Share this article

On November 22nd, 2023 13 KEIN News had been alerted to workplace issues inside the county that were creating the appearance of imbalance in the commission office and affecting the function of the office. So we inquired of all 3 commissioners. We got this e-mail back from Commissioner Grulkowski. 13 KEIN News has held the story in anticipation of a transparent response. We have been notified that a response could take 30+ days to get the requested information below. Due to the length of time that its taking to get the requested information via an information request, we are releasing this information now, and will send an updated story out when and if we get the requested information as prepared for release by Commissioner Grulkowski and requested from a public information request.

Due in part to the recent events since this e-mail was sent:, and of course the resolution that effectively stripped Commissioner Grulkowski of her Chairman title, we felt it was necessary to check in on our commissioners.

If you are looking for Commissioner Briggs response, its in this article half way down the article :

——– Forwarded Message ——–

Subject:Cascade County Commission : Recent Commission Business – News Articles – Great Falls City November Election Story / 13 KEIN News
Date:Wed, 22 Nov 2023 18:58:07 -0700
To:Rae Grulkowski <>, Jim Larson <>, Joe Briggs <>

Dear County Commissioners,

First of all on behalf of the staff and listeners/readers of 13 KEIN News we thank you all for the immense public burdens you take on. With that in mind the recent publication of articles involving the county and employees Clerk and Recorder – Sandra Merchant and Commissioner – Rae Grulkowski have triggered interest among our audience and we have some questions on the latest stories coming out. We will be putting out a story of our own for the record, with this information.

We would ask that all of the commissioners answer the following questions unless one is directly asking a commissioner a question please.

In the following news story, Tammie Torren accuses Sandra Merchants office of “Getting Every Election wrong” and Commissioner Rae Grulkowski of trying to hold an illegal meeting and breaking the law.

We are trying to ascertain if in fact the facts lead to this conclusion or if the article was an op-ed provided by the author/DJ or a fact based news story.

Can you provide new or existing public comments on record regarding the circumstances surrounding the canvassing of the votes?

Can the county provide any public record e-mails relevant to the canvassing of votes that it has archived or a location where we may get a copy of this archive?

Who’s idea was it to hold the canvas meeting on November 20th?

Who’s Idea was it to send the notice on November 17th?

Why did commissioner Joe Briggs and Jay Larson not attend the meeting set by commissioner chairman Rae Grulkowski?

In this article by, it states why Joe did not attend but the County Attorney – Josh Racki also said that the meeting was not illegal, can you point out in MCA where the meeting was illegal?

It also states in the above article that Commissioner Joe Briggs outlined a previous procedure the county used. Commissioner Grulkowski can you comment as to why you chose to hold the meeting when you did vs follow the procedure that Commissioner Briggs outlines in this comment: “The process that is in place has always been that the election administrator notifies the commission when they are ready, and then we set a date,” said Briggs.

Commissioners, the clerk and recorder responded also in the above article with the following excerpt: “I also had a chance to talk with the elections administrator, Sandra Merchant, and while she couldn’t talk on camera, she did tell me they are and have been ready to canvass the election and they are rescheduling the meeting at the commissioners request.”

Can the commission provide public emails showing that there was discussion on this procedure?

Can the commission provide information showing that all commissioners and the clerk and recorders office were fully aware of the timetables, procedures, and notices?

I see also Commissioner Joe Briggs talks about Democrats questioning the election.
Why is the commission all of a sudden concerned now but wasn’t concerned when issues occurred under Rina Moore when Republicans were questioning election integrity?

Why did Commissioner Joe Briggs mention “The Far Right” in this portion of his statement to, “It started out being one section of the electorate, the far right, for lack of a better term, I hate labels, but just to give some context that we’re challenging the actions of the previous elections administrator. Now, that role has totally reversed. Now it is the folks on the Democratic side of the aisle who are questioning what’s going on. We’ve got to get to where everybody agrees that elections are safe and secure,” said Briggs”, instead of mentioning republicans when clearly news articles such as this one from news site, “The Hill” actually point out that most republicans don’t trust the election system:

Can you name specifically what policies and procedures Sandra Merchant has violated and what actions have been taken to help educate and correct these actions?

Can you name specific codes or laws that were violated by Sandra Merchant in the above violations?

Why is it that the county commission doesn’t seem to work well together?

What can be done to ease what publicly appears to be a disconnect in the commission offices and unite our elected leaders towards the common goal?

What do you feel as a commissioner is the common goal of the commission?

And last but not least, did either commissioner Briggs or Larson send Commissioner Grulkowski a copy of this ad hoc procedure used in the past with ample and advance notice so that she could properly schedule this meeting?

That’s all the questions for now, 13 KEIN News appreciates your responses and hope that we can get to the center of some of these currently hot debated topics soon.

