by William Skink
The director of the fairgrounds, Emily Brock-Bentley, values things like fairness and transparency. She even said as much to the MC last year when she was reflecting on what she learned destroying the Merc:
Brock Bentley is proud, too, of her work as chairwoman of the City Council’s Land Use and Planning Committee, where she led the process that resulted in the demolition of the Missoula Mercantile building and construction of a Marriott hotel at Front Street and Higgins Avenue.
“I learned a lot about strategy,” she said. “The Mercantile experience taught me about having a fair and transparent process – that sometimes the outcome isn’t as important as the process. I think we were fair and open, and Judge Deschamps agreed.
I do think Brock-Bentley learned a lot from the Merc process, but fairness and transparency were not the real takeaways. I think she learned how to be a duplicitous, crony-prone spender of County funds. But don’t take my word for it, read the words of a citizen watchdog who wrote a very interesting column in the Missoulian.
Here is Keith Koprivica’s well-informed perspective on what’s been happening at the fairgrounds:
Recent actions undertaken by the Missoula County Fairgrounds do not pass the smell test.
At an upcoming, as-yet unscheduled meeting, Missoula County commissioners are expected to discuss a contract with the business of a former Missoula County Fairgrounds employee. The contract proposes this business be hired as an independent contractor to provide Communications and Content Production for the 2020 Fairgrounds Capital Campaign.
The contract would pay the business $80 per hour for 44 hours of service per month, for six months. According to the County Human Resources Department, the former fairgrounds employee that owns this business was being paid $26.93 per hour when he recently left employment with Missoula County.
Curiously, the proposed contract calls for total compensation to be $19,800, just $200 less than the $20,000 threshold where a competitive RFP is required by Missoula County policy. The proposed contract calls for most of the services to be performed at the Missoula County Fairgrounds and stipulates that the county provide the business an iPad for social media posting.
On Dec. 11, the fairgrounds distributed an email that said they are now a client of this business. The email also promoted the website and web address of this private business. Apparently there was no competitive RFP issued for this contract and now the fairgrounds is stating that they are already a client of this business before the contract has been approved by the commissioners. Even more concerning is that the fairgrounds used public resources (email) to promote a private business. If not illegal, it is certainly not appropriate.
This is not the first time questionable activities have occurred at the fairgrounds. In October, I expressed concern to the commissioners about lack of transparency, failure to follow Missoula County policy and distribution of misinformation.
After the 2019 fair, the fairgrounds released financial figures and claims about the 2019 fair that were not accurate. Particularly troubling were false claims about sponsorships. Some of those inaccurate claims were eventually updated on their website, but I never saw a retraction in local media.
In 2018 and 2019, the fairgrounds rented the entire Commercial Building to one private business to operate an arts and crafts event during the Western Montana Fair. That process was done without a competitive RFP and the Commercial Building was rented for a fraction of its fair market value.
In 2017 the operation of the Beer Garden was contracted to a for-profit entity. In prior years, the beer garden was operated by a nonprofit organization that donated most of the proceeds to local charities. When questioned about the change, fair staff made disparaging, unsubstantiated allegations about the nonprofit organization. Over the course of three years, the for-profit entity never even came close to the sales goals stipulated in their contract, yet when reviewing minutes from the Sept. 5 Fair Advisory Board meeting, I discovered that the fairgrounds intended on extending the contract with this for-profit entity for the 2020 fair without a competitive RFP process, which would have violated county policy. It was only after I questioned this action that the fair decided to open a competitive RFP process for the 2020 Fair Beer Garden.
The continued lack of transparency and failure to follow County policy is alarming. I call on Missoula County to use a competitive RFP to choose the firm that will provide Communications and Content Production for the 2020 Fairgrounds Capital Campaign and to never again use county resources to promote private business.
Citizens should not have to monitor county actions to ensure the rules are being followed.
That’s some mighty strange fairness and transparency, Emily Brock-Bentley. But considering you studied under a skilled manipulator like Engen, it’s not surprising.