By Evelyn Pyburn

Having goals has long been understood as essential to achieve great things.

There’s no doubt that goals work! It hardly matters what the goal is or even if it is explicitly identified. That is why almost every organization establishes a mission statement.

One has to wonder, then, about the lure of investing in companies who loudly proclaim making money is not their primary goal.

Investing in ESG – greatly regaled by the media and pushed by government edicts – has become the politically correct thing to do. That in itself should present all kinds of warning flags – the very meaning of “politically correct” is essentially that of unthinking lemmings racing to the cliff’s edge.

So as people look at the businesses in which they want to invest, one has to wonder why they are so eager to invest in a business, that has declared to the world, its goal is not to make money, but to be obedient to government, surrender to environmental causes and to give what they have to others.  (ESG stands for Environment, Society and Government) Some wholly eschew the idea of making a profit as really being the evil that generations of school children have been taught.

If not making a profit is a company’s goal, be assured they won’t. And, neither will their investors. Ask any business owner— not making a profit is easy!

And yet it is, to be socially responsible, to accommodate for environmental issues, and most especially to abide by government edicts, requires that a business makes profits and lots of them.

With that being the case, what is the ESG crowd thinking? Unless it is nothing more than virtue signaling, one must assume that they are among the group that believe that business – especially “big business” – is inherently evil. Given the history of many businesses – most especially when partnered with the coercive powers of government – one can understand their concerns, because many companies are participating every day in corrupt and very evil things. All you have to do is listen to or read the daily news. But have you ever noticed that, most often, their corruption is in some way enabled by government – through laws that protect them from market forces, or suspend them from having to answer for criminal activity, or other policies of favoritism which sometimes include direct handouts funded by taxpayers?

It’s why one rarely sees “big business” espousing the beauty of Capitalism, which is nothing more than free markets – willing buyers and sellers voluntarily exchanging values with one another. The fact is there is a huge sector of the business world who hate free markets and fear them – – they survive because of their unholy alliances with politicians.

We don’t hear so much about the sound, ethical and, usually, politically unconnected businesses that function every day in our communities, working very hard to make a profit which in doing, they achieve, as a matter of course,  all the things that the ESG crowd say they want. Without businesses thriving in a community there is no community, and absolutely none of the ESG goals have a chance of being attained. That’s the way it has always been and how it will always be, because the reality is, business is where wealth is generated.

You cannot help the poor without the wealth generated in the business world. All social and civic efforts in any community come from businesses or the contributions of money and volunteer time of the people who work for them. 

Usually taking the actions required to protect the environment are costly and cannot be pursued without the wealth generated by businesses, which is one reason why the cleanest and most environmentally sensitive countries in the world are the wealthiest. People worried about where their next meal is coming from do not have the wherewithal to clean a polluted stream, and in fact their poverty is usually a contributing factor to the pollution. They most desperately need free markets – businesses making profits.

And, surely everyone understands that government generates absolutely ZERO wealth. Government has nothing and can accomplish nothing without the wealth it expropriates from the private sector – from its citizens and from businesses that make a profit in free markets.

Undoubtedly well-meaning people are making it a point to invest in ESG companies, believing that they will improve their communities and advance society, which are very strong American values. Of course, investors might be willing to accept less returns in exchange for better ESG performance, but according to sources like Harvard Business —  ESG companies don’t seem to deliver any better, and investments in ESG-touting companies are not doing well. While the ESG companies are undoubtedly achieving their non-profit goals, they are better in terms of complying with government rules, operating environmentally friendly, or contributing more to the needy.

It’s been found that the companies in the ESG portfolios had worse compliance records for both labor and environmental rules. Might that be because they lack the “profits” needed to comply? Government regulations on business have always been onerous, requiring greater investments – and companies need profits to pay employees more.

One reason for this, as pondered by the financial experts, is that perhaps companies not doing so well in the market, loudly proclaim an ESG status as a ploy to attract investors, who would otherwise be leery, just looking at their profit and loss statements.

So what are ESG proponents thinking? One has to conclude that either they are not, or their goal is not the success of business – of our economy – but instead they are seeking the destruction of the one thing that makes all others possible.

By Evelyn Pyburn

Some many years ago, a school board in the area had been meeting, since forever, in closed sessions with no media ever covering them. The first time a reporter showed up they were shocked – shocked that what they did, said and decided was something the public should know about. It took them awhile, but they got used to it.

It’s been decades ago now, when I attended my first meeting of the MetraPark Advisory Board and found that there, too, was very strong resistance to open meetings. Meetings were “posted” by tacking an agenda up across the hall from the manager’s office. No financial information was available. In order to keep from disclosing what was being talked about the agenda items were numbered on a sheet of paper which the manager then passed out only to board members. When the board voted on something it was identified only as Item No. 6 or whatever number it was.

I was once directly asked to leave. Another time the meeting was held as a barbecue in the backyard yard of one board member with no invitation to the media, specifically to avoid the media.

