Connect with us

Local News

Leaders present early look into incorporation

Avatar photo



Third-party facilitator Emily Stifler Wolfe presents to the BSRAD board and public attendees at Wednesday's board meeting. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

Community stakeholders talk about the recent, open-minded effort to explore the possibility of a local municipality 


The Sept. 13 Big Sky Resort Area District board meeting began by presenting a long-needed capital improvement plan. Afterwards, Board Chair Sarah Blechta opened the second discussion with a statement of optimism on a charged topic: the potential incorporation of Big Sky. 

“Many people have asked me why we have done this, why did we start talking about [incorporation] again… And to that, I would say, we have never done it like this before,” said Blechta, who sits on the board’s incorporation and governance subcommittee. “We have never come together like this before… Our goal as a group was to empower our community and its voters to understand the complex issues so we can move forward effectively and together.” 

Blechta said in Big Sky’s past, efforts to incorporate a local municipality have not included a rigorous, unconstrained study of potential community impacts. This time around, explorers are acting with intention to avoid the one-sided, polarizing precedent. 

The “Governance and Community Engagement Exploration” report described a three-day process in which 12 community leaders surveyed the current landscape around incorporation. The process was facilitated by a third party with emphasis on taking objective viewpoints. That early-stage report is available here.

Last winter, a separate grassroots citizens group garnered interest in this topic. After that effort ceased, this current exploration took shape.

Emily Stifler Wolfe, a Bozeman-based consultant with history as a member of the Big Sky community and workforce, facilitated three sessions this summer to convene 12 community leaders, including Blechta, to discuss the topic of incorporation.  

“We focused on designing a process aimed at moving the community forward, together. With passionate players holding seemingly opposing views, this was not an easy task, nor were we sure we would succeed,” Wolfe explained in her presentation to the board. 

Wolfe said the three days were challenging and at times uncomfortable, but the group succeeded in connecting with each other as human beings, reframing problems into opportunities, “and setting up [a] collaborative, possibility mindset.” After the group’s third session in July, Wolfe said, “we did ultimately accomplish our goals.”  

As written in the report’s executive summary, “Over the course of 12 intensive hours together, our group created a strategy and rough timeline to conduct a rigorous, unconstrained incorporation study that’s driven by community engagement. The goal of this future study will be to learn whether there might be a better way for our community to operate than the current approach.”  

Wolfe said over the three days that transformation was “pretty significant,” as they recognized all they share in common and potential to work as a team.  

“Suddenly, we could see these little details all aligned where everyone’s needs were honored, and everyone agreed to continue working on it together,” Wolfe said of the group’s final day. “And it was really powerful for me to get to witness.” 

Wolfe emphasized that this process has not yet resulted in any comprehensive report on the pros and cons of incorporation.  

“This was this group coming together to say, ‘that’s what we’re going to do. We have a rough outline of how we’re going to do it, we’ve got buy-in from many different stakeholders in the community. Let’s go get a rigorous, unconstrained study [for community education],” Wolfe said.  

BSRAD Executive Director Daniel Bierschwale said it might be a year or more before such a study is prepared.   

During public comment, one community member expressed concern that this exploration lacks a clear “why.” Wolfe, Blechta and Bierschwale responded that the process has not yet reached that point—an unbiased study would allow voters to discern their own view, whether that’s for or against incorporation.  

Involved leaders take the hot seat 

A handful of the same group’s participants attended Wednesday’s board meeting. Wolfe asked questions to three of those leaders during her presentation.  

First, Wolfe called up David O’Connor, now the executive director of the Big Sky Community Housing Trust and once a local business owner. She asked how this recent process compared to similar efforts in the past. 

“Exceedingly collaborative is one of the differences [from] what’s happened in the past—much better representation at the table,” he responded.   

O’Connor said the decision on whether to incorporate should not be made by a group of 12 people, or any other group, but instead by the community.  

“[This approach] recognized that probably the worst thing we can do as a community is make such a serious decision based on bad information or incorrect information. So we really focused on assembling the correct data—there’s a lot of misconceptions, a lot of assumptions out there,” O’Connor said.  

Next, Wolfe called Tallie Lancey, a local realtor and board chair for the Big Sky Community Organization, who helped initiate this collaborative effort. Wolfe asked Lancey why she wanted to work with such a broad range of perspectives, and why she wanted to continue with the group.  

“The reason that I wanted to get this group of people together was to flip the script,” Lancey said. “As a student of what has happened in the past, I thought we might be doomed to repeat history. But we’ve taken a totally different approach this time. For that reason, I think [the] outcome will be more holistic and durable. 

“The reason I want to keep at it is because… I love this place and I’m really excited about inviting the public into the process and making sure that everyone feels heard and makes and educated decision about the kind of place we want to live in the future,” Lancey said.  

Finally, Wolfe called Matt Kidd, managing director of Lone Mountain Land Company and partner with CrossHarbor Capital Partners. She asked Kidd why he wanted to be involved, and to continue to contribute, as a community member and a leader of local development.  

Kidd first stated that he represents himself as a year-round resident, but not his employees or other residents of Big Sky.  

“To the extent that ‘incorporation’ is a word that has all this emotional baggage, I’ve let go of it. You all should too… I enjoyed being part of the three days. To me, this isn’t the conclusion of a process, this is the start of a process.  

“CrossHarbor and Lone Mountain Land Company, we are not for or against incorporation. We are for anything that is good for the year-round community that Big Sky wants to be. I don’t think we’re there yet… Any tools we have, we are supportive of that.”  

Kidd added, “We are against anything that places an undue financial burden on that year-round community that we want to be.”  

Ennion Williams, VP of events with Outlaw Partners and board chair of the Big Sky Transportation District and the Gallatin River Task Force, was also one of the group participants at Wednesday’s BSRAD meeting. Williams volunteered his perspective: 

“I was here in past meetings that [discussed] this topic and I definitely agree that this new approach and this collaboration is a much better and seemingly straightforward approach to this topic. And that it will work to bring together the various opinions and various groups that would be involved with the group. So I look forward to the future of it,” Williams said.  

At the board meeting, the BSRAD board voted in favor of the subcommittee’s three asks: that BSRAD hosts this initial report on its website, that the BSRAD subcommittee includes all 12 involved leaders, and that BSRAD generates a request for proposals for a “rigorous, unbiased incorporation study, including in-depth community engagement, funded by BSRAD.” 

Upcoming Events

september, 2023

Filter Events

22sep7:00 pm10:00 pmLPHS Football vs. Seeley Swan High School7:00 pm - 10:00 pm Lone Peak High SchoolEvent Type :Sports

23sep12:00 pm4:00 pmLPHS Soccer vs. Lockwood High School12:00 pm - 4:00 pm Lone Peak High School

23sep5:00 pm8:00 pmLPHS Volleyball vs. Gardiner5:00 pm - 8:00 pm Lone Peak High School

24sepAll DayHistory & Geology of the Taylor Fork(All Day: sunday) Event Type :EducationEvent City:Big Sky