UPDATE: State Lists Reasons for Firing Tourism Director

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The state’s tourism director was fired last month for failing to spend $4 million in bed tax money that the Legislature may now use to offset current budget shortfalls, Commerce Department director Dore Schwinden said.

The Great Falls Tribune reported the reasons for Betsy Baumgart’s firing Tuesday after obtaining documents from the Department of Commerce, including Baumgart’s Aug. 20 termination letter.

“You have repeatedly failed to satisfactorily perform your job duties, and have shown poor judgment in management of your division,” Schwinden’s letter said.

In addition to the $4 million surplus in the accommodation tax account — money meant to promote tourism and moviemaking in Montana — Schwinden said Baumgart mismanaged two request for proposals, was insensitive to protocol with tribal governments, and made improper and excessive personal use of a state computer.

Baumgart filed a grievance challenging the decision on Sept. 9, saying her termination was politically motivated. She also responded to the points in Schwinden’s letter.

“I can tell you that our client fully intends to take the grievance to the next level and to continue to challenge it and request the hearing that’s called for under that grievance process,” said Baumgart’s attorney, Michael San Souci, of Bozeman.

Commerce spokeswoman Marissa Kozel declined to discuss the case Monday, saying the agency’s response “speaks for itself.”

In response to the bed tax fund, Baumgart said she had difficulty getting accurate information on the amount of money in the account, and based her most recent budget on a report that said there was $2.9 million in the fund. Her last two budgets called for spending $1 million more than the projected amount of bed tax money than the state expected to collect, she said.

Schwinden countered that Baumgart was relying on the wrong report.

Schwinden’s letter said Baumgart’s failure to inform the Northern Cheyenne and Crow tribal governments of a request for proposals for the Custer Country tourism contract led to a 30-day delay in the process to award a new contract for promoting tourism in southeastern Montana at a time when the media were scrutinizing the contract.

“These errors and delays negatively impacted the public’s perception of the Department of Commerce and its administration of the bed tax funds,” Schwinden wrote, adding that Baumgart had been told on at least two occasions to get the RFP to the tribes.

Schwinden’s letter also said Baumgart was insensitive to protocol with tribal governments for leaving early during an Aug. 4 meeting with the president of the Fort Belknap Tribal Council. Baumgart said she had less than a day’s notice about the meeting, the president showed up 45 minutes late and that she apologized at the outset, saying she may have to leave early because of a prior commitment.

Baumgart was also accused of personal use of a state computer for accessing various shopping sites, money-related websites and job search web sites. Schwinden said she signed up for RSS feeds and streaming media from news websites, using a large amount of bandwidth and potentially reducing the efficiency of the state computer system for other users.

Schwinden said a 501-page computer usage report of Internet sites accessed by Baumgart between July 6 and Aug. 5 indicates she logged a total of 15,555 “hits,” or about 777 hits per day, “with large numbers of hits on questionable IP addresses or URLs.”

Baumgart had work-related explanations for most of the website activity, saying she “did not have time for excessive personal and recreational activities on my work computer.” She said she didn’t know how to sign up for RSS feeds.

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