When the lack of transparency was brought up to the county commissioners at the time, I was told “We don’t micromanage.”

I heard a story about how another public board didn’t want a reporter present and they ended their meeting, with the intent of moving it to a restaurant, only to be followed by a Gazette reporter, who continued for the rest of the evening following them from location to location.

Then there was the time that the president of a public board, called for a break in the meeting, and one by one the board members stepped out in the hallway to confer about something they didn’t want to talk about openly.

A similar gambit now, with current technology, is to hold what essentially amounts to a meeting by contacting each board member individually. While that can be legal, so long as it is “noticed” and the text or email  data is made public, if it is done to avoid being public it is illegal under Montana law.

Still another public body decided they could side- step open meetings by creating a secondary “private” non-profit organization. Then they got a local attorney to declare that as such it was not required to abide by the state’s open meeting and public information laws. That legal opinion was called “hogwash” by a much better lawyer, who pointed out that Montana law says that if an entity takes so much as $1 of taxpayer funds they must abide by open meeting laws. And, of course, they were using taxpayer funds. Not letting the public know how they were spending the money was the whole point of it all.

More recently, the leader of a gathering of public officials speculating about solutions to a problem refused to tell the Yellowstone County News the details. Fortunately another member of the group was much more forthright and provided the information.

For all those who want to conduct business in the dark, there are, indeed, public servants of greater caliber who are forthright and want daylight shone upon their activities. So it is quite often that media is made aware of situations by those who understand and respect the public they are serving.

Among all the board members, years ago, at MetraPark, who should have known better and should have stood up for the law, there were a couple who were exemplary – and one poor guy brought the wrath of the group down upon himself by attempting to get his cohorts to comply with the law.  He is an individual to be admired.

In another case, I felt I had my own “deep throat” because of periodic phone calls I got from a woman who refused to identify herself.

There was only one incident, however, in which I witnessed a board member stand up and declare that he was leaving if they were going to close a meeting to discuss a subject that should have been public.

It is surprising to see how frequent, persistent and creative some citizen representatives are when trying to circumvent the public’s right to know. Why they do it is a baffling mystery.

While I used to get quite anxious about it, I don’t anymore because I learned that sooner or later, whatever they are trying to hide comes out  — at least if the media is playing its role – and however bad they thought it might be, when it finally does come out, it is ten times worse than if they had just dealt with it honestly.

If you serve on a public body or hold a public office, and you and others are trying to manipulate the minutia of law to hold a meeting so that the public or media are not in “the know” —  STOP! STOP! STOP!

Or maybe you are sending emails between meetings, or making phone calls, or passing notes under the table. Again, STOP IT! Stop and resign your position immediately, because if you are not there to serve the public – to be a liaison for those you are trying to deceive – then you have no business holding such a position.

There is nothing – absolutely nothing — that you should know about that should not be public knowledge (except the very, very limited provisions for personnel privacy allowed for by law and even that does not provide as much cover as many like to extend.)

The primary purpose of whatever role you serve in government is to provide honest and open government – one which every citizen can trust. It is an excruciatingly important role and to violate your pledge to do so is contemptable.

Government cannot be corrupt if the full light of day shines upon its actions and media reports it. Even if, at one moment in time, it seems a greater good would be served by keeping something secret that seldom if ever proves to be the case. If you can handle the truth, so can your neighbors. Trust to citizens to ultimately make the right decisions – they are who you serve – all of them, not some favored few.

Getting your way, “by hook or by crook,” is the method and mentality of tyrants and power mongers who never serve the greater good. A peaceful, civilized and free society withstands mistakes or poor decisions far, far better than they do the dictatorial powers of those who perceive themselves to be superior and invincible.

By Evelyn Pyburn

One of the first experiences of having launched a new business, 40 years ago, was a requirement to annually fill out a form for the county tax collector, listing all the equipment and furniture that was part of our business. The purpose was to pay “personal property taxes,” now commonly called “business equipment tax,” but originally,  most everyone had to pay a tax on their furnishings, whether they were in business or not.

Filling out the form was simple because we didn’t have much – a used desk, a couple chairs, and two new file cabinets.

Not having much capital to start a business, we were creative in making do with what we could find. Bear in mind that this was before computers, so layout and design was a matter of physically piecing things together. Ideally, a light table would have been nice, but we couldn’t afford that. Our solution for a large layout surface was to use an old flat door supported by the two cardboard boxes in which our new file cabinets came.

As a new business we couldn’t afford the equipment we needed but state and county governments expected us to pay taxes on everything we did have. And, no, we were not small enough to be exempt – no one was exempt.

Some time after submitting our tax form I got a call from the county tax office, a woman who wanted to go over our statement. She asked at one point if there was anything I hadn’t written down. I then mentioned our flat door and cardboard boxes, which perturbed her, and I don’t think she believed me. She became quite indignant, and said, “What about your printing press?”

