Board inches toward creation of community-wide strategic plan

By Tyler Allen and Sarah Gianelli EBS Staff

BIG SKY – A meeting of the Big Sky Resort Area District tax board Sept. 7 opened with a surprising announcement from Chairperson Jamey Kabisch that he would be resigning, effective immediately.

“After quite a bit of consideration, thinking about the direction of the board and the session here today, I’ve decided that I’m going to step down from the resort tax board,” Kabisch said.

“I’ve loved serving with all of you, this has been terrific,” he continued. “But I think going forward, I was just reflecting on some of the candidates that we had in the last election, and I think that all of them would do a better job than what I would do, helping to drive this community forward.”

In addition to Sarah Blechta and Steve Johnson, who were elected to the resort tax board in May’s election, the other two candidates were Paul “Buz” Davis and Craig Smit. After the board recessed for lunch, Johnson suggested that they reach out to Davis to ask if he’d be willing to serve out Kabisch’s term. The motion passed unanimously.

When reached for comment, Davis said he wasn’t surprised when Kabisch stepped down, noting conversations the two of them had had over the past year. Davis said that he accepted the invitation to be appointed to the board when vice chairperson Kevin Germain contacted him later that evening.

The October resort tax board meeting has been moved from Oct. 10 to Oct. 3, when the board will take action and vote on Davis’ appointment. However, the public will have the opportunity to comment on the board considering other potential appointees to Kabisch’s seat.

If Davis’ appointment is confirmed on Oct. 3, he will be sworn in at a later date—he isn’t available to attend that meeting—and he would serve until May 2020, when he’d be up for reelection.

In 2012 and 2013, Davis led the Big Sky Resort Area District board through a strategic planning process to help articulate the board’s vision to the community that resulted in the district’s “Better Together” slogan. Davis is a consultant that specializes in executive coaching, and board training for corporations and nonprofits.

Kabisch had served on the board since 2011 and was elected to a second term in 2015.

“I’m not sure I necessarily agree, but I respect your personal decision,” said board director Mike Scholz when Kabisch announced his decision.

“I felt super fortunate to have served with an exceptional group of people, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from each one of them,” Kabisch said in a later phone interview. He also noted that the demands of his job have increased, and he wanted to give more of his time to his employees. Kabisch is the business manager for Big Sky-based Lone Peak Physical Therapy.

Board hears presentation by Future West

Public seating in the resort tax office was nearly full for a presentation by Future West, a Bozeman-based nonprofit consulting firm that helps communities in the Northern Rockies identify and achieve a shared vision for the future.

The presentation was an outcome of a study commissioned by the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce to explore self-governing options for Big Sky that would give the community a more cohesive, louder voice, and one more likely to be heard at the state and county levels.

While Montana State University Local Government Center Director Dan Clark’s initial recommendation was for the resort tax board to expand its role and take on more governing responsibilities, the board has generally back-pedaled from the idea, deciding a conservative first step might be the formation of a community-driven strategic plan.

The main thrust of Future West Project Director Randy Carpenter’s presentation was the importance of involving as much of the community as possible in order to ensure that a strategic plan reflects a widely shared vision.

Members of the board—especially Mike Scholz and Steve Johnson, who were tasked to spearhead the board’s exploration of a strategic plan for Big Sky—reiterated numerous times that they did not want to be seen as the driving force behind this process, and that it should be community-guided.

The first phase would be to develop a steering committee comprised of a diverse group of local stakeholders. Next would be the creation of a community profile, and finally a multi-day community workshop.

Members of the public in attendance had a lot of questions—including how the steering committee would be formed.

Carpenter said, in his experience, it usually forms organically. “A group of people come together and anoint themselves as a steering committee,” he said. “The people who want to be on the steering committee tend to rise to the top and then bring in other people they think need to be there.”

That touched on the board’s sensitivity to community perception.

“I think the feeling amongst the resort tax board is that we explicitly do not want to be the sole selectors of that group,” said board secretary Steve Johnson.

When Big Sky resident Tallie Lancey asked board director Mike Scholz why he didn’t want the resort tax board to be seen as the driver of this process, he said, “ I just know that some members of the community … feel that resort tax should take more lead in the community; some think [we should take] less—that your job is only allocations, which it is by law.”

He also said that “quite frankly most of the board was elected not thinking we would be the city fathers.”

In terms of the steering committee, Clark, who was in the audience, suggested that Future West collect nominations. “Certain names bubble to the top, or throw your hat in the ring and we’ll sort it out—what you’re paying Future West is for them to figure it out.”

After Germain confirmed with those present at the meeting there was no public opposition to the board exploring the formation of a Big Sky strategic plan, it was agreed that Johnson and Scholz would present a scoping document at the Oct. 3 meeting outlining specifics as to how the steering committee would be formed and next steps in the process.

“I’ve seen [Big Sky] change a lot in the 45 years I’ve been here. It’s worked its own way through and at times it’s been guided; at times it hasn’t,” Scholz said. “I don’t look at us as the drivers of this … I just know that we can help facilitate it, especially when it takes money.”