hosted by the Montana DEQ.  By some counts, nearly 200 local and area residents attended the meeting; that’s enormous for a Colstrip political meeting.  The DEQ conducted a very helpful and friendly toned meeting.  After a short presentation about the scope of the meeting and an overview of an energy scenario calculation tool built by DEQ and available for anyone to use, the DEQ director hosted a panel discussion.  The panel members were: Gordon Criswell, Environmental Director for PPL Montana; Rex Rogers of the local IEBW union; Mike Barnes of North Western Energy; state Rep. Duane Ankney; Tracey Stone-Manning, Director of DEQ; and Dave Klemp, chief of the DEQ Air Resource Management Bureau.  Each panel member told the audience their thoughts, concerns, and questions regarding the proposed scenarios and rules offered by DEQ and EPA.

Gordon Criswell told the crowd that the Colstrip plant has for decades aggressively tackled air quality and sought to improve the efficiency and pollution controls.  Mr Criswell said that PPLMT fully supports pollution control but the EPA rule and DEQ proposals will create unintended consequences that will weaken the electrical grid of Montana and cause the coal plants to reduce their production and possibly jobs.  He also suggested that if the EPA rule is enacted PPLMT will likely challenge it in court.   Rex Rogers argued that some kind of EPA regulation will come to Montana.  He wants to preserve coal jobs but also wants to see Montana get ahead of the regulatory game and create a solution well suited for Montana rather than waiting for the federal government to design the plan.  Mike Barnes, similar to Gordon Criswell, is concerned with the unintended consequences of the rule since renewable energy, as a primary source of energy, cannot provide the required base loads needed to keep the electrical grid stable. Duane Ankney mostly agreed with his fellow panel members and promised to work at the state level to make sure the DEQ crafts a proposal that provides opportunity for Montana.  Tracey Stone-Manning and Dave Klemp advised that they do not think some of the rules proposed by EPA are realistic or possible (for example the requirement for 6% plant energy efficiency improvement at Colstrip by 2030) but since they are tasked with responding to the EPA requirements they will continue to push for rules that are crafted by Montanans and best suited for Montana.

After the panel discussion, the floor was open to the audience.  For nearly 45 minutes (or until I left the meeting) a steady flow of thoughtful and insightful questions were asked.  Questioners included: the mayor of Colstrip, the directory of the park district, the general managers of the plant and mine, retired residents, plant and mine employees, even local and area farmers and ranchers.  A few questions made the room tense, but the vast majority were thoughtful questions or comments presented is a humble and respectful tone.  What could have been a highly emotional and hyper political meeting turned out to be an engaging discussion about an important matter.

Overall, the general opinion of the crowd was that the EPA rule and scenarios presented by DEQ will ultimately hurt coal towns and Colstrip.  Even though Gov. Bullock stressed in a public memo that he is driving for rules that comply with EPA regulations and maintain current coal related jobs, many in the crowd argued that this is simply not possible.  The fact is that electricity cannot be produced for the grid unless there is enough room on the transmission lines to transport the electricity and transmission lines have a strict capacity limit.  The problem is that the lines are full.  This necessarily means that the more renewable energy, or non-coal fired energy, allowed into the transmission lines the more coal generated power has to come off.   Under current market regulations, renewables are required to be purchased before the energy produced at coal-fired plants.  Coal plants are forced to wait in line to be dispatched.  This becomes a problem the longer the wait becomes.  Coal plants cannot just turn off the generators and wait for the call from the market.  The generators have to stay running at a lower load and ready to be turned up within a few hours notice (if not sooner).  This means that the plants stay in operation but without steady profit.  This will ultimately result in one of a few outcomes: cost per megawatt will go up, thus an increased cost to the consumer, or the plants will be forced to cut jobs, production, or eventually shutdown because revenue won’t meet expenditures.

From reading the proposed scenarios offered by DEQ, I got the impression that the goal of the EPA is to someday soon help renewable energy (wind, solar, and new hyrdo dams) become the primary provider of electricity.  This is a nice idea but it can never happen because it is not possible.  Renewable energy sources are inconsistent energy sources and will never be able to provide a steady and consistent load for energy demand.  When the wind doesn’t blow the windmills don’t produce and the wind isn’t controllable by the operators.  When the water level is low, hydo dam production is low.  Coal, gas, and possibly nuclear power plants will always be needed because these fuel sources are constant and reliable.  Current renewable fueled generators can only ever compliment our current non-renewable electricity generation; never lead it.  At this point, it’s not even a matter of technology but a matter of fuel source and demand.  The leading fuel for energy production must be able to be used at any time of season, day, or hour.  Coal can do this and we still have a lot of it and it should be used effectively with environmental stewardship in mind.