I was dumbfounded and had to laugh. No small newspaper owned a printing press any more, I told her. They send their layouts to a central printing company, which — even today— prints most of the newspapers for a large region.

For her to have taken it upon herself to challenge a business about what equipment they had, one might have expected her to take it upon herself to become educated about what such a business did and what they might actually have for equipment.

But she was, and still is, not alone in not being educated about what it takes to start a business – the fact that the state has such a tax at all speaks to the fact that many people are equally as uneducated; but not knowing what they are doing has never given them pause.

A business equipment tax is directly aimed at killing the goose that lays the golden egg, and for a long, long time Montana has been beating that goose to death. While lessened to some extent, the tax still remains as a barrier to greater prosperity for Montana.

I recall hearing a comment at a manufacturers’ convention a number of years ago from a new manufacturer who had come to the state to manufacture pasta. He expressed deep disappointment that no one had told his company about the business equipment tax. He didn’t know about it, he said, until he opened the mail one day, which included an envelope with the form to be filled out. He then made the point that they would not have located in Montana had they known about the business equipment tax. He didn’t know about the tax because he had never heard of a state imposing such a tax.

Another speaker at another meeting, who was a national specialist at saving a struggling business from going bankrupt, also expressed astonishment at having discovered that Montana had such a tax. Having to pay the tax, whether making a profit or not, essentially spelled doom for any marginal business with lots of expensive equipment.

Business equipment taxes are hostile to economic development – to growing an economy – to creating new wealth. What kind of state does that?  Montana does that and it will probably continue even though there will undoubtedly be efforts to try to raise the exemption level during the next state legislature.

Over time, some improvement has been made in reducing the tax, but it has been an uphill battle.

Common sense says the tax should be completely eliminated, except for people who don’t know what they are doing. They are willing to “welcome” businesses who want to invest up to $300,000 in the state, but they most aggressively want to penalize anyone investing more. Is it any wonder that manufacturing enterprises that want to be close to the development of energy, almost always chose to locate on the eastern side of the state border at Williston?

How can anyone not know that business development and growth is the source of all taxes, most jobs and all new wealth? Every dollar left in a business will do much more for a community than any dollar transferred to government, no matter how it’s spent by government.

One of the things we all should have been able to see over the past couple of years in Montana is what happens to tax collections of all kinds when there are more businesses – businesses that are making a profit. Montana has a gargantuan surplus in tax revenues — the largest in history, because our economy– our businesses — are thriving. While there are other factors at play, none would make such a difference if it weren’t for thriving businesses in Montana. The past couple of years have clearly demonstrated for all to see what it takes to really generate the revenues that people want for government – strong, profitable businesses.

Gov. Gianforte announced that raising the $300,000 exemption level is one of his priorities for the next session of the state legislature. The news reports make sure that everyone knows that it is Republicans, not Democrats, who want to do that as though it is a terrible thing. It is quite amusing, since it seems to say that Democrats are opposed to business investment in the state. Opposed to having a strong economy. Opposed to generating new wealth. Opposed to having tax revenue surpluses. One would think there would be Democrats who would object – and maybe they are. Maybe that’s why the party had trouble fielding candidates in the coming election.

by Evelyn Pyburn

I can remember thinking, as a student, learning about the issue of public information and thinking that so obvious is its benefit, that in no way would any reasonable person ever oppose it. But then, that was a time when I also believed that most adults were reasonable. It was a time too, when I concluded that our freedom would always be secure, because who wouldn’t want freedom?

This is why you don’t put youngsters in charge of things — we are really quite ignorant about the world. We truly do trust that being grown-up means to be rational. What a trauma it is for a child to learn the truth of that! A great deal that troubles so many young people today is in trying to make sense of the adult world where they are told one thing and watch so many of their role models do quite the opposite.

I still don’t understand people who spurn freedom in favor of government control over our lives. What exactly do they see as a utopian society? What if they aren’t the dictator-in-charge, what kind of existence do they imagine for themselves and everyone else? No one has ever answered that question, so I remain puzzled and quite dubious about how reasonable many people are.

But for those who want freedom, be assured it isn’t possible without open, transparent government at every level. If you believe in being able to vote for those who represent you, how can you possibly imagine making an intelligent vote, if you do not KNOW? You have to KNOW all things – what the issues are; what the various points of view are about the issues; the history of those issues and how past decisions came about; the position of the candidate for whom you are considering voting; and how that candidate voted in the past. If you don’t know all those things, you cannot vote responsibly. If you have been denied that information, you have been denied your right to vote – and most importantly you are being denied freedom.

As a representative of the people – elected, appointed or hired — you have no right to know things any more so than do your constituents. You are not meant to be privileged in your knowledge, although it would not be surprising to learn that you are often urged not to divulge information by colleagues or attorneys or others seeking privilege. It is the way of power-mongering — those who control the flow of information, control.

