The good and the ugly

foliageLet’s start with the latter.

Last week, I made a large error in a controversial story. We’re not supposed to repeat mistakes, but I’ll tell you I included in a story as fact something that was a hoax and questionable anyway. (OK, now, of course, I have to repeat the error: The Mormon church has plans to buy Utah State University. It does not. Perhaps it would like to offer me a buyout to never take pen to pad again.)

The error was inconsequential to the story, but it was consequential for credibility, so I apologized to my colleagues at our meeting Tuesday. Now, I’m doing the same to readers here.

The good? Well, there’s lots of good. I took that picture sitting at the University Center. Neat plants, especially this time of year.

Also, I visited with a beetle researcher at UM, Diana Six. That story here. In short, beetles might be helping the forest evolve even as they devastate it. Really.

I’d like to share more, but I’m going to keep this one short.

All for now.

– Keila Szpaller

These guys are full of beans, and this motion is horse pucky

Hey, this is fun. Since I’m not the lead reporter covering the water case for the Missoulian anymore, I’m going to tell you what I think about this motion.

Reporter Martin Kidston has this story about a group of eastern Montana ranchers opposing the city of Missoula’s eminent domain case against the Carlyle Group and Mountain Water Co.

The group is called United Property Owners of Montana. Its policy director, Chuck Denowh, said this: “We really see this (Mountain Water) case as a concerning precedent that could be set in terms of what’s an appropriate use of eminent domain.”

It’s a goofball argument. Of course, the group offered a bit more than Attorney General Tim Fox did for his rationale opposing Missoula’s proposed gun control ordinance, but that’s another topic.

The picture? Well I searched in our archives for “horse pucky” but I didn’t find anything. Then, I searched for “manure,” and I found that beautiful picture by Perry Backus. It’s chickens pecking apart manure. I’m not implying the state supremes are chickens, but I am saying there’s some smelliness here.

Here’s the state’s legislative handbook on eminent domain, and I’m also going to paste below the Montana statute that discusses public uses, and yes, it includes water pipes, supply systems, canals, reservoirs, and more:

