Letter to the editor,
Before leaving the employment of the City of Helena former City Manager Ana Cortez, along with Parks, Recreation and Open Lands Director Kristi Ponozzo, compiled a Civic Center Committee with two objectives; 1. Make a recommendation to the city commission to identify or create an advisory body by January 2021 for the Civic Center. 2. Make recommendations for a Request for Proposals to privatize the operation of the Civic Center. The first objective was requested by the city commission in a public meeting in December of 2019. The second objective has never been requested by the city commission in any public meeting ever.
The reason to privatize the operation of the Civic Center has not been identified either by city staff or members of the committee, however Commissioner Andres Haladay (chair of the committee) stated in a meeting on Sept. 24, 2020, that full-time employees may not be needed. This appears to be what is driving Commissioner Haladay’s interest in privatizing the operation of the Civic Center.
I was privileged to be the executive director of the Civic Center for 29 years and I can state without question that the Civic Center needs full-time dedicated, involved, experienced and trained personnel to operate, maintain, repair and remodel that 100-year-old arts, entertainment and cultural historic building. While the events that the public attends in the Civic Center are the main focus for the staff, the most time-consuming part of their work week is maintaining and repairing the building and the many amenities the building has for users, tables, chairs, platforms, counters, sounds systems, lighting systems, rigging systems and kitchen equipment to name a few. Operation staff scrubs and polishes over 8,000 square feet of tile and hardwood floors after every event, over 20,000 square feet of carpet is vacuumed and extracted continually, the glass railing in the ballroom must be cleaned weekly; all of this takes time, effort and dedication. In addition the Civic Center has been remodeled annually for over 30 years with the full-time staff providing the labor for much of that work. The idea that a private organization would be completely nonbiased in operating the building when producing their own programming and take on the task of maintaining the building at its current level is unrealistic and the building, local presenters along with the public would suffer.
In short you don’t operate and maintain a building like the Civic Center at a level higher than any other city or county building in the area without full-time dedicated, involved, experienced and trained personnel. To think non-full-time employees or even full-time employees without any tie to the community or the building could accomplish this task is humiliating to the devoted employees currently achieving this task.
I sincerely hope that a majority of the city commission does not agree with the need to privatize the operation of the Civic Center and I hope the Helena community doesn’t agree either. I believe the Civic Center Committee should dedicate its efforts to identifying or creating an advisory body by January 2021 for the Civic Center as the city commission requested period.
Gery Carpenter, now retired, is the former executive director of the Helena Civic Center.