The only reason a public official would want to deny the public information is because they know that what they are doing is not acceptable. It is to know that, if your constituents knew the whole truth about an issue they would object, push for change and undoubtedly find someone else to represent them.

That is what the Montana Constitution demands – full public disclosure. Montana is said to have one of the best and strongest public information laws in the country, but sadly when it comes to evaluations about which states have the best open, public information, Montana ranks very low. That is not the fault of our law, but the fault of those who have pledge to abide by our Constitution.

The only exception to information being public is when it involves personal issues –  an exception that is quite often abused by many public officials. Personal information is about what is “personal” to a public employee or perhaps even a citizen, such as health issues or marital status, or religious preferences, or where they are going on vacation. Public officials quite often, most erroneously extend that cover to things that are not really personal – such as job performance or criminal conduct.

There have been legal challenges regarding just how “personal” a public servant’s job performance really is, and not surprisingly the courts have concluded that employee performance is very important information to the employer – ie. the taxpayers – we have a right- to-KNOW. Job performance reviews, for example, often closed to the public, should be open to the public. Or, when a public official attempts to hide charges of wrong doing by an employee, they really have no authority to do that, because that employee is an employee of the public.

Much of what the government does often involves the gathering of information regarding businesses, in the process of regulating or licensing or controlling in one manner or another, which not surprisingly can often lead to abuse and reasons for the public to ask questions. But when a citizen asks for the information, they are usually put off with the claim that the government cannot release that information because it is a privacy concern of the citizen. Balderdash!

It may have been private information at one time, but the government violated that citizen’s rights in coercing the information. Once the government has the information, it becomes public information! Personal privacy has already been violated.  The government probably had no right to acquire it, and without it the government would not have been able to over-reach with regulations which undoubtedly continue to violate the citizen’s rights. That’s one of the things that happens when one right is violated; it almost always, inexorably, leads to another violation by the government – from one citizen’s right to privacy, to another’s right to know.

Our rights – and most especially our right- to -know – are amazingly dynamic in the protection they provide for citizens against the aggression of government. It is well worth everyone’s time and energy to make sure the right-to-know is adhered to from the lowest levels to the highest levels of government – it doesn’t matter your political leaning – unless of course you really don’t want freedom at all.

By Evelyn Pyburn

“It’s such a great expression of freedom,” said Sen. Steve Daines about the Freedom Convoy that remains in Washington DC in protest of government mandates. Sen. Daines made the remarks while visiting with a Montana trucker, Dennis Davies, who drove from Helena to Washington, D.C. as part of the convoy that organized to protest the mask and vaccine mandates, as well as other federal edicts that are impacting their industry.

It’s been about three weeks since the convoy arrived in Washington DC and while they have daily drove about the city, they have prompted little news coverage, very much in keeping with the promise of some media to maintain a news blackout about the protestors. 

While the truckers have engaged some Congressmen, the news blackout seems to have mitigated much public pressure on the President and other politicians. The truckers have also made little public outreach for contributions and are running out of money, according to one of the organizers of the convoy, who predicted they can’t last longer than another week.

The convoy comprised of thousands of truckers from across the country remains ensconced, going on three weeks, on the DC Beltway.

One commentator declared the protest stalled, admitting that as far as news coverage goes “… this protest barely moved the needle.” He suggested it was poor timing because the Russian invasion of Ukraine captured headlines 24/7, but the fact is there were statements from media, long before the convoy even hit the road, that they intended not to report on it since ignoring the protestors was how President Biden said he intended to deal with them.

The convoy is headquartered at Hagerstown Speedway. They have mostly traveled on the Beltway and Interstate 395, seldom venturing into the city, although some drivers do occasionally drive through neighborhoods.

Police have in some cases closed exits from the interstate “to keep traffic moving smoothly.”

In support of the truckers, Sen. Daines said, “It’s time we stand for freedom and put an end to big government mandates that are unnecessarily straining our truck drivers, jobs and the economy.” Davies showed Sen. Daines the hundreds of signatures on his trailer he gathered from folks who have had enough of overreaching federal government. 

Sen. Daines has not been the only Congressman who has paid a visit to the convoy, many others such as Senators Ted Cruz and Ron Johnson, mostly Republicans, have visited the truckers, sending pictures and interviews back home so their constituents know they are supportive. But only local media provides most of the news available about the convoy. Even in Washington DC the primary reporting has only to do with monitoring traffic to avoid congestion caused by the big trucks. Otherwise, they aren’t there.

One DC reporter described the truckers’ arrival as “separated intermittently by the usual congested traffic, waved flags and blew their horns as they drove.”

Other reports from the convoy claim that the DC demonstration is “the first leg” of their protest, a second phase will involve touring small communities across middle American to rally for freedom and demonstrate that its support is no “fringe group.”