Thank you,

Tiger Butte Broadcasting | General Manager
p: (406) 590-1167

Subsequently, 2 of the 3 commissioners did respond. To date, we have never had a response from Commissioner Larson.

——– Forwarded Message ——–

Subject:RE: Cascade County Commission : Recent Commission Business – News Articles – Great Falls City November Election Story / 13 KEIN News
Date:Sat, 25 Nov 2023 20:56:43 +0000
From:Grulkowski, Rae <>

Regarding Municipal Canvass by Board of County Canvassers:

The week prior to the November 7, 2023, election, Merchant told Commissioner office staff that an elections canvass would need to be scheduled after upcoming elections results were received.

Nov. 14, 2023, Merchant reminds Commissioner office staff about scheduling the elections canvass. Merchant receives no confirmation of scheduling as of morning of Nov. 17, 2023.  At 7:48 am on November 17, 2023, Merchant emails Commissioner office staff a request to schedule canvass for Monday afternoon at 3:30 pm.  Still receiving no responses, elections office then physically makes hourly checks of Commissioner office to try to schedule.

Leaving an afternoon meeting, Commissioner Grulkowski is contacted by Merchant that elections office has been making hourly checks to Commissioner office to schedule canvass and no one has been available. Elections office is considering using their website to notice.   At 2:11 pm, Commissioner Grulkowski leaves a cell phone message for Commissioner office staff member who was to be on duty that day.  Message asked for response to whereabouts and requested they contact elections office to schedule elections canvass.  At time of this writing, there has still been no response to Commissioner Grulkowski from that cell phone message.  Commissioner Grulkowski arrives in Human Resources office to request their assistance for elections to schedule canvass.  Posting is created at 2:38 pm on November 17, 2023.  Commissioner Briggs sends email at 3:37 pm and states this posting doesn’t meet “48 hour rule”.  Merchant not copied in.  Merchant doesn’t receive emails, nor notice there was any issue with scheduled time of canvass, until after 4:47 pm.   On Monday, November 20, 2023, Commissioners Briggs and Larson refuse to attend scheduled canvass meeting and only one substitute is available.  Meeting has to be rescheduled.

(Note, the items below, are information requests that have been submitted to the county, but to this date have yet to be fulfilled. We submitted our information and we’re told, it could take 30+ days for the request to be fulfilled.)

Request email titled “Canvass” from Sandra Merchant, dated 11-24-2023 @ 1:09 pm.

Request email feed from last respondent – Merchant, on November 20, 2023  2:19 pm titled RE:  Election Canvass – All

Read Attorney General Opinion Regarding Open Meetings Law, 1998  47 Op. Att’y Gen. No. 13 (

Refer to MCA 13-15 Part 4  County Canvass:  Part 4. County Canvass – Table of Contents, Title 13, Chapter 15, MCA (

Regarding Commissioner Briggs media comment:  “The process that is in place has always been that the election administrator notifies the commission when they are ready, and then we set a date”. 

That process was attempted to be followed as stated above.  Reporters question alludes to Chair being responsible to schedule meetings and/or set agendas.  Commissioner Chair does not hold those responsibility.  Prior to taking office and varying inquiries since, Commissioner Grulkowski has been told the Chair holds no significant authority but to Chair meetings and sign few documents on behalf of the body of Commissioners.  When asking specifically about who sets meeting agendas, Grulkowski was told the Commissioner office staff sets the agenda and then it is refined in the Work Session by entire body of Commissioners.

Regarding ability to lead, organize and Chair meetings;  listen to the recorded Elections Canvass meetings of 2022 and prior years vs. the canvass meetings of 2023.  Realize how these working meetings have now been transformed into a formal work session where proceedings adhere to Montana statute, complete with agenda, documents and recorded motions.  That was completed by Commissioner Grulkowski in her tenure as Chair.  The November 20, 2023, Board of County Canvassers meeting is now established according to MCA 13-15-401 and 13-15-403, as it should have been in the past.

Board of County Canvasser meeting recording 11-28-2022:

Board of County Canvasser meeting recording 11-22-2023:

Regarding Public Comments about Canvass, listen at end of recording of 11-22-2023 meeting:

I ran for the office of County Commissioner for the same reasons many of you reading this have said you wanted to.  Your government is not representing you the way you desire.  For me, it began with a County Commissioner being allowed to advance their private mission of pursuing federal designation of my private property – without my knowledge or consent – using taxpayer resources.  The working files are still in our County electronic folders.  For you, it may be something different.  Our government was intended that citizens be actively involved, serving for a period of time, then passing on the gavel, so to speak.  I saw my opportunity to serve and now I am here.  I expected help from the senior officers, in navigating government structure.  That help is still welcomed yet only comes when I ask.  There is something called Continuity of Government.  This ensures your government will function in the absence of one or more of its key members.  It creates transparency and sharing of government policies, protocol and procedures among staff and officials.  When it isn’t practiced, your government gets stuck.  That’s where we are going Cascade County.  Three elected Commissions each bring unique governing abilities to the table.  We all have to partake and we all have to be willing to negotiate how to do that, in public meetings.

