The Flaming Scissors Award

Scissors cut through red tape, and here, Missoula Red Tape is giving Missoula Police Lt. Scott Brodie its first-ever flaming scissors award. This week, a troubled citizen called me about some cat trouble she had in her neighborhood. She said a cop had showed up right away when she called and investigated, and I wanted to find out how his walk through her neighborhood had gone. That officer was out, but one of his superiors, Lt. Brodie, sat on the phone with me and searched I think a thousand different ways for the report. (Seems like it’s a pretty cumbersome system over there.) I think he searched by her name, her guy’s name, the dates, maybe even the address. Anyway, those guys are busy and he spent some time digging around. He found the report, but for me that was icing on the cake. The Montana Constitution promises open government, but it can’t ban all bureaucrats. Brodie was the bureaucrat antithesis. Open government in practice? Check, star, smiley face. (Flaming scissors wouldn’t be cause for demotion, right? Related story is here* and comments at the end are wild.)

On the red tape side, we aren’t handing out any awards. But another citizen called about the city budget — Why is it not filed in Helena yet? Are more changes in the works? (Watch for a story in tomorrow’s paper, next year!) — and I called the city finance director. Brentt Ramharter has always answered my questions, sent me excel spreadsheets, explained tricky finance terms, taken calls on vacation, listened to me read back explanations to make sure they’re accurate, etc. Wednesday, though, he plumb hung up on me when I asked about the budget. (What?! Shock and awe. ) Well, we all have bad days. In any case, 2009 better bring some good days or I’ll have to sic Monte on him, the bear who takes no prisoners. “I just bent her down and gave her hell,” he said about Paula Abdul in a story here.* … And fun times were had by all. Happy New Year.

— Keila Szpaller

Who are you calling fat?

Is OPG over-staffed? That’s one thing Jane Rectenwald said in a recent op-ed *, and OPG director Roger Millar counters in this letter*. This criticism surfaces periodically. (I wrote about it in August here*.) The gist of it is the planning office in Billings does twice the work with half the people and in half the time. Or something like that. Missoula does have more staff — and the flip side is the people in Billings point to Missoula as the model. Millar looked at staff comparisons here* and evaluated fees here*. (I’m going to start *ing the items with links ’cause I guess the bold font doesn’t show up well all the time. I’m sure there’s a high-tech solution but this is my temporary low-tech one.)

— Keila Szpaller

Let it snow and more

Highway Girl and other folks at 4&20 stayed on a roll through last week — and I took a break from Red Tape and cooked and skied. The conversation again is turning to local news coverage, and Highway Girl is asking for more in-depth analysis. (From me? Really? Did you have to single me out, Highway Girl?? I’m busy and Crazy Canyon is so much fun right now.) Actually, I appreciate the concrete request. It comes at a good time — I’m thinking about what to tackle in 2009. Topics? Please weigh in.

Those of you volunteering to be editors? Have a go. Here’s some stories on my list. You rank ’em. Ask questions about them. Tell me to scrap them. Tell me they’re better told a month from now for whatever reason. Tell me to keep it short because it’s news but boring. Obviously, my real boss trumps everyone else, but let’s see how this exercise plays out. Anyway, here we go, in no order, and excuse the rough write-ups.

— Retail is way overprojected in Missoula — Downtown Master Plan consultants say we’re planning for 50 percent? 100 percent? (I forget) more retail than Missoula can support. (Nationwide problem, too.) So we have plans for all these little shops at the Sawmill District, West Broadway area, and existing shops. Where’s this stuff actually going to go? And who decides? And haven’t we actually lost retail lately? What role does MRA play?

–Oh, and that’s another one. A look at MRA’s board. They’re powerful. They make huge decisions for Missoula. I don’t think they have an elected person on board, but could be wrong. They don’t have a council representative. Anyway, who are those folks? How have they guided growth, development, redevelopment in Missoula?

— The sign at Sentinel — Councilor Jon Wilkins says it’s going to be so big, it’ll look like “a drive-in theater.” And because it’s on school property, no one else has a say in how the sign looks. Supposedly. Interesting? A short piece, I think, since I just wrote about signs.

— Steenberg retires. His last day in Dec. 31 and we’ve got to say goodbye to the fire chief.

— Lights on the Orange Street bridge. They’ve been out for a good two years. Why? Who can turn them back on? Why haven’t they?

— WVE has a new director. Brief.

— How are the city and county preparing to get some of that public works infusion? Jesse at the Indy beat me to the punch here but I need to get a story out about this sometime too.

— A question I have — maybe it’ll be just a blog post — but Kalispell and Billings are capturing methane. Helena is saving $$ using methane. Why are we still just burning it off here. I feel like every couple years, someone talks about actually using it here, and UM is sometimes mentioned, but it doesn’t happen. It might just be a case of municipally owned stuff v. privately owned. Anyway.

— A fun story, I think — Fact check Jane Rectenwald’s op-ed. And, for fairness, fact check a pro-zoning rewrite op-ed. This idea came up because OPG director Roger Millar disputed one of Rectenwald’s figures in her