70-30-102. Public uses enumerated. Subject to the provisions of this chapter, the right of eminent domain may be exercised for the following public uses:
(1) all public uses authorized by the government of the United States;
(2) public buildings and grounds for the use of the state and all other public uses authorized by the legislature of the state;
(3) public buildings and grounds for the use of any county, city, town, or school district;
(4) canals, aqueducts, flumes, ditches, or pipes conducting water, heat, or gas for the use of the inhabitants of any county, city, or town;
(5) projects to raise the banks of streams, remove obstructions from streambanks, and widen, deepen, or straighten stream channels;
(6) water and water supply systems as provided in Title 7, chapter 13, part 44;
(7) roads, streets, alleys, controlled-access facilities, and other publicly owned buildings and facilities for the benefit of a county, city, or town or the inhabitants of a county, city, or town;
(8) acquisition of road-building material as provided in 7-14-2123;
(9) stock lanes as provided in 7-14-2621;
(10) parking areas as provided in 7-14-4501 and 7-14-4622;
(11) airport purposes as provided in 7-14-4801, 67-2-301, 67-7-210, and Title 67, chapters 10 and 11;
(12) urban renewal projects as provided in Title 7, chapter 15, parts 42 and 43, except that private property may be acquired for urban renewal through eminent domain only if the property is determined to be a blighted area, as defined in 7-15-4206(2)(a), (2)(h), (2)(k), or (2)(n), and may not be acquired for urban renewal through eminent domain if the purpose of the project is to increase government tax revenue;
(13) housing authority purposes as provided in Title 7, chapter 15, part 44;
(14) county recreational and cultural purposes as provided in 7-16-2105;
(15) city or town athletic fields and civic stadiums as provided in 7-16-4106;
(16) county cemetery purposes pursuant to 7-11-1021, cemetery association purposes as provided in 35-20-104, and state veterans’ cemetery purposes as provided in 10-2-604;
(17) preservation of historical or archaeological sites as provided in 23-1-102 and 87-1-209(2);
(18) public assistance purposes as provided in 53-2-201;
(19) highway purposes as provided in 60-4-103 and 60-4-104;
(20) common carrier pipelines as provided in 69-13-104;
(21) water supply, water transportation, and water treatment systems as provided in 75-6-313;
(22) mitigation of the release or threatened release of a hazardous or deleterious substance as provided in 75-10-720;
(23) the acquisition of nonconforming outdoor advertising as provided in 75-15-123;
(24) screening for or the relocation or removal of junkyards, motor vehicle graveyards, motor vehicle wrecking facilities, garbage dumps, and sanitary landfills as provided in 75-15-223;
(25) water conservation and flood control projects as provided in 76-5-1108;
(26) acquisition of natural areas as provided in 76-12-108;
(27) acquisition of water rights for the natural flow of water as provided in 85-1-204;
(28) property and water rights necessary for waterworks as provided in 85-1-209 and 85-7-1904;
(29) conservancy district purposes as provided in 85-9-410;
(30) wharves, docks, piers, chutes, booms, ferries, bridges, private roads, plank and turnpike roads, and railroads;
(31) canals, ditches, flumes, aqueducts, and pipes for:
(a) supplying mines, mills, and smelters for the reduction of ores;
(b) supplying farming neighborhoods with water and drainage;
(c) reclaiming lands; and
(d) floating logs and lumber on streams that are not navigable;
(32) sites for reservoirs necessary for collecting and storing water. However, reservoir sites must possess a public use demonstrable to the district court as the highest and best use of the land.
(33) roads, tunnels, and dumping places for working mines, mills, or smelters for the reduction of ores;
(34) outlets, natural or otherwise, for the flow, deposit, or conduct of tailings or refuse matter from mines, mills, and smelters for the reduction of ores;
(35) an occupancy in common by the owners or the possessors of different mines of any place for the flow, deposit, or conduct of tailings or refuse matter from their several mines, mills, or smelters for reduction of ores and sites for reservoirs necessary for collecting and storing water for the mines, mills, or smelters. However, the reservoir sites must possess a public use demonstrable to the district court as the highest and best use of the land.
(36) private roads leading from highways to residences or farms;
(37) telephone or electrical energy lines, except that local government entities as defined in 2-7-501, municipal utilities, or competitive electricity suppliers may not use this chapter to acquire existing telephone or electrical energy lines and appurtenant facilities owned by a public utility or cooperative for the purpose of transmitting or distributing electricity or providing telecommunications services;
(38) telegraph lines;
(39) sewerage of any:
(a) county, city, or town or any subdivision of a county, city, or town, whether incorporated or unincorporated;
(b) settlement consisting of not less than 10 families; or
(c) public buildings belonging to the state or to any college or university;
(40) tramway lines;
(41) logging railways;
(42) temporary logging roads and banking grounds for the transportation of logs and timber products to public streams, lakes, mills, railroads, or highways for a time that the court or judge may determine. However, the grounds of state institutions may not be used for this purpose.
(43) underground reservoirs suitable for storage of natural gas;
(44) projects to mine and extract ores, metals, or minerals owned by the condemnor located beneath or upon the surface of property where the title to the surface vests in others. However, the use of the surface of property for strip mining or open-pit mining of coal (i.e., any mining method or process in which the strata or overburden is removed or displaced in order to extract the coal) is not a public use, and eminent domain may not be exercised for this purpose.
(45) projects to restore and reclaim lands that were strip-mined or underground-mined for coal and not reclaimed in accordance with Title 82, chapter 4, part 2, and to abate or control adverse effects of strip or underground mining on those lands.

All for now.

– Keila Szpaller (not a lawyer, but scores fine on reading comprehension)

Sweetgrass Commons, Missoula City Council elections, more

Reporter Martin Kidston had this story over the weekend about Sweetgrass Commons, an affordable housing project Homeword is building at the Old Sawmill District.

Years ago, city officials talked about making sure some of the housing on the site was affordable. No one made it a requirement, though, and I remember at least one former councilman, Bob Jaffe, expressing concern for the lack of it.

Now, 26 units are in the works, and they’ll be offered to people earning 40 percent to 60 percent of the area median income. That’s the design above.

In the weekend’s story, though, Councilman Adam Hertz questions the amount of subsidy going into the project, some $19,000 per unit.

The total cost of the project is $5.9 million, including land, putting the price per unit at an estimated $228,000, per the story.

By comparison, the John Lynn Apartments cost some $118,750 per unit. Tenants pay $250 a month plus utilities in the 8-unit project of the Western Montana Mental Health Center.

I don’t know the difference by square footage. The John Lynn apartments are small, some 500 square feet, and for single individuals.

Homeword’s Heather McMilan argues Sweetgrass Commons must remain affordable for 46 years. She also said units will be offered for as low as $375.

It’s good Councilman Hertz is asking these questions, even though he won’t be on the council for much longer. (See election coverage here.) It makes me wonder if there’s a rule of thumb for these subsidies.

I looked at an old story about the Burns St. Commons, from 2012: “The North Missoula Community Development Corp. calculates the subsidy per unit at $27,070 to $33,220.”