Some reports seem to demonize and trivialize the people involved to make them appear as a fringe minority group, even though there were millions of people who cheered the convoy along almost every mile of their way across the country. And, there remains many more who come to visit them daily in Washington DC, according to a non-supportive college professor on a website called “Think.”

Terry Bouton, an associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, declared the “People’s Convoy” a “frightening” success because in his view the truckers, their families and all their supporters are “far-right white supremacist” with anti-government ideas, organizations and personalities.

He sees the gathering as a threat, and describes it as… “a carnival-like atmosphere that drew thousands of people from the surrounding region. Entire families turned out to see the trucks and walk around the giant Speedway parking lot. There was free food and drinks, DJs, a band, quality fireworks, a ceremony with headlights and giant flags. Drivers let kids pull their horns, rev their engines and sign trucks with Sharpies. There was even funnel cake.

“The convoy’s entire journey has had a similar festive feel, drawing large crowds across the heartland. People flocked to overpasses to hold signs and wave as the convoys passed. Homeschooling mothers brought their kids as part of civics lessons. Convoy stops were often mobbed with visitors and were inundated with food and drink donations.

“Meanwhile, membership in dozens of public and private Convoy Facebook groups and Telegram channels has exploded. Convoy drivers upload reports, sometimes with videos shot as their trucks pass cheering crowds. Supporters post pictures and video taken from overpasses and roadsides along the route. Most people just write messages of support and thanks.”

As chilling as that description may sound to Mr. Bouton, law enforcement in the DC area have said that except for heavier traffic and occasional traffic jams, the demonstrators have been peaceful and have caused no problems.

Another report at “The Truth About Cars,” says, “…the Americans have remained mobile to avoid getting cornered by authorities. Stationed out of Hagerstown Speedway in Maryland, truckers have established a base of operations where they can service vehicles whenever they’re not on the Beltway protesting. Drone shots from above have indicated that there are usually a few hundred trucks parked at the racetrack each morning, though videos from inside show evening returns including hundreds more supportive passenger vehicles. While journeys into the city do take place, they typically involve a handful of trucks designed to make some noise before quickly retreating to avoid being penned in.”

“The Independent” reported that the convoy has dis-banned.

Anyone trying to keep informed about what is happening is encouraged to follow the live streaming of many of the truck drivers.

One AP reporter said that he asked a couple with Montana license plates why they had come to protest, they just answered “Freedom.”

And, indeed, while the issue of forced vaccinations was the impetus for the convoy, it’s an issue that has largely diminished as many restraints have been lifted. But, most of the demonstrators, when asked, will cite a long list of infringements on liberties that they want lifted.

A commentary in the Richmond Times-Dispatch called the demonstrators …”rebels without a cause, driving laps around the Capital Beltway is a metaphor for a nation spinning its wheels.”

According to Brian Brase, one of the convoy’s organizers “We’re going to keep looping the beltway until we’re heard.”

By Evelyn Pyburn

No. No. No.

In passing—while talking about engaging a private company to manage MetraPark, Commissioner Don Jones briefly pondered that maybe they should hire an administrator for county government.

It was just a quick remark and how serious he was is unclear, but the idea is a very bad one. Appointing  an administrator is sort of like appointing a dictator. Be assured there is a world of difference in the decisions that are made by someone who has to face re-election and someone who does not.

The justification usually made for a manager or administrator is to improve efficiency of government. Let me be clear – government is not meant to be efficient. Government is messy and slow to make changes. While government is commonly compared to business in the private sector, and the points of difference are usually valid, it doesn’t mean that government should be run like a business.  If you want efficiency, then start a business. Businesses can in most cases do all the things that government thinks it should do. Businesses just don’t like the unfair competition of government.

As is commonly heard said, the most efficient kind of government is a dictatorship. Efficient government does not deliver justice or representative democracy.

The dilemma faced by MetraPark is a very good example that public and private are two different things and never the twain should meet.

Even though MetraPark is a county-owned facility, MetraPark is not a government. It is actually more of a business that must be considered a governmental entity because it is subsidized by the taxpayers. Government “enterprises” like MetraPark exist in an impossible realm, neither one nor the other.

Having heard for years the arguments about whether MetraPark should be run as a public service or to pay for itself – the debate on either side is about equally balanced. Getting agreement about how it should be managed will never happen.

There is a very good reason that government and the private sector were meant to be separate arenas in this country.

For a public entity to make a profit is extremely difficult. It will always face questionable practices in terms of violating laws that govern public entities, and having to obey those laws will always impose extraneous costs that make being efficient and profitable impossible.

One is an organization dedicated to process and the other is focused on goals. Process is never-ending and complicated and unruly, the worst thing possible for business. A business is only interested in consensus to the degree to which it can please customers, and it doesn’t even have to please all customers, just enough to turn a profit and stay in business. For a business, process is laden with costs – to minimize process is what is called efficiency — and by law, government is not supposed to minimize process. It exists to facilitate process – and the point of that process in the US is supposed to allow for as much freedom as possible for each individual citizen – an administrator’s nightmare.

