A Flood of Water News (sorry)

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The city of Missoula’s years-long crusade to own its own water is in the final stages (I estimate about a dozen more stories before we put it to bed) with a couple of significant happenings this week.

First, District Court Judge Leslie Halligan ruled Tuesday that the developers fees, however much they end up being, will come out of the $88.6 million purchase price.

While that’s great for the city, it doesn’t exactly end the case. Halligan also gave all parties 45 days to enter the amount they believe is fair (the previous number bandied about was $22 million), so expect some further debate over that.

Halligan wrote “preferably, through compromise or otherwise, the parties could present a single number to the Court.” That seems unlikely, given how far apart the city and Mountain Water have been on almost every dollar amount that’s come up in this case.

She also threw out the idea of appointing a panel to oversee the court accounts that would be set up to receive Missoula’s payments.

Again, Halligan gave all parties the option to file their preferred method for distributing the money, this time within 60 days.

Again, expect those opinions to differ a good amount.

But no matter how this shakes out, the city’s officially off the hook for additional payments to developers, which is good for their financing package.

I’m curious if the city will rethink the reserve loan option City Council’s Committee of the Whole approved last week, or if they’ll still borrow the extra $22.4 million just in case. They’re set to talk about it Monday night.

Good on Keila Szpaller for condensing a 45-page ruling into a readable story. I recommend looking through the decision anyway, though you can skip to section H on page 37 to the good bits.

In other news, the Hardy Boys mystery “Rock Bottom at Lolo Creek” is sitting atop the Missoulian’s online chart this morning for some reason. No comments or anything, just a need to know- why is the creek perennially dry?

-PF

Ruth Swaney takes a Missoula City Council post; advice for the stressed

Beagles

See those beagles? Well, they’re pretty cute. The S.O. saw them at the Missoula Fresh Market and sent a picture.

The picture was his gift to me, and now, my gift to you.

Also, eat ice cream if you’re stressed, or you’re just in the mood for deliciousness. The Big Dipper is open, and I recommend one scoop of El Salvador coffee and one of coconut.

OK, now that you’ve decompressed, the important stuff:

Here’s reporter Peter Friesen’s story about Ruth Swaney, the first Native American woman to take a council seat in Missoula. She takes the seat of Harlan Wells, who took a job working in Helena.

President Donald Trump has inspired a lot of people to protest against him. Climate activists at the University of Montana. Missoulians demonstrating against his travel ban targeting Muslims. Women from Helena to Washington, D.C., demanding human rights for all.

For the time being, anyway, the Nazi/white nationalist/white supremacist beat has been quiet in Montana, and that’s a relief.

One more thing? A request for help. I’m slowly getting to work on some coverage of college affordability. I’ll share tidbits here, and if you have good information or contacts, I’d love to hear fro you: 523 5262 or keila.szpaller@missoulian.com.

Today, Tyler Trevor, from the Montana Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, testified to legislators that the state’s flagships have increased tuition 31 percent in a decade, compared to the 65 percent to 85 percent increases among peers in the West.

“We are at the top for holding down the price of tuition,” Trevor said.

All for now.

  • Keila Szpaller

 

Perhaps it’ll be a Jack on the Missoula City Council after all

lightsDid you see PF’s post about Harlan Wells? The local government reporter was intrigued by Wells, who isn’t running for mayor after all – and also wondering if a new county commissioner will shake things up.

I was wondering if Jack Rowan, who ran against Wells, planned to toss his hat in the ring.

Today, Rowan told me he’d considered it, but he’s opting out in order to complete his chaplain studies. Good for you, Jack, and hurry back to Missoula.

In a short FB conversaion, though, Rowan also said he’s going to throw his support behind Jack Metcalf, if Metcalf does opt into the running. Do you remember Metcalf from the Justice of the Peace race?

Jack Rowan also said something funny about his endorsement, of sorts, of Jack Metcalf:

There is kinda’ weird satisfaction inherent in having another Jack claim the seat, if that is the way it all plays out. Plus, I really like Jack and agree with his approach.

Did you celebrate Christmas? Are you celebrating Hanukkah? Well, you’d best ring in 2017.

I was in Boise, Idaho, for Christmas, and am grateful for snow plow drivers. The picture is from a botanical garden in Boise that gets all lit up for the holidays … like some of us, perhaps.

  • Keila Szpaller

City Council’s holiday shake-up

Today we published this story on Harlan Wells, who’s leaving his city council seat to work for Corey Stapleton.

I’ve always found Harlan an intriguing member of city council and I’m sorry to see him go, if only because debates may be a little more tame on Monday nights.

Council Chair Marilyn Marler, though, was not happy with his level of participation.

He was the only council member who didn’t serve on any committees-I’m actually pretty sure every other member is signed up to be on every committee-and that made for some longer Monday night discussions while he asked his questions.