At the meeting, I saw a crowd who wants to provide affordable energy, maintain a great town, keep strong jobs for a strong natural resource economy and do it in the most environmentally friendly way possible.

Did you attend the meeting?  What did you take away?  What questions, comments or answers caught your attention?


Cutting Carbon in Colstrip

EPA LogoThe Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is coming to town.  On September 30, from 6-8Pm at the high school auditorium, they want to have a discussion with you and me.

The EPA recently proposed new standards on carbon pollution and Montana is preparing to comply.  The big question for Colstrip is, “Can our 2,000 megawatt (MW) producing coal fired power plant survive the new standards?”  Although there is no indication yet as to the impact the rules will have on the Colstrip plant, this kind of meeting can make people nervous.

According to the official invite from the DEQ, “on June 2, 2014, the EPA released a draft rule to raise standards for carbon pollution from energy producing facilities.  States have until December 1, 2014 to weigh the draft proposal before submitting comments to the EPA.”

Gov. Bullock directed the DEQ to brainstorm ideas on how to meet the EPA requirements “while protecting the energy jobs Montana currently possesses“.  The DEQ committee drafted a 30 page, downloadable document titled “Options for Montana’s Energy Future“, also referred to as “pathways to compliance”.  This document will be the focus of the discussion.

You may have the same initial reaction as I did to the idea of a public meeting; what’s the point?  Is the DEQ really going to listen to the people who will be most impacted by any new environmental standards?  Colstrip is a power town; our bread and butter is made by burning coal to produce electricity from which thousands of people benefit.  If they do care, can they really stop EPA regulations from impacting the Montana economy?

The reality is: maybe or maybe not.  They may be able to hold back any destructive federal regulations and they may just have to make the best of new regulations.  Like any project anyone ever works on, there are real and serious limitations and hurdles that must be mitigated.  If we just threw up our hands when obstacle’s stood in our way or diverted our paths when limits were imposed we would probably all still be sucking a bottle, lying in an oversized crib somewhere.

Here’s what you cannot do.  You cannot make the decision for the DEQ.  These people have been appointed and/or hired to do a job that is not always fun.  They have to come to impacted cities and towns and get an ear full of criticism (positive or negative) and much of it may not even apply to the scenario at hand.

Here’s what you can do.  You can read (or at least skim) through the 30 page document and attend the meeting ready to listen and then ask questions based on an understanding of the current issue.  I can tell you that thoughtful questions, ideas and objections sway the minds of decision makers.  When I was on the City Council, it was always the thoughtful arguments that grabbed my attention and conviction.

We all should attend this meeting if possible; regardless of your opinions about the politics behind it all.  Any new EPA regulation has the potential to impact Colstrip; whether good or bad.  Come prepared with honest and genuine questions.  Ask technical questions if you understand the information in the document, ask general questions if you do not.  Heck, even ask the one on many minds, “Why are you required to follow a rule even if it turns out that Montanans disagree with it?”  What can the EPA do to Montana if we said, “Thank you for your consideration, but we’ll take it from here.”

Political processes are often long and boring, but that are necessary and foundational to the success of our state and country.  Don’t sit back on this one.  Take two hours out of your busy day and engage an important matter.  Even if you just come to listen it’s better than ignoring it.  Environmental regulation is a reality (and at its foundation a very good and needed thing!).  Let’s come together and let the decision makers know what we think.  Where ever you stand, listen up and speak up.

Meeting Time and Location:

Tuesday, September 30, 6-8 PM Colstrip High School Auditorium

City Council Meeting-September 23

regular meeting badgeGood morning Colstrip!  Your City Council will meet tonight starting at 7PM at City Hall.

Have you ever attended a Council meeting before?  It can be helpful to know the people who were elected to serve you and manage tax payer funds.  By going to a meeting you’ll get to meet your representatives and learn a little bit about them while watching them think through and decide on agenda items.