At the time, the subsidy amount was roughly half what other communities were spending per unit, or $50,000, according to NMCDC.

By that measure, the $19,000 a pop for Sweetgrass is a good deal.

The upshot? The Old Sawmill District finally has affordable housing, a longtime goal of a lot of city leaders. The … down shot? Affordable housing still seems to happen in a willy-nilly fashion, and the amount of subsidy a project should get isn’t clear.

– Keila Szpaller


Algonquin, public schools, UM’s tiny share of land trust $$

foiaI’m not just saying this: The Missoulian has had some great stories lately.

Also, if you need a warm fuzzy, read this sweet letter to the editor about dads in Missoula.

The advice at left is from our new white board. It’s from one of my colleagues, and an excellent tip.

Newsy stories not to miss?

Someone spilled the beans on the amount of money The Carlyle Group wants for Mountain Water Co. Read all about it in this story by reporter Martin Kidston.

It’s $200 million!. Algonquin CEO Ian Robertson shared the “confidential information” on an investor call, according to the story. Why? Maybe because his investors are wondering if the three companies Algonquin is trying to buy, including Mountain, are really worth $327 million.

They’re roughly the same size as each other, and one just got appraised at $45.5 million. Huh. Hmm. Is someone bluffing on value? Are the parties using vastly different methods of calculating worth?

And who leaked the confidential number to Robertson?

One more? Missoula County Public Schools are making an unprecedented ask for money this fall, some $158 million in all. The ducks appear to be flapping about instead of lined up in a row.

A location for Cold Springs is up in the air, flap flap, per this story from reporter Dillon Kato.

Missoula County Public Schools will not have a location selected for a new Cold Springs Elementary School before voters are asked whether to pass an $88 million elementary bond that includes replacing the school.

And the schools aren’t scoring many points by recommending an architectural firm out of Great Falls for the bid. Seven out of the nine firms that applied are based in Missoula.

Here’s Kent Means, a partner at MMW Architects, in the story, also by Kato:

I was surprised that they chose an out-of-town firm with no local architecture representative.

The administrators recommended the firm in Great Falls, and the trustees will take up the decision tonight. Should be an interesting conversation.

Lastly? Decisions made more than 100 years ago mean the University of Montana is getting the shaft when it comes to income from land held in trust for education.

Example? UM didn’t even get a 10th of the income from renewables compared to MSU, some $264,000 in income for Missoula compared to $3 million for Bozeman.

That’s my story here. UM President Royce Engstrom is looking into whether change is possible. But it doesn’t seem likely.

– Keila Szpaller


Harlan Wells, Jack Rowan finalists in Ward 2

Harlan Wells and Jack Rowan are the finalists in Ward 2.

They have different visions, so that’s good for voters in the general election. Here’s Wells, pictured above, on his win in reporter Martin Kidston’s story:

A lot of people had a lot of hope that the fiscal conservative message would appeal to the voters, and it did.

Councilman Adam Hertz isn’t seeking re-election.

Wells received 752 votes, the most. Rowan got 347, candidate Anita Green, took in 211, and candidate Aylinn Inmon won 169.

Green has already has pledged to back Rowan. Inmon is asking more questions before giving either finalist support.

If they both back Rowan, it looks like it might be a good race. But the primary turnout wasn’t inspiring, according to numbers in my colleague’s story:

Roughly 4,810 ballots were issued in the Ward 2 primary and 1,487 were returned.

All for now.

– Keila Szpaller

Jack Rowan only Ward 2 candidate to show for forum


The Missoula Downtown Association held a candidate forum Tuesday for city council hopefuls, and only one out of four candidates in Ward 2 showed up.

Jack Rowan answered questions at the forum, and you can read all about it in this story by Martin Kidston.

Reasons not to to ditch? There’s a primary next week. Ellen Buchanan was asking questions there. She’s the head of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, and they do lots of big projects in the city.

Free buses were on the agenda, and they’re “free” because various organizations contribute. If you’re running for the Missoula City Council, don’t you want to tell people you think the city support for Mountain Line is awesome … or a waste?

Other candidates who showed up were Ward 1’s Bill Murray and Heidi West; Ward 3’s Gwen Jones; and Ward 4’s John DiBari.

All for now.

– Keila Szpaller

Warning sign? Or hate speech? Sign raises alarm at UM.


I saw this sign posted Thursday on a kiosk outside Main Hall at the University of Montana.

It definitely caught my eye, and I sent a picture out on Twitter.

Soon after, vice president of integrated communications Peggy Kuhr called and said the sign had been removed because it could fall into the category of hate speech.