A public –private partnership is an oxymoron, and they never function as they are commonly represented. They don’t improve the efficiency of an operation and they don’t serve the public in terms of providing a product or service any better than a business or non-profit organization could – if there is a market demand for it (which is usually the rub). Their popularity stems from business people seeking a government handout funded by taxpayers, and by politicians seeking the power to pick winners and losers and to gain political influence from the private sector.

If you want to minimize due process then indeed a public administrator can do that – it is the very purpose of a public administrator to cut through and to minimize process – to clean up the messiness. Representative government is greatly diminished when issues get funneled through an administrator who has control of the information and a paid staff to advocate for one side of any issue, who controls the time line, and stands as a buffer for the elected body.

The effectiveness of elected representation is hugely neutered when the government is run by an administrator. More than one city council person over the years told me that as soon as they were elected they were told that they should not interact with the citizens – they should not serve as a representative – they were immediately neutered, as much as possible. They were told they should direct all complaints and information to the administrator and their staff. After all, so many different voices and conflicting ideas are messy and not efficient at all – an administrator minimizes such impacts.

With a public administrator leading the way decision making is always skewed to make things easier for “staff” and the bureaucracy. What a citizen wants is an irritant.

Who knows, a public administrator might view imposing an illegal sales tax for ten years as a good idea. Since they will never have to answer to the public in an election, there is no downside even if it isn’t such a good idea.

No, no, no. For the county to hire a public administrator is not a good idea. Let’s keep our inefficient and messy democracy.

By Evelyn Pyburn

One thing about aging – events can become more meaningful and gain greater perspective. I find that is true regarding the Montana Constitution of 1972.

I was a pretty young reporter when the whole Con-Con event unfolded. I interviewed those who ran as delegates and followed the issues as a reporter for the weekly newspaper for which I worked, and then did follow up on the issues that seemed to be the most relevant changes, interviewing experts involved in those issues. I mostly just absorbed what I encountered, which has become more significant in importance as I look back.

I recently read where former Supreme Court Justice James Nelson called the revised state constitution the most “progressive” constitution in the country. It might be that. It would have very good reason to be. In interviewing the Con-Con delegates during the campaign to gain voter approval of the new document, some of the delegates gave a blow by blow account of their experience. I found perplexing some of what I heard about how the process unfolded and what governed it.

It was governed by the League of Women Voters. The whole issue of whether Montana needed to revise its Constitution came primarily from the Left. The League of Women Voters were the leaders of the movement – a group every bit as progressive then as now.

Now I don’t know how you might envision a constitutional convention to be conducted once launched, but I imagined the delegates sitting down with a copy of the Montana Constitution and perhaps a bunch of law books and other legal references within easy access. I imagined that the document would be broken down into segments and different “committees” who would tackle each part, with deep discussions and bantering about of ideas. There would be disputes, of course, to be aired publically, and eventually settled by a consensus of the body as a whole.

But that wouldn’t be quite right. There was little public discussion. And, I was told by the delegates that when they came to the table, placed before each seat was not only a copy of the Montana Constitution but also a “Model Constitution” produced by the League of Cities and Towns. It was that document that set the parameters of discussion, so it shouldn’t be the least surprising that the new Constitution would be “progressive”.

Now I must admit that not many people seemed perplexed by that table arrangement, but it left me in open-mouthed amazement. As young and naïve as I was, even I understood the flagrant bias of it. I knew the process was not as grassroots as everyone was being led to believe. One has to know that the League of Cities and Towns is a very “progressive” organization. The organization is totally dedicated to “improving” the function of government — advocating centralized, top –down controls even while giving lots of lip service to local control.

From what the delegates related to me, there was no corresponding materials provided regarding civil liberties , or what is necessary to secure and protect them, or even of what rights are. While some of the delegates were troubled about the process, others were not and they glowed with great satisfaction about what they had accomplished.

That there was little interest in the process should have been no surprise. Few things have been so totally heralded as the Second Coming as was Montana’s new Constitution. It was a complete whitewash in most of the media. While there was much written about the glory of it all, and much ado about voting for it – there was very little probing into the details. While the weekly publication I worked for sought out knowledgeable people about everything from taxes to water rights, medicine to transportation, hunting to education – it was very limited reporting compared to what one would have expected all of media to have been focused upon.

My full realization of how starved the public was for information, only came when an auxiliary group with which I worked, published a booklet which focused on the proposed Constitution. There had been so little information about it that we were bombarded with requests for copies of it from all over the state. We had to do a second printing. I most vividly remember delivering a box of the second printing to the Baxter Hotel in Bozeman. It was early evening and as I entered the lobby, a small crowd that had been waiting for the delivery, descended upon me. I was astounded. I heard comments all around me from people indicating the many communities who were anxiously awaiting copies of our booklet.