The line up for the evening is:

Public Comment and Participation
A. Public Hearing – Solid Waste Special Assessments

Unfinished Business
A. Drug & Alcohol Testing Policy
B. Resolution No. 2014 – R16/Goodwill Policy
C. Resolution No. 2014 – R22/Solid Waste Special Assessments

New Business
A. Interlocal Agreement w/Colstrip Public Schools
B. Mobile Home Purchase
C. Public Works Department Pickup Purchase
D. Bid Award – Backwash Treatment System

Let me know if you have any questions about the listed items. I can help you find out about the details.

The Police Commissioner and a Snow Plow

On Tuesday night, September 9, 2014 starting at 7 PM, the Colstrip City Council will hold the first regular meeting of the month.   The agenda is a full one; the most items of business since the Spring.

1 .Public Comment and Participation

2. Unfinished Business
A. Drug & Alcohol Testing Policy
B. Goodwill Policy
C. Tree Ordinance

3. New Business
A. Solid Waste Special Assessments
B. Resolution No. 2014-R20/Rosebud County Pre-Disaster  Mitigation Plan
C. Resolution No. 2014-R21/Budget Transfers
D. Police Commission Appointment
E. Special Events Permit/Homecoming Parade
F. Snow Plow Purchase
G. Reduction In Force
H. Additional Police Officer Position
I. Code Enforcement
J. Starting Wages for New Police Officers and Dispatchers
K. Planning/Building & Zoning Official Position Description, Hours & Wage

See the official agenda on the City of Colstrip website.

regular meeting badge

Budget Review: It’s worth your interest

dollar signOn Tuesday, August 26, at the regular City Council meeting, the Council will hold the public hearing for the new annual budget.  Two weeks ago, the Council approved the preliminary proposal for roughly 7.6 million dollars with another 4 million in reserve.  Nearly 4 million of that comes from tax revenue; that’s right, the money you and local businesses directly pay into the pot through property taxes.  The other approximately 3.3 million comes from other, non-levy revenues from various government sources.  At the public hearing, you have an opportunity to ask questions, make suggestions, or voice your opinions about the proposed budget.

Rarely does any city resident ask questions about the budget.  Nonetheless, the budget process is always open for questions and review.  The Council, Mayor and City staff spend many months preparing for and planning the budget.

The budget is an overwhelming document and much of is not easy to understand if you’ve never before read through a large budget, but if you’re interested to view it, there are two pages that provide a summary of the entire document.  If you take a look at the pages titled “City of Colstrip Tax Levy Schedule 2014-2015 Budget” and “Summary Schedule 2014-2015 Budget Non-Levied Funds” you’ll get a two page snapshot of the entire budget; the revenue totals and the expense totals.  You can stop by City Hall and ask for a copy of the entire document or just these two pages.

The whole document makes for a lot of reading and you may not care for much of it, but the two pages listed above make for an easy and quick review.  I encourage you to at least take a passive interest your city budget.  It’s a lot of money, but a part of it is yours.  Don’t you want to know how it’s being spent?


What Happened to Summer? or What You’ve Missed the Last 2 1/2 Months.

Olaf-In Summer-Disney's FrozenSchool is nearly back in session and summer vacations are coming to an end.  As we all re-orient our minds to the coming Fall you may want to know what happened within your Colstrip City Council during the last 2 1/2 months.

Over the Summer the Council voted to increase limits in the City Purchasing Policy, a backhoe was repaired to the tune of $20,000, two-hundred more garbage cans were ordered, and some special event permits were passed for the Colstrip Days and Independence Day celebrations.

Of more significant note, contract negotiations are on going for the City’s two bargaining units, the City Employee union and the Police Union, and the annual Preliminary Budget was passed for roughly 7 million dollars.  The public hearing for the budget is scheduled for the next City Council meeting on Tuesday, August 26.

And there you have it, the highlights of another fabulous Summer in Colstrip, Montana.

Get Excited and Get off Your Butt…It’s primary voting day!

excitedPrimary elections are today.  Are you excited?  You should be.

Politicians and government often get little respect; even the good ones.  Some of the disrespect is rightly earned; the natural consequences of selfishness and greed displayed by men and women who swore to faithfully represent the people who elected them by good example and honesty.  However, I think much of the disrespect we-the-people give our elected government is just plain, ugly, and lazy cynicism.

