Gov.-elect Greg Gianforte, photographed at his Bozeman-area home in September 2020. Credit: Ray Lombardi / MTFP

HELENA — Gov.-elect Greg Gianforte has begun announcing advisory boards tasked with helping him craft a state COVID-19 response plan and identify candidates he can use to fulfill his campaign pledge to install new leadership atop state agencies.

As of Nov. 20, Gianforte’s transition effort had announced a COVID-19 task force as well as the following advisory bodies tasked with developing recommendations for new agency directors for the following agencies :

  • The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS)
  • The Montana Department of Corrections
  • The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation
  • The Montana Department of Commerce and the Department of Labor and Industry
  • The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, & Parks (FWP)
  • The Montana Department of Agriculture
  • The Montana Department of Revenue
  • The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT)
  • The Montana Department of Administration
  • The Montana Department of Military Affairs

Member biographies are based on press materials distributed by Gianforte’s press office, supplemented in some cases by MTFP reporting.

COVID-19 task force 

Gianforte’s first advisory body was named Nov. 10 and directed to work with state and local health officials to develop recommendations for managing the COVID-19 crisis.

It comprises the following members:

  • Kurt G. Alme of Billings, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Montana
  • Don Beeman of Bozeman, a member of the Bozeman Health Board of Directors and former VP of U.S. Commercial Operations for Merck’s Vaccine Division
  • Father Patrick Beretta of Butte, a parish priest at St. Patrick and Immaculate Conception Churches in Butte, a chaplain at Montana Technological University and member of spiritual team at St. James Healthcare
  • Daniel Bierschwale of Big Sky, the executive director of Big Sky Resort Area District
  • Dax Cetraro of Helena, the owner of Village Inn Pizza, Grand Plaza Casino, and the Rialto Bar. He is a past president of the Montana Tavern Association.
  • Ravalli County Commissioner Greg Chilcott, of Hamilton
  • Heidi M. Duncan, MD, FAAFP, of Billings, the medical director at the Billings Clinic 
  • Wayne Leiker, of Great Falls, the VP of Refining Operations at Calumet Refinery
  • Montana Nonprofit Association Executive Director Liz Moore, of Helena
  • Whitehall School District Superintendent Hannah Nieskins
  • Sidney Mayor Rick Norby, the president of the Montana League of Cities and Towns
  • Montana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd O’Hair, of Helena
  • Montana Air National Guard Adjutant General Matthew Quinn, of Helena, who currently heads Gov. Steve Bullock’s Coronavirus Task Force
  • Montana Parent Teachers Association President Sheryl Scheafer, of Billings
  • Poplar Schools Superintendent Dan Schmidt
  • Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter, of Great Falls
  • Butte-Silver Bow Public Health Officer Karen Sullivan, MA
  • Randy Swenson, of Billings, owner of TenderNest Assisted Living
  • Northern Rockies Medical Center CEO Cherie Taylor, of Cut Bank
  • Steve Wahrlich, of Billings, owner of Best Western Plus Clocktower Inn & Stella’s Kitchen and Bakery. Wahrlich is also a Montana Lodging and Hospitality Association board member
  • Fort Peck Tribal Executive Board member and nurse Kaci Wallette

Additional COVID-19 task force members were announced by Gianforte Nov. 20:

  • Brenda Connelly of Whitefish, the chief operating officer of The Living Springs, which operates retirement communities in Montana and Oregon
  • Montana Medical Association President Pamela Cutler, M.D., of Missoula. She is also an emergency room physician and president of the Western Montana Clinic. 
  • Randy Edwards, a regional vice president for EmpRes Healthcare Management and a licensed nursing home administrator
  • Scott Gottlieb, M.D., the 23rd commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Gottlieb served as the FDA chief from 2017 through last year
  • Scott Malloy, LCSW, of Bozeman, a program director at the Montana Healthcare Foundation
  • Gwyn Palchak, BSN, RN-BC, ACM-RN, of Kalispell. She is president of the District 7 Nurses Association of the Montana Nurses Association.
  • Brian Rigby, the president and apprenticeships coordinator of Iron Workers Local No. 732
  • Carley Robertson, M.D., of Havre, a primary care physician and vice president of the Montana Medical Association
  • Tony Ward, Ph.D., of Missoula, a professor and the chair of the School of Public and Community Health Sciences at the University of Montana
  • Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen, as an ex officio member
  • Montana State Auditor-elect Troy Downing as an ex officio member
  • Montana Secretary of State-elect Christi Jacobsen as an ex officio member
  • Montana Attorney General-elect Austin Knudsen, JD, as an ex officio member

“Montana faces a public health crisis and economic crisis as a result of COVID-19 — which I trust the people of Montana to take seriously,” Gianforte said in a Nov. 10 statement. “It remains my top priority to work together to protect the most vulnerable among us, while also safely and fully opening back up our economy.”