She also said the Title IX office had been alerted and campus police would be as well.

Kuhr said she did not want the sign posted on Twitter: “The key here is that we take special care not to disseminate hateful speech.”

She also said UM was going to look for similar signs on campus and take any others down.

“It’s distressing, and it’s taken seriously,” Kuhr said.

I don’t know if it’s hate speech, or of it’s a campaign warning women. I hypothesized that a woman who had been attacked in the past posted the sign, but I don’t know the source.

UM had, in the past, a rape problem. Missoulian reporter Gwen Florio brought the problem to light several years ago, Jon Krakauer wrote a book about it this year, and he said the problem was prevalent on campuses across the country.

By many accounts, UM has gone to great lengths to raise awareness about sexual violence and even take measures to create a culture that protects women.

I think the sign shows the issue is still fresh for some people on campus. Regardless, it was an interesting thing to run across, and so I shared it.

I’ve shared pictures of farmers market veggies on campus, and the tasty lunch from the taco truck at the oval, and no doubt, I’ll be sending out some pictures that are maddening to officials.

I hope it all gives people a window into the Missoula campus. It’s a cool place, sign or no sign.

– Keila Szpaller

Stacy Rye will be good for media

Photo editor Kurt Wilson captured the look on Stacy Rye’s face. I think it’s happiness and surprise all at the same time.

In September, Rye will be sworn in as a county commissioner, replacing Bill Carey. Carey is retiring before the end of his term.

Sometimes, I think process is a sham, and deciders have already made a decision before the process follows its course. In this case, my faith in process was restored a tiny bit.

Early on, Commissioner Jean Curtiss talked about selecting a candidate to replace Carey. She didn’t mention Rye by name, but she said the job differs from city government, and she said commissioners don’t represent just one city ward.

Rye served on the Missoula City Council for eight years, and the comments definitely seemed like a direct notice to the former councilwoman.

I figured the remarks meant she wouldn’t be voting for Rye.

I figured wrong. Curtiss and Commissioner Cola Rowley had to reach consensus on the appointment, and they did on the first try after multiple candidate interviews and at least one questionnaire.

Here’s the comment Curtiss made in Martin Kidston’s story:

(Rye) is the one who is the most ready on Day 1. She has served as an elected official for eight years, has experience with public policy, has knowledge of local government and understands the challenges of the (agricultural) policy.

Also running were Shantelle Gaynor, a longtime county employee, and Jim Parker, who runs campaigns for Democratic candidates.

As a reporter, I’m glad Rye got the job.

Candidates often pledge transparency and media access while they’re campaigning, and once they’ve won, they batten down the hatches. Or cry about coverage. Or throw tantrums. But I digress.

I covered City Hall when Rye was a councilwoman, and I’m pleased someone who talks to media got the commissioner job. I know Rye didn’t like at least some of my City Hall coverage, but she never shied away from talking with the Missoulian.

Gaynor also has a track record of being available to press, and I believe she would have continued to communicate with reporters as well had she been appointed.

In other news, I’ve continued to cover the departures of the state medical examiners. Here’s a story about a family who was told the wrong cause of death for their child by a pathologist the state retained for years despite his problematic track record.

All for now.

– Keila Szpaller


Commissioner will choose from Rye, Gaynor and Parker

Here’s Martin Kidston’s most recent story about replacing Commissioner Bill Carey, who retires in September.

The candidates who made the cut are Stacy Rye, Shantelle Gaynor, and Jim Parker. Rye and Gaynor plan to run in 2016; Parker would serve as a placeholder if selected.

In the story:

In the voting tally, Rye led the pack with 18 votes. Parker received 12, Gaynor five, (Fred) Rice three and (Burt) Caldwell two.

Commissioners Jean Curtiss and Cola Rowley will have to decide if they want to give a candidate a leg up, and choose Gaynor or Rye, or if they want a placeholder.

I think Martin has more coming up.

– Keila Szpaller

Learn about the Missoula commissioner candidates

Reporter Martin Kidston has the latest on the candidates who filed to replace Commissioner Bill Carey when he retires in September. That story here.

The two gals have some deep experience in local government: That’s Shantelle Gaynor and Stacy Rye.

If either of them get the job, it’ll be an all-female commission. Not the first time, but the first time in a while.

The other candidates are Burt Caldwell, Jim Parker and Fred Rice. You can find links to their responses to the Missoula County Democrats’ questionnaire with the story.

Also. Don’t get too close to bison. Or chase fires. Or pet grizzly bears.

Brett French of the Billings Gazette took the photo.

– Keila Szpaller