Shortly after taking office, I established regular Commissioner Briefing meetings where I could be caught up on issues concerning the county and commission.  These were very useful but became uncomfortable as our conversations were becoming deliberations and decision-making sessions, without proper minute recordings.  We ceased holding these update meetings.  The last one held was September 19, 2023.   We have rarely met to discuss any business as a body (other than Regular Work Sessions and Commission meetings) since. 

Also, during our county budgeting season, our former Budget Officer (retired November 2022), offered to return on a temporary basis to assist with budget.  I was pleased with this offer as she was always eager to assist our County and I find her very competent.  Her offered was declined by both Commissioners Larson and Briggs.  On June 27, 2023, I had set up regular Commissioner office budget meetings as we were not meeting together on this prior.  The last budgeting or any financial meetings ended with the closing of our FY24 budget in September.  The Chair always signs the final budget for submission to the State.  Commissioner Briggs attempted to censor my signing official documents as Chair and expected to sign for himself, creating conflict of separation of duties

There is “2 against 1” attitude that all Commissioners do not have to be part of decision-making.  This attitude overflows into Department Heads and public creating a slippery slope of eliminating representation and censorship.  This is bad practice and does not allow building of common ground. 

The adage “because we’ve always done it that way” resounds as well.  I have caused a disruption by questioning operations, researching on my own and asserting laws and policies be followed.  I also fully examined documents I am to sign.  Some small, some large.  Larger ones take more time.  Maybe this is why fellow Commissioners have called me “stupid” and accused me of not getting things done in a timely fashion.  Does government ever move quickly?  Would constituents expect their elected’s to sign documents without truly understanding the content and approving?  This is my duty as a public servant and I will honor the oath I took to our citizenry.

Request email titled “Commissioner Budget Meetings” from Rae Grulkowski, dated 8-29-2023 @ 4:28 pm.

  1. Reinstate Commissioner Briefing meetings I had established earlier this year, with proper notice and meeting minutes taken.  Commissioner’s generally collaborated well in these meetings and it was great team building experience for all, ensuring we all interact with one another.
  1. Cascade County currently lacks a Chief Financial Officer.  Budgeting and financial matters is a key function of each County Commissioner.  In the absence of a Chief Financial Officer, these duties have been siloed to Commissioner Briggs.  While I can appreciate his ability and desire to handle our books, it conflicts with Best Practices and Separation of Duties.  The finance officer is accountable independently to each Commissioner and budgeting and County fiscal responsibilities are obligations of each County Commissioner.  Once again, allowing “a” Commissioner in this role can lead to ostricization of any other Commissioner due to quorum issues and relationship issues.
  1. Enforce Cascade County Operations Manual policies within the Commissioner’s Office and begin creating County-wide Continuity of Government policies.  These policies have been adopted by the Commission.  This office is not exempt from following policy and should be setting the standard for the entire County.
  1. Begin conversations toward restructuring our Commission to include a Chief Administrative Officer (CAO).  Many benefits to this structure in counties of our size.  Current system has no mechanism to keep Commission from being “stuck” in resolving deep division or other situations impacting progress of our local government.  This “relief valve” allows staff a neutral ground when politics gets in the way.  Many other Montana counties, smaller than Cascade County, have incorporated a CAO successfully.  Cascade County continues to grow and our local government is being forced to grow with it.  This position would be funded by current vacancy savings in Commissioner office, as well as cost savings from tightening up other staffing inefficiencies as earlier mentioned.  This position does not take authority from County Commissioners.  I currently experience Commissioners Larson and Briggs flaring up, then retreating, when I attempt to have discussions regarding our office environment.  These behaviors will be minimized by a CAO added to the structure.
  1. Encourage public involvement and attendance in all County Commissioner meetings.  Earlier this year, I introduced a resolution (which was passed), to include public comment opportunities in our Work Sessions.  We have to hear from you.  Keep your presence in front of us.  I also encourage public to visit each Commissioner, in their office, regularly.  Office visits allow you the transparency in a government we all wish to strive for.  As we continue to grow, we must continue to build relationships amongst officials in our incorporated towns / cities.  I am excited to work with the new leadership of these governments as well.  I truly enjoy interacting with members of our community and will continue attending our Towns’ Council meetings – hope to see you there. 

Request email titled  RE:  Meeting Training for Chey from Carey Haight, dated 10-23-2023 @ 11:16 am

Verified by MonsterInsights