So indeed, Supreme Court Justice James Nelson is probably accurate in describing the Montana Constitution as the most “progressive” in the country, but I don’t know that that is anything to brag about given the antithesis of progressiveness to liberty. One thing’s for sure, another Constitutional Convention would not unfold so indifferently and casually today – so maybe that’s “progress.”

By Evelyn Pyburn

The Big Sky Business Journal is celebrating 40 years in business this year.

The Big Sky Business Journal was the first stand-alone business publication in the state and it came at a time when business news was kind of a new idea. Up until then, other than the Wall Street Journal and Barron’s, there wasn’t much attention given to business news by media. I recall one journalist, totally surprised that we talked to business people for news, asking, “How can you do that? They are so self-serving?”

I was surprised that he didn’t know that most people are self-serving. But, he revealed in that statement much of what was to come in journalism, and a realization that bias in media isn’t something new; it’s been building for a long time. He reflected a pervasive lack of understanding that pursuing self-interest and having the ability to do so is the engine that drives not only economic success but innovation and a wealth generation that is beyond imagination.

So it is that being a business owner has taught me many things, but being able to get to know others in business in Montana has been a great privilege. Nothing could reveal more what incredibly great people there are in our state. Self-serving or not, they first and foremost serve their communities in so many ways that whatever they gain for themselves is hugely earned and just, and we would be sorely lost without them.

Looking back over the years reveals a lot of ups and downs and one is reminded that no matter how bad one moment may seem, just hang on and it will get better.

When we started business it turned out to be one of the worst times possible to start a business. It turned out that Billings was headed into one of the worst economic declines in its history. It was the oil-bust of the ‘80s.

We never quite realized what a boom the oil business had been for Billings until it started to deflate. What a contrast. Billings was brimming with the enthusiasm and success of the booming oil fields. Young professionals from every part of the economy were here participating in one way or another in the boom. Billings was headquarters for a lot of different oil companies and transportation companies. New cars and new homes and new office buildings spoke loudly about the economic well-being of Billings. Retail stores and shopping malls bustled with activity. Late every afternoon was a celebration at crowded happy-hour bars and fine dining restaurants. Everywhere it was apparent that Billings was boomng.

And, then suddenly it wasn’t. All those bright and engaging professionals were packing up their families and moving to Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and some were moving to other countries where oil field jobs still existed. Going-away parties became the social events of the day. So many were moving that one could look up and down any given residential street in Billings and see several moving trucks being loaded.  It felt like Atlanta burning. The community was infused with a sadness. Many businesses closed and others were doing a belt-tightening that probably laid the foundation for some of best and strongest companies that we have today.

But it was also a great time to be starting a business. The computer age was emerging.  Today, it is very easy to forget the huge boost that computers and improved communications gave to small businesses. In so many ways it put mom-and-pop businesses on a par with big businesses. Suddenly supplies and materials and services were available from across the country and around the world, bringing down prices and increasing opportunities and introducing entrepreneurs to current product information and other vital industry and market information in a timely manner that had never been experienced before.

Computerization over time has pulled Montana into the mainstream of business activity in the country. When the Big Sky Business Journal began business, one of the biggest economic discussions going on was how disconnected Montana was from the rest of the world and what an impediment that posed to attracting business and doing business with other parts of the country. While that remains something of a problem, it’s not the issue it was. In fact, as we are seeing today, Montana’s remoteness coupled with the improved communications available today has become a positive that is attracting people to the state because they can enjoy both the lifestyle and the work-at- home employment opportunities.

Having our own business has given us a wonderful flexibility in life, in life-style choices and in being able to raise our children in a very hands-on way, which has been wonderful. It has also given us a unique opportunity to be part of the community and to know so many wonderful people who make Yellowstone County a great place to live. For this we say thank you to all our advertisers and subscribers and other supporters. It couldn’t have happened without you.

By Evelyn Pyburn

It all comes down to the conclusion that “we know better.” We know better than the general run-of-the-mill taxpayer rube.

That attitude by public officials at every level of government is one with which we have all become far too familiar.  Such has been the attitude of many city officials over the years, as they pursued what they absolutely knew was illegal, and was an act hugely disrespectful of the citizens they were supposed to serve and represent.  And, most amazingly, which some still continue to hold as they drag out a costly legal battle over the illegal franchise fee, to absolutely no worthy end.

That the city lost the suit filed against them is totally just. It’s a shame more individuals couldn’t be held personally responsible for what they perpetrated upon the community.  Again, we see what happens when individuals are not held accountable for their actions and choices.

It is indeed a no-win situation that the taxpayers must pay, no matter the outcome of the case, so let’s make sure that there is at least a “win” in demonstrating what justice looks like and underscoring the honest role of government. Since it is going to “cost” no matter what, the court should make the city responsible to reimburse ratepayers as a statement of culpability of all those involved.

