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Many things slide under the radar where state government is concerned. Some are so egregious they need to be brought into the light of day and fully examined.

One such event is the Montana Department of Commerce granting a Montana tourism contract to a Wisconsin firm with little or no experience in destination or tourism marketing, even though several Montana firms applied for the contract and had the necessary credentials to do the job. This contract is for $7 to $9 million in Montana tax dollars a year.

Let’s look at the known facts. A deadline had been set for applications and was known by all parties for months. A few hours before the deadline it was extended to allow for all parties to have time to submit the application.

The extension alone is not terribly troubling until you realize that the Jennifer Pelej, the Department of Commerce Bureau Chief, who is heavily involved with awarding this contract, just happens to have a cousin who is a VP account supervisor with the Wisconsin firm Hoffman York. Suddenly the plot thickens, but it gets worse.

To get the contract, a company must go through three extensive evaluations. After the first two the Montana company, Brickhouse from Great Falls, was the point leader. However, after the third round Brickhouse suddenly received failing scores in all seven categories and Hoffman York got superior rating in all seven. One of the categories is “understanding of the Montana brand.” How is it possible that a Wisconsin company with no presence in Montana knows more about Montana than a Montana company?

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In order to qualify for the contract, Hoffman York formed a small partnership with a Montana company, Shortgrass, in order to have someone to attend meetings in Helena.

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I am sure there is more to be revealed about this contract but at best it stinks of blatant cronyism when an out-of-state company gets a contract this large even though they have no experience in the field. Why weren’t Gov. Steve Bullock and Commerce Director Meg O’Leary paying closer attention to this process? Were they complicit in allowing this to happen? I believe honest answers to the citizens of Montana are required from our leaders. No more cronyism and favoritism with our tax dollars.

 

 

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Ken Holmlund, R-Miles City, represents House District 38.

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