The silly season

Check out the lineup of political heavyweights slated to show up at the new Black Bridge in West Riverside-Milltown on Monday: Senators Max Baucus and John Tester. Gov. Brian Schweitzer. A representative from Denny Rehberg’s office. Attorney General Mike McGrath.

All but Tester and Rehberg’s rep are on the ballot in the general election the next day. They’ll be there to help dedicate the county-owned pedestrian bridge, which was closed before the Milltown Dam was taken out in March and has since been replaced with a single-truss span that won’t be undermined by the changing river current.

“When we were talking about having this, it was like, maybe we should have the governor come,” Dale Bickell, the county’s CAO, said this week. “It grew disproportionately all of a sudden. I think it’s just kind of the silly season.”

Like the Black Bridge, the Highway 200 bridge 100 yards downstream was closed for repairs last winter. It’s already open for business, though not completely finished. Cars were directed back onto the highway bridge on Tuesday morning – without a single political candidate in sight.

— Kim Briggeman

Being frugal

To refill the city’s depleted reserves, Mayor John Engen asked department heads to find 3.7 percent worth of savings in their current budgets. The goal was to make up $1.7 million in savings. Here’s the list of who cut how much so far. Departments found $1.5 million total but some cut even more than they were asked. The following departments went the extra dollar: H.R. by $1,600, City Clerk by $9 (hey, every penny counts), I.T. by $2,000, Finance Department by $25,172, and Parks by $2,252. Also, here’s a letter of explanation from the mayor.

— Keila Szpaller

Gotchya

I kinda feel bad for the poor lad who just called my cell phone encouraging me to vote for Monica Lindeen for state auditor. I mean, how was he supposed to know I’m a reporter who would take enjoyment in messing with him?

The number pops up 000-000-0000 on my cell phone. The connection is scratchy. The voice on the other end sounds robotic and keeps mispronouncing the candidate’s last name. He gives the rehearsed speech —to paraphrase: Lindeen will fight for me while in office — without (amazingly!) taking even a single breath. Then he asks, “So can we count on your vote for Monica Lindeen?” I immediately think, who is “we?” At that point I decide to test the guy’s knowledge of his candidate.

“What party is she affiliated with?” I ask.
Pause.
“Democrat,” he replies.
“And where is she from again?” I ask.
“Montana,” he replies.
“I know, Montana. But where?” I prey.
Long pause. (The answer’s apparently not on his fact sheet.)
“I don’t know. I don’t even live in Montana,” said the voice on the other end of the phone.
“You don’t? Where do you live?” I ask, pretending to sound shocked.
“Minnesota.”
“Are you voting for Monica Lindeen?” I ask.
No answer.
“Can you even vote in Montana?” I ask.
“No,” he replies.

I thank him for his call. At least he’s not calling from Romania…

Digging out?

This morning in committee, Ward 5 Councilman Dick Haines said he figured the mayor was going to discuss some budget troubles Wednesday afternoon. At the time, Parks and Rec Director Donna Gaukler was giving the Conservation Committee an update on Parks, and Haines asked her if she was looking at any cuts. She said the mayor had asked department heads to present cost saving measures to him and the Finance director, and they’d done so. Stay tuned.

— Keila Szpaller

Everybody eats meat

Nosiree Bob, that Roy Brown is NOT a vegetarian. Thank you very much. And Barack Obama? He does too eat hot dogs. Sometimes. And in the latest ode to the presidential candidate who has Sen. John McCain trailing, Montanans are doing a Montana version of the cocktail party. Montanans are eating meat this week, and specifically, leftover game. The Obama camp has hunters and fishers cooking up elk enchiladas, duck and goose sausage, elk burgers, pheasant stroganoff and a bunch of other fare that surely crops up on White House menus all the time. Not coincidentally, the campaign kicked off the event Monday, which would have been Teddy Roosevelt’s 150th birthday. Bet the Roosevelt Republicans wish they’d thought of that one.

— Keila Szpaller

Frey and McAlpin both losing (and Frey goes to the dump)

They’re both losing campaign signs, said Linda Frey. Frey, a Republican, is trying to unseat Democrat incumbent Dave McAlpin in HD 94. In a recent conversation, Frey said she’d lost 30 signs, including two huge ones. The thieves even stole rebar, she said: “You know, rebar doesn’t blow away. Now this is a major problem.” She’d heard McAlpin had lost a few signs too. She’s looked for hers even at the dump and was feeling kind of grouchy about their loss. “We’re running campaigns on shoestring budgets. This is disheartening.”

— Keila Szpaller

Message

A pair of Wednesday derailments

So folks from Montana Rail Link talked with the Public Safety and Health Committee on Wednesday morning. A derailment in Missoula earlier in the year prompted the meeting and — whoops — MRL announced Wednesday an early morning derailment near Plains. The cars were carrying grain and 19 were on the ground, according to an MRL spokeswoman. MRL talked about its safety standards and improvements to its record until Ward 3 Councilman Bob Jaffe, er, derailed the prepared presentation and steered the talk back to why trains were still tipping in Missoula. Committee Chairman Dave Strohmaier said he hopes to see MRL back to answer more questions.

— Keila Szpaller

Paying for Poo

Even with a proposed increase in sewer fees, Missoulians will pay the lowest rates in Montana for getting rid of you-know-what. That’s according a city official. But people already are saying they don’t wanna pay more. City Clerk Marty Rehbein forwarded some letters she’s received. Here’s one, two, three and four. Weigh in Nov. 3 with the Missoula City Council.

— Keila Szpaller

Hodgepodge

1. Mayor John Engen said Monday during a Committee of the Whole meeting that he was still helping the Poverello Center look for a place to house its day center. The task was bigger than expected and taking longer, too.

2. On Orange Street, what a difference a shave makes. Some nasty ridges in the bike lane on the corner of Front Street used to rattle coffee cups and force riders to choose between a rock — the mountainous ridges — or the hard place — the swiftly moving car lane. Someone smoothed over the ridges, and on his listserv Ward 3 Councilman Bob Jaffe credits Brian Hensel in the city Streets Division.

3. The economy isn’t being kind to the Missoula Housing Authority. Meeting minutes have the interim director saying financial obligations are weighing heavily on the organization. Also, Lori Davidson recently said the agency’s property in Stevensville looks like it’ll go on sale. In Stevensville, real estate isn’t moving quickly at all, according to OPG.

— Keila Szpaller