When I complain, it is usually a drive-by, thoughtless criticism.  A trusted leader (or at least someone who should be a trusted leader) does something I disagree with or does something truly wrong and I just blurt out, “Oh that good for nothing what’s-his-name!  How could he do such a thing.  If I were in that position I surely would have made the common sense decision.  What a bum!”  Then I browse through the morning news and find someone else who shares my opinion. Not only someone like me, but a person of credential and prestige, a bona-fide reporter, a man or woman of the world.  Oh boy, someone of class and experience agrees with me.  I knew I was right!

And then, a little bit of empathy smacks me on the head.  I see that no good, dirty, villainous government agent as I should, I see him as my neighbor.  A fellow wanderer of this world, searching for the same light I too so desperately need.  The next thing I know, the grace so freely given to me starts to react and rise inside my heart and that still small voice reminds me that the scoundrel I’m shaking my fist at is human too.  A man or woman who needs my prayers not my betrayal.  For to give up on this thing we call a Republic is to betray my fellow citizen and my God.

If I simply join in the rampant cynicism we mistakenly call “just-being-honest” or whatever party label we want to attach, then I abandon my privilege granted to me by the Constitution of this country, and I might as well spit on all the good and noble things my grandparents and their parents did before me.  Not just the “Greatest Generation” but those before them; even those tilling the soil of this country long before the dawn of 1776.  If I refuse to vote solely on the grounds of “the whole system is rigged and pointless”, then I’m telling my government leaders, my local neighbors, my kids, my family and my friends, “I don’t care about you or anyone.  Just do what you want and leave me alone.”  For the essence of American politics is caring; caring for my family and my neighbor and all of those who make this country a Country: past, present, and future.  Yet, if I resort to the popular “leave me alone” tactic, the more scary thing occurs: they will do what they want, but they certainly won’t leave me alone.  I just perpetuate the bad government I love to criticize.

I also abandon my God.  God is not American nor does he root for any particular flag the way we do.  Yet he does desire and expect us, those of us who want to do good or think we are doing good, to pray for our leaders (check out Romans chapter 13 and 1 Timothy chapter 2 in the Bible for more on this).  I pray for our leaders in the same manner and for the same reason I would pray for myself…I need it!  God help me (and God stop me) when I try to be the chief master and expert of this thing called life.  You want to know the personality traits shared among all the bad and evil people of history (yes even those villains who welded the banner of the Christianity)?  It’s simple.  They thought they held all of the answers in their wee little brains.  They arrogantly thought and declared that they were the answer to all of life’s problems.  Through them, and only them, is salvation found.

American elections remind me of two things.  One, I live in a country in which I have some kind of voice in how my country operates and succeeds (which also means I play a part in how it fails).  Even if it were true, as the cynics declare, that “it’s just one vote, so what difference does it make”, that one vote and the actual difference it does make is WAY better than living in a country where the great intellects and social gurus known as the government shove a gun to my head or steal my property if I even think about thinking of disagreeing with them.

Two, the men and women who are crazy enough to enter the arena of modern politics, in which their personal lives (the true and the lies) are at the mercy of a 24/7 news media and any other person with a blog, need my prayer and support.  The good ones need encouragement to continue and need feedback on what is wise, what works, and what is not working and the bad ones need a similar encouragement to get wise and if possible to get out.  Both of these take a genuine courage that is sadly difficult to learn in this modern age.

“But it’s just one vote and they won’t listen to me anyways”, you say.  I know, it’s a hard lie to abandon and a difficult reality to accept.  But before I quip “Get off your butt and vote”, I’ll leave you with this: when I ran for Colstrip City Council as a relatively unknown write-in with no political experience, I beat a well respected, regularly active, and long time resident by two or three votes.  Two or three people who could have whined that their meager little vote (designed by some of the greatest political minds in world history, by the way) didn’t matter and could have stayed home or ignored the great privilege known as voting day, but they didn’t.  And an unknown, wanna be politician got the humble opportunity to represent his neighbors, family and friends.

Remember, politics is hard and not for the faint of heart, the cynics or the lazy.  It takes guts and courage.  Not everyone needs to be a politician, but everyone needs to ensure the process works; through the good and the bad times.  Now, stop your belly aching, no matter how justified it is, and get off your butt and vote.