By Jerome Tharaud/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Havre will house the headquarters of an organization aiming to administer an estimated $75 million in grant money to fight poverty in north-central Montana.
The steering committee of the Northcentral Montana Community Ventures Coalition decided Wednesday to locate the headquarters here.
The three proposed Havre sites - the Atrium, the Heritage Center, and the building that houses the District IV Human Resources Development Council - were among 10 proposed locations for the headquarters of the coalition.
In December, the the Northwest Area Foundation awarded the coalition $12 million in seed money, spread out over 10 years. The foundation, a charitable organization created by the family of railroad magnate James J. Hill, has a mandate to develop long-term solutions to reduce poverty in the eight-state region Hill's railroad operated in.
The coalition will use the money to implement a poverty reduction plan across 11 Montana counties, including Hill, Blaine, Liberty and Chouteau counties, and three Indian reservations.
The committee has identified projects that will require finding additional money, bringing the total cost to at least $75 million.
Proposals for the headquarters included buildings in Conrad, Browning, Cut Bank and Great Falls.
Four independent reviewers from outside the project region reviewed the proposals and ranked each location based on seven criteria, such as building location and size, said Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp. and a nonvoting member of the coalition's 13-member steering committee.
When the reviewers' responses were tallied, the three Havre locations received the top scores, Tuss said.
"I think we went through a good selection process to ensure it was done fairly. I don't see why we shouldn't choose Havre," said committee member Caroline Brown, a member of the Fort Belknap Indian Community. Brown said Havre is close to Fort Belknap and the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation and is accessible to most of the 11-county area.
At Wednesday's meeting in Havre, committee members initially voted 3-4 to reject narrowing the field of 10 down to the Havre locations. Instead, they voted 4-1 to narrow the field down to the top five locations - the three Havre locations, the Cut Bank Job Service, and the Columbus Center in Great Falls.
Committee member Sheila Alefteras, a Havre resident, urged the committee to pick a site so it can begin to advertise for the executive director position. A job advertisement without a location might decrease the number of people who apply, she said.
A second vote to accept Havre as the headquarters site passed 3-1, with two members abstaining.
"Everyone here is working as much as they can on this project ... and I think the sooner we can get somebody whose sole job is to implement our plan, the better," Alefteras said after the meeting, noting that everyone on the steering committee members are volunteers.
James Parker Shield, a steering committee member and member of the Little Shell Chippewa tribe, initially opposed choosing Havre as the site, but reversed himself in the final vote.
"I just felt time is of the essence in selecting our executive director and having that person know where they'll be living," Parker Shield said.
Committee co-chair George Heavy Runner, tribal planner for the Blackfeet Planning Department, said today he felt there was time to make a careful decision.
"I just thought that the people that screened the criteria never basically looked at the actual physical structures themselves, and certainly if you want to buy a car you'd like to kick the tires and go drive it around the block," he said.
Heavy Runner voted to consider the top five site choices, and was not present for the third vote, in which Havre was decided on as the site.
The committee's next step will be to schedule visits to the three potential Havre locations and decide among them. The headquarters will house an executive director who will coordinate the activities of seven regional offices, three of which will be located on the Indian reservations, Tuss said.
Peggy Beltrone, co-chair of the steering committee and chair of the Cascade County Commission, said she hopes to have a job description of the executive director in newspapers, job services and Web sites by early June, so that the committee can begin to screen applicants by the end of June.
The committee also voted Wednesday to set up a separate office for members of the Little Shell Chippewa Indians of Montana. The 4-1 vote was taken after a discussion of whether the Little Shell need a separate office, since they have no reservation.
Heavy Runner said today he doesn't think the extra office is a good idea because the Little Shell's membership is spread out geographically and could be served by the offices.
John Sinclair, chairman of the Little Shell Chippewa tribe, said today he is concerned that the Little Shell will be treated like second-class citizens if they don't have their own office.
The extra office, called a poverty reduction organization, will cost about $50,000 a year, Tuss said.
The steering committee's next meeting will be June 3 in Great Falls.