Perhaps they thought there was a great need for revenues for the city and believed that taxpayers would reject a mill levy. It is true that a majority of the public can be wrong, but sooner or later they get it right. True statesmen know that, accept it, and have respect for the process and the public.

It is not the role of leadership to find ways to sidestep the people and to attempt to dupe them. It is to try to lead them to what one believes is the right answers and to accept the electorate’s conclusion at the polls. 

The average citizen may indeed lag behind issues and may not be fully informed and unaware of political gamesmanship, but in the long run they have a better track record of understanding than do the dictates of the politicians and power seekers. It is often, in fact, that understanding that the elitists most abhor.

Given the opportunities the city had to lessen the harm to the taxpayers, which they rejected, and the fact that the farce continues still, demands loud and clear condemnation from the court. There were good people inside and outside of city government, from the very beginning, who said that this was an illegal tax. Over the years, the plaintiffs voiced many times their concerns, before being forced to file suit. And, even after filing suit, understanding the imposition to taxpayers, they offered to drop it for $20,000 and a statement from City officials to never do it again. Arrogance again prevailed, and city officials and their attorneys rejected that offer, as well as similar opportunities to minimize harm to taxpayers. And, so the case continues, today, mounting millions of dollars in greater attorney fees.

The court has already decreed that which the city would not affirm: that they won’t do it again, but for the court to require some degree of restitution will say loudly and clearly that which MUST be said, that this kind of government cannot be allowed to stand. It will say that city officials SERVE THE PEOPLE, and that even when administrators, bureaucrats and elected politicians believe they are smarter than the general public, they must still bow to the public. It’s called the democratic process.

This is a moment in time, that justice and the rule of law demands that those who believe themselves to be above the law to be totally castigated for their deceit and for their disdain of the citizens of Billings.

by Evelyn Pyburn

Given the seasonal cynical comments, of all the ba-humbuggers, I suppose I should be embarrassed to admit that I like Christmas music.  But I do.  It’s joyful.

I have always liked Christmas music, especially when it is wafting through the corridors of a department store or mall.  I also enjoy the lights and all the corny gift ideas.  Even the crowds.  Without all those people bustling about, the celebration that is Christmas, would lack much of its excitement.

Part of my joy goes back to those rare events when, as a child, our family would allot one evening, in downtown Bozeman, to shop for Christmas.  Shopping was a much bigger deal for my brothers and I, than it probably is for kids, now- a -days.  We never “shopped”.  Especially, not as a family event.

It was usually cold and snowy. The ice and snow reflected all the brilliance of the Christmas decorations that adorned Main Street, scattering the lights into a zillion little pieces.  There was Christmas music seeping through every doorway, lights and displays sparkled from every window. And for kids from the country, the hustle and bustle of lots of people was nothing but heady excitement.

Mom and Dad would dole out a sum, to be spent on one another, and then set us free to explore the shops and stores to our heart’s content.  (Believe it or not, no one worried a whit about us being safe.  There was no reason to worry.)

It was great fun prowling the store aisles; sharing a significant find that was just right for one of us; sneaking about in making the purchase; keeping each other’s secrets; and wondering what gifts Mom and Dad were finding for us.

The highlight of the evening was eating dinner at the counter in Woolworth’s! Eating out was a big, big deal.  Eating out was even more rare than being able to go shopping. (Those who know what Woolworth’s was are showing their age; for those who don’t— it was a department store.) I can still smell all the wonderful smells, and I knew that Dad was going to order the turkey dinner plate. Can you imagine kids considering eating at the counter in a dime store as exciting, today?

Shopping has never been as much fun as it was then, but there’s still a joy and excitement of it that is part and parcel of the joy of the season -– I know that that’s true because people just wouldn’t do it, if there wasn’t fun in it, no matter what all the bah-humbuggers say.

When I look around a Christmas, I don’t see angry, frustrated people, I see busy, happy people.  And joy is all about, if you but look for it.  There’s the joy of children peering at store displays, as I once did, or the intent faces of those imagining the look of joy they hope to bring to someone’s face on Christmas morning.

One of the most wonderful Christmas experiences I’ve ever had wasn’t that long ago. It was the first time I ever saw a house decorated with brilliant lights, blinking in sync with Christmas music.  I laughed out loud with the sheer delight of it.  It was totally wonderful to see that someone worked so hard to create something, for no other purpose, than to make someone laugh out loud in appreciation of the joy that was dancing around with all those crazy lights and the beautiful music.  It was one huge exuberant expression of joy.

That’s what I see when I see the lights of Christmas trees peering from windows along a street.  Or even if it’s just one skinny string of lights along a porch railing.  It is someone’s expression of joy.  No matter how modest the decorations, they took some effort. If the decorations didn’t reflect some level of joy and good will, they wouldn’t be there.  I see that joy, and revel in the fact that so many people can find joy and want to share it.

May your Christmas be merry and joyful.