County commissioners review further management of Metra

Yellowstone County leaders are taking the first steps toward hiring a permanent general manager for MetraPark, the county’s events campus and fairgrounds.

County commissioners and staff working on drafting next steps for research hope the process will be straightforward. But over the past 12 months, the question of how Metra’s management should operate has been anything but straightforward.

A lawsuit filed two weeks ago — sparked by Yellowstone County’s attempt to find a private management company to take over operations at MetraPark — prompted the county to drop the search.

So, rather than looking for a company to manage the facilities, the county will instead consider hiring a new general manager to do the job.

“I’m confident that when we have a position like this, we’re doing a national search,” Commissioner Don Jones said. “We should find the best possible manager.”

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MetraPark is currently led by interim chief executive Tim Goodridge, who has held the position since longtime chief executive Bill Dutcher retired at the end of 2021. Goodridge, who was coordinator of the Billings Industrial Revitalization District and led the annual downtown Magic City Blues music. festival, was hired by the county in 2019 as deputy manager of Metra.

In the scrum to seek privatized management, the county commissioned a study of Metra’s policies and procedures and pushed for better financial performance. Goodridge responded by modernizing aspects of the facility’s operations and implementing the changes recommended by the study.

MetraPark staff also improved their performance. Metra is funded in part by property taxes and in the past fiscal year it improved its bottom line by $1 million, the most it has ever improved in a single year. The facility taps into the $2.5 million it collects from property taxes to operate in the dark.

To implement the search for a new chief executive, commissioners plan to hire a national firm to source qualified candidates across the country, using a request for proposals process.

To make the job search effective, County Chief Financial Officer Kevan Bryan recommended that commissioners make it clear to the hiring company what they expect from a chief executive and what qualities they want the person to have. have.

He then advised the three commissioners to reach some sort of agreement on the role the MetraPark Advisory Board should play as the county moves forward with Metra.

Advisory board members attended the commissioners’ town hall meeting on Thursday and expressed frustration at being left out of the private management debate and lack of communication from commissioners as they moved to understand the director’s search process. general.

“I find this whole process frustrating,” said Charlie Loveridge, current chairman of the advisory board. “What is our job? I wonder why we are not brought to the table.”

Mike Mayotte, who currently sits on the advisory board and will serve as chair next year, said moving forward the two groups need to find a better way to work together.

“I want a much better working relationship,” he said.

Commissioner Denis Pitman expressed his belief that before beginning the search for a new chief executive, the commissioners will have to decide what their relationship with MetraPark management will be. That relationship has been problematic in the past, he said.

Commissioner John Ostlund agreed.

“It’s the board and we failed,” he said.

Rather than setting clear policy as a board of commissioners for the management of Metra, individual commissioners tried to effect change and create trouble, Ostlund said.

He is impatient that the search for a new manager does not fall into the same pitfalls that plagued the process of finding a management company for MetraPark.

Ostlund wants the county to take its time, assess the management structure to see what works and what doesn’t, involve MetraPark’s advisory board in research, and ensure the public has an opportunity to comment at every stage. of the process.

He said he didn’t want to move on until they were sure they were on the right track.

On November 21, the commissioners will have an advance copy of the request for proposals for hiring companies interested in accepting the position to watch. If it meets their expectations, they will vote to formally approve it at their November 22 meeting.

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