Dept. of Public Health and Human Services transition advisors

A second advisory committee was announced Nov. 11, with 11 members directed to “identify and review” candidates to serve as the next DPHHS chief.

Lee Newspapers reported Nov. 7 that DPHHS Director Shelia Hogan had left her post at the head of the health department, the largest state agency, to take a division administrator-level job in the state Department of Administration. That story noted that Hogan’s new position is at a tier in the state bureaucracy typically filled through a competitive hiring process, as opposed to gubernatorial appointments that often change from administration to administration.

Department of Public Health and Human Services transition advisors 

  • Kayla Anderson, a licensed addiction counselor and owner of Prairie Hills Recovery Center in Sidney
  • Carter Barnhart, the chief experience officer at Newport Healthcare, a teen and young adult mental health treatment center
  • Marilyn Bartlett, CPA, a senior policy fellow with the National Academy of State Health Policy.
  • Beth Brenneman, JD, an attorney with Disability Rights Montana
  • Jim FitzGerald, MPA, MSW, CEO of Intermountain, a statewide behavioral health nonprofit serving children, youth and families
  • Jonathan Griffin, MD, MHA, the chief medical innovation officer at St. Peter’s Health and former president of the Montana Medical Association
  • Montana Health Care Association Executive Director Rose Hughes
  • Al Olszewski, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and state senator. Olszewski was one of Gianforte’s opponents in this year’s GOP primary for governor.
  • Deer Lodge Medical Center CEO Tony Pfaff
  • Fergus County Commissioner Carl Seilstad, who is also the board chair for the South Central Montana Regional Mental Health Center
  • Jenna Taylor, the executive director of Child Bridge, a faith-based organization that supports foster and adoptive families

“We’re in the midst of a public health crisis. We face an epidemic of addiction that has destroyed communities, torn apart families, and left thousands of children in foster care,” Gianforte said in a statement. “We need someone leading DPHHS who can address these serious challenges, who will bring greater accountability and transparency to the agency, and who will help lead Montana’s comeback.” 

Dept. of Corrections transition advisors 

On Nov. 12, Gianforte’s transition effort announced a third transition team, this one tasked with identifying candidates to serve as the next director of the Montana Department of Corrections, which manages the state prison system. 

Its members are:

  • Flathead County Commissioner Randy Brodehl 
  • Custer County Sheriff Tony Harbaugh
  • Jackie Jones, JD, an attorney and former advocate with the Montana County Attorneys Association
  • Steve Lavin, a Montana Highway Patrol officer and former state lawmaker
  • Former Cascade County District Court Judge Greg Pinski, JD
  • Granite County Commissioner Bill Slaughter, a former director of the Department of Corrections and former sheriff of Gallatin County
  • Broadwater County Attorney Cory Swanson, JD
  • Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito, JD
  • Melissa Zeiler, a probation administrator at Sidney Probation and Parole Administration

“Unfortunately, well-documented incidents of gross mismanagement and a lack of transparency and accountability have prevented the Department of Corrections from serving the people of Montana well,” Gianforte said in a statement. “It’s time to change how the DOC does business, from changing the culture to reducing recidivism to improving reentry.”

Gianforte previously announced that former Montana House Speaker Mike Milborn, currently chief of staff for Attorney General Tim Fox, would chair his transition effort. The governor-elect’s transition effort is also soliciting resumes from Montanans interested in serving in his administration via a website,

Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Montana Department of Natural Resources & Conservation (DNRC) transition advisors

Announced Nov. 13:

  • Scott Aspenlieder of Billings, a co-founder and owner of civil engineering firm Performance Engineering. He is also a public member of the 2019-2020 Environmental Quality Council.
  • Chris Budeski of Bozeman, a civil engineer and owner of Madison Engineering
  • Bud Clinch of Helena, a former DNRC director and former executive director of the Montana Coal Council
  • Colleen Coyle of Bozeman, an attorney who owns Coyle Law PLLC in Bozeman and specializes in water rights and property law
  • Eugene Graf IV, of Bozeman, owner of EG Construction and former president of the Montana Building Industry Association
  • Tom Hauptman of Billings, owner of KGH Operating Co., an oil and gas company
  • Steve Marks, who owns Marks Lumber in Clancy
  • Rosebud County Commissioner Doug Martens, a rancher and president of the Montana Association of Counties
  • Montana Petroleum Association Executive Director Alan Olson
  • Chuck Roady, vice president and general manager of Stoltze Land & Lumber Co. and a former director of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
  • Nancy Schlepp, the vice president of communications and corporate secretary for Sandfire Resources America, Inc., the company developing the Black Butte Copper mine on a tributary of the Smith River. She is also a rancher and a former Meagher County Commissioner.
  • Chas Vincent of Libby, a former Montana state senator who chaired the Senate Natural Resources Committee
  • Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation president and CEO Kyle Weaver 

“We can responsibly develop our abundant resources and simultaneously protect our environment, but for too long, state government has stood in the way with DNRC and DEQ serving as project prevention departments,” Gianforte said in a statement. “With the right leadership at these agencies, we can eliminate needless delays, streamline permitting processes, protect our environment, and create more good-paying Montana jobs.”

Dept. of Commerce and Dept. of Labor and Industry transition advisors

Announced Nov. 16:

  • Andrew Brekke of Havre, a vice president at Erickson Insurance Group. He is also a member of the Montana Insurance Guaranty Association Board of Directors.
  • Della Ehlke of Helena, a cattle rancher and owner of Montana Hydraulics
  • Kristen Heck of Kalispell, the president and owner of LC Staffing and founder of Loyal Care In-Home Assistance
  • Christina Quick Henderson of Missoula, the executive director of the Montana High Tech Business Alliance and an adjunct instructor at University of Montana College of Business
  • Misty Kuhl of Billings, the director of Native American Outreach at Rocky Mountain College and an Aaniiih member of the Fort Belknap Indian Community
  • Tony Martel of Bozeman, the president of Martel Construction and former president of the Montana Contractors Association
  • Derek Swank, the executive vice president of Valier-based Swank Enterprises, a commercial construction company. He is also a former president of the Montana Contractors Association.
  • Thiel Brothers Roofing president Dexter Thiel, of Sidney, also a founding member and former president of the Montana Roofing Contractors Association
  • Former Kalispell Chamber of Commerce president Joe Unterreiner 
  • Steve Wahrlich of Billings, owner of the Best Western Plus ClockTower Inn & Stella’s Kitchen and Bake. He is also a member of Montana’s Tourism Advisory Council and a board member of the Montana Lodging and Hospitality Association.

“For too long, Montanans have lost out on good-paying jobs and better opportunities here in Montana,” Gianforte said in a statement. “It’s time to empower Montana workers and create an environment where small businesses thrive so that hardworking Montanans can prosper.”

Dept. of Fish, Wildlife, & Parks (FWP) transition advisors

Announced Nov. 16:

  • Cheryl Arnaud of Gallatin Gateway, owner of Montana Hunting Company
  • Ed Beall of Helena, president of Capital Sports & Western Wear and a bowhunter education instructor
  • Richland County Commissioner Shane Gorder, a rancher and former president of the Montana Association of Counties
  • Steve Harada, MBA, of Wolf Point, a faculty member at Fort Peck Community College and former president of Walleyes Unlimited of Montana
  • John Lane of Cascade, a rancher
  • Matt Lumley of Emigrant, the vice president of the National Trappers Association
  • Montana Outfitters and Guides Association President Chuck Rein of Big Timber
  • Lesley Robinson, a rancher and former Phillips County Commissioner. Robinson was Gianforte’s running mate in his 2016 bid for governor.
  • State Sen. Scott Sales of Bozeman, the outgoing Montana Senate President
  • Simms Fishing Products Executive Chairman KC Walsh. Walsh was appointed to the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation directors in 2018 by then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.
  • John Way, a fishing guide and owner of the Tackle Shop in Ennis
  • State Rep. Kerry White of Bozeman. White is the executive director of Citizens for Balanced Use, which advocates for motorized recreation access on public lands.

Dept. of Agriculture transition advisors

Tasked with advising Gianforte on the next Dept. of Agriculture director, as well as members of the Board of Livestock and Livestock Loss Board. Announced Nov. 17:

  • Dean Folkvord of Three Forks, founder of Wheat Montana Farms and Bakery. 
  • John Helle of Dillon, a rancher and co-founder of Duckworth Wool. Also a board member for Northwest Farm Credit and a past president of the Montana Wool Growers Association.
  • Bob Quinn, the founder of Montana Flour & Grains, The Oil Barn, and Big Sandy Organics, and an organic farmer near Big Sandy
  • Executive Vice President of Montana Grain Growers Association Lola Raska, a farmer
  • Lesley Robinson, a rancher and former Phillips County Commissioner. Robinson was Gianforte’s running mate in his 2016 bid for governor.
  • Nicole Rolf, the director of national affairs and eastern Montana regional manager for the Montana Farm Bureau Federation, and a cattle rancher near Miles City
  • Megan Shroyer of Bozeman, the Montana president of Northwest Farm Credit Services
  • First Vice President and president-elect of the Montana Stockgrowers Association Jim Steinbeisser, a farmer and rancher near Sidney
  • Montana Stockgrowers Association President Fred Wacker, a rancher near Miles City

Dept. of Revenue transition advisors

Announced Nov. 17:

  • State Rep. Nancy Ballance, of Hamilton. She has chaired the House Appropriations Committee for three legislative sessions.
  • Brenda Byrnes, CPA, an accountant at Anderson ZurMuehlen & Co. P.C. in Great Falls, and also a former president of the Montana Society of CPAs
  • Rosebud County Clerk and Recorder Joan Duffield. She is also a former Rosebud County commissioner.
  • Yellowstone County Commissioner Don Jones. He is also the owner of Dickey’s BBQ.
  • Flathead County Treasurer Adele Krantz, the longest-serving county treasurer in Montana
  • Michael Lawlor, JD, of Missoula, an attorney at Lawlor and Co., PLLC. He is a former primary attorney for the Montana Department of Revenue’s Liquor Control Division.
  • Beaverhead County Commissioner Mike McGinley. He is also the owner of Beaverhead Meats.
  • Rick Ripley of Wolf Creek, a former Montana state senator and former superintendent for Augusta and Choteau schools
  • Julie Sirrs, JD, of Missoula, an attorney at Boone Karlberg P.C. and an advisory board member of the Montana Tax Institute
  • Montana Taxpayers Association Executive Director Bob Story

“Hardworking Montanans send their money to Helena, only to see state spending grow and their taxes increase,” Gianforte said in a statement. “Montanans know how to spend their dollars better than Helena bureaucrats do, which is why I’ll work to cut taxes for all Montana taxpayers.”

Dept. of Transportation transition advisors

Announced Nov. 18:

  • K&K Trucking, Inc. co-owner Vicki Bertelsen of Great Falls
  • Phillips County commissioner Richard Dunbar, also vice-chair of the Montana Association of Counties Transportation Committee
  • Montana Peterbilt owner and President Kevin Gustainis of Billings
  • Debbie Nohrton, a former Aeronautics Division administrator for the Department of Transportation
  • Century Companies, Inc. chairman and CEO Tim Robertson of Lewistown. Century is a construction company that specializes partly in paving.
  • Sletten Construction CEO Erik Sletten. The company is based in Great Falls.
  • HCR Inc. President Pete Smith of Lewistown. HCR is a manufacturing company.
  • Stahly Engineering & Associates President and CEO Byron Stahly of Helena

“Our roads, railways, and airways connect Montanans from every corner of our state, and the Department of Transportation must maintain that network in a fiscally responsible way,” Gianforte said in a statement.

Dept. of Administration transition advisors

Announced Nov. 19:

  • David Bell of Missoula, the president and CEO of ALPS Corporation, an insurance company
  • President and CEO of Freedom Bank Don Bennett, of Columbia Falls
  • Karen Fagg of Billings, the director of the board of MDU Resources Group, Inc. She is also a former vice president at engineering firm DOWL HKM and a former director of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
  • Secretary of State-elect Christi Jacobsen of Helena, currently deputy secretary of state under Corey Stapleton
  • State Rep. Forrest Mandeville of Columbus, a past chair of the State Administration Committee
  • Mike Milburn of Cascade, the chair of Gov.-elect Gianforte’s transition and chief of staff for Montana Attorney General Tim Fox
  • Laef Olson of Bozeman, a senior technology advisor for Apax Partners. He was formerly Chief Information Officer at Gianforte’s company RightNow Technologies.
  • Flathead Mortgage Co. owner Scott Reichner of Bigfork, a former Montana state representative. He chaired the House Education Committee and was a member of the Joint Select Committee on Efficiency in Government.

“To change the way Helena does business, we need a change agent leading the Department of Administration who will put Montanans first, adopt a culture of customer service, and streamline operations,” Gianforte said in a statement.

Dept. of Military Affairs transition advisors

Announced Nov. 20:

  • Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, JD, MPA. Fox was one of Gianforte’s opponents running for governor in this year’s Republican primary. 
  • Former state Rep. Roger Hagan of Great Falls, a retired U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard lieutenant
  • Cari Kent of Great Falls, a retired chief master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. She served as the 341st Missile Wing Command Chief and 819th Red Horse Chief of Logistics.
  • Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter
  • Nels Swandal, JD, of Wilsall. Swandel is an attorney at Swandal Law, PLLC, a retired colonel in the U.S. Army and Montana Army National Guard, a former judge for the 6th District Court and a former Montana state senator.
  • Mike Waters, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and the director of Veterans and Military Affairs for Gianforte’s congressional office

“We must ensure the Department of Military Affairs has the leadership and resources so our troops can answer the call and get the job done,” Gianforte said in a statement.

This story will be updated as the Gianforte transition effort announces further advisory committees.

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Eric came to journalism in a roundabout way after studying engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman (credit, or blame, for his career direction rests with the campus's student newspaper, the Exponent). He has worked as a professional journalist in Montana since 2013, with stints at the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network before joining the Montana Free Press newsroom in Helena full time in 2019.