But by the last couple months, he mentioned watching meeting videos before showing up on Monday, so I think he was working on addressing those complaints-maybe to solidify his standing before running for Mayor.

In any case, Harlan’s conservative views represented more than 1/12th of Missoula and he took that role seriously enough, voting no again and again on a pretty wide range of issues.

A commenter on the Missoulian’s website thinks Harlan should step up to run for Montana’s U.S. Representative seat in a few years. I dunno if that’s so likely-but maybe more so than him returning to finish his run for Mayor?

The definite upside to all of this is going through the process of appointing a new council representative, which opened on Tuesday.

I hope Marilyn was serious when she told me council could use a little diversity.

“I am not opposed to appointing a conservative person as long as they can demonstrate they’re interested in debate and discussion,” she said. Now to see if the rest of the council agrees.

If not, I’m going to have to get creative on how I can work the phrase “lone dissenting vote” into the paper.

Maybe Dave Strohmaier (who’s getting sworn in tomorrow) will stir things up on the Board of County Commissioners.

PF

Two dogs for you, one in Missoula!

cooper-in-congress

The big news on the local government beat is Harlan Wells is leaving his Missoula City Council seat. Who will take over?

Reporter Peter Friesen has an interesting story about how the city is going about planning its budget this year. I haven’t seen them do this type of work in years past.

One question people were asked is this: “What gets you most excited about the City of Missoula’s future?”

A popular answer? “The mayor.”

Wells was going to challenge Mayor John Engen in 2017, but since he’s moving to Helena for his new job, the most vocal mayor-hopeful is out of the game. (*Correction! Apparently, Wells is only moving to Helena part time. Maybe he’ll work in Helena AND run for Missoula mayor.) A colleague told me a realtor in Missoula was fired up about finding an opponent. We’ll see who turns up.

In holiday cheer mode, here’s Alex Taft’s dog, Cassie, being very busy: alexs-dog. Taft was a council member, but now he’s gallivanting, camping at Holland Lake, doing other fun things.

Here’s Cooper, former crime reporter and always fearless Kate Haake’s pooch. Guess where Cooper is? CONGRESS!

Obviously, Cooper is busy as well. Miss you both, Kate and Cooper.

Photo credit: Haake.

All for now.

  • Keila Szpaller

 

Trump (maybe) picks Zinke. Goat pic south of Missoula. Silver and maroon.

goat

President-elect Donald Trump apparently wants Ryan Zinke. That story here.

A fellow reporter at another outlet said it makes perfect sense to choose a Navy SEAL to oversee Montana wetlands. That’s a very bad joke.

Regardless, we all get to vote again, and that’s cool.

What I’m reading today? How U.S. journalists normalized the rise of Hitler and Mussolini.

In news related to the University of Montana, the consultants hired to recruit a new president and Commissioner of Higher Education held listening sessions yesterday.

Deputy commissioner of communications Kevin McRae provided the contract with AGB Search, and I’m posting it here: agb-search. It is costing $72,500 for the recruitment.

McRae said that’s the only contract signed or sought to date related to transition at UM. In January, the Montana Board of Regents will take up a contract for the interim president, he said.

agb-tie

See the pic? It’s dark, but that’s AGB’s Jim McCormick on the right. I asked him about his silver and maroon tie.

“Are these the right colors?” McCormick joked.

He said his colleague, Janice Fitzgerald, made sure he was sporting the right look for Tuesday’s meetings. I was curious if he was actually an alum. Nope, but when AGB recruits, he said, they take the personalities of campuses seriously, and he pointed to a Grizzlies ball cap he had with his gear, too.

The goat has nothing to do with anything except we are in Montana, and you guys like dogs, and this animal sort of resembles a dog. Please feel free to send your pup pics, cat snaps, anything but snakes, and I’ll make them famous by posting them here.

– Keila Szpaller

P.S. Guys, I’ve got to make an admission. I’m a little worried reporter Peter Friesen won’t be able to manage posting here, that he might go rogue or something. Please let me know if anything goes awry with him.

Happy Friday; happy snacks; happy reading in … Missoula

chips

  1. Happy Friday. We have some digital news people now, a team around Montana, and we received an excellent non-digital tip from the person in charge. Jake Ellison said if you mix normal potato chips with barbecue flavored ones, it’s a dynamite combo. I tried it yesterday, and he’s right. There’s your Friday sodium consumption recommendation from the newsroom, complete with visual aid. And apropos of health-free food and my weekend, here’s a recipe for Martha Stewart’s perfect mac and cheese.
  2. Reporter Peter Friesen gets into the nitty-gritty here on buying Mountain Water Co.
  3. The Indy looks at how the University of Montana is doing an about-face on program prioritization.
  4. The Commissioner of Higher Education takes questions from the Faculty Senate. I wondered what the tenor of the meeting might be, and it was mostly a civil plea to keep faculty in the loop and give real consideration to faculty and student perspectives.

Back on the love-and-hate beat today. Here we go.

  • Keila Szpaller

 

 

Garden City Compost takes first prize for only name as nondescript as “the compost operation”

The city decided on a name for its newly-acquired compost facility – formerly EKO Compost – and they stuck to tradition using the Garden City moniker.

Apparently, EKO decided to keep the name when they sold the company (business reporter Dave Erickson’s best guess on why was brand reputation), and the city referred to it in memos the last few weeks as “the compost operation.”

So Garden City Compost was born.

Now, don’t get it confused with the 16 local businesses that showed up when I Googled “Garden City Missoula.”

Those include the recognizable – Garden City Property Management, Garden City Plumbing & Heating, Garden City Monument Services – and some I’ve never heard of – Garden City Duplicate Bridge Club, Garden City Fungi.

At least they didn’t go with Zootown Compost.

But for all my snark, I’m having trouble thinking of anything more creative.

City Of Missoula-post?

Besides that, some city council members weren’t too happy with staff’s decision to close the facility during the winter, with drop-offs available on a pre-scheduled basis.

You can read more of that here

In more council news, their plan to help out people struggling to pay their property tax bills is getting a lot of attention (at least in our comments section- I haven’t left the office yet for fear of an extremity freezing and falling off)

Mind you, Julie Armstrong was very clear this is more to raise awareness of the state’s tax-aid programs already in place than to get a bunch of donations.

I’m interested to see the conversation around this when it gets to a Monday night meeting.

-Pete Friesen

p.s.- good to be posting on Red Tape for the first time. We’ll see how long it is before Keila realizes this was a very bad idea.

Promise pup pics, deliver pups; SEO means I should say Missoula here

bataille

Animal rights activists aren’t keen on the University of Montana doing research on pigs. That story here. Kevin Boileau’s dog, Bataille, is pictured here. Bataille came by for the interview.

UM is going to be recruiting just as high school graduate levels stagnate and drop, according to this report released Tuesday. It’s called “Knocking at the College Door” and published by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE).

Angela McLean said this on Twitter about recruiting:
@KeilaSzpaller In addition to seeking HS grads, we need to attract the thousands of Montanans who have some credits but no degree. #mtedu

Reporter Peter Friesen gets the phrase “fungal funk” in a story here.

But reporter Chelsea Davis writes about sex ed in the schools, so there.

It was freezing this morning. As I waited for the bus, a big pickup truck pulled up to me, and the driver dangled something out the window. “Just got off my shift.” He handed over a pair of toasty hand warmers. They worked well for the rest of my wait, and I’m sitting on them right now. Thank you, working man.

handwarmers

– Keila Szpaller

Harlan Wells wants to be Missoula’s next mayor

harlan-wellsHarlan Wells, a Missoula City Council member, talked last week with the Five Valleys Pachyderm Club, and reporter Dillon Kato had this story about the event.

Wells wants to run for mayor in 2017 against incumbent Mayor John Engen. I think Engen is closing in on 132 months in office as head of Missoula, the longest serving mayor in the history of the city. (He first took the office in January 2006; 11 years x 12 mos = 132. Right?)

Here’s the list of Missoula mayors. In 1970, John Patterson was acting mayor for one week. That might be fun. I wonder if Council President Marilyn Marler will be on the list since she stepped in for Engen recently for a few weeks.

Anyway, back to Wells, if he wants to be mayor, I hope his participation on council has improved. Earlier this year, he wasn’t as involved as you might think a mayoral hopeful would be.

I hope we see another name in the race, too, though I can’t think of who that might be. (I also hope it isn’t someone who wags her finger in my face and swears at me after getting drunk, as happened a while back. ‘Member … ?!) I’d like to ask local government reporter Peter Friesen what he’s heard about other possible candidates but he’s deep in conversation right now, so I’ll bug him later.

Oh, speaking of candidates, did you see Denise Juneau might apply to be University of Montana president? Interesing news. Juneau might turn out to be the best person for the job, but let’s hope they don’t play politics with the hire.

A fun aside: I tracked down Juneau in person, without warning, and she was kind. I’d tried calling her about people pushing her to apply for the job, and I didn’t get through. Soon after, news editor Ashley Scully saw Juneau at a nearby coffee shop and let me know. I hopped across the street, reintroduced myself to Juneau, apologized for interrupting, and posed the question. She answered, and she and the person she was meeting with were obliging.

In other news, Kato also had this story today about what happens in Missoula County Justice Court when the parties disagree on what was said in court.

The Montana Legislature in 2003 gave counties the power to require their justice courts, which handle state misdemeanor crimes, to record their proceedings, making them “courts of record.” Few did so, and Missoula County has not.

Happy Monday.

  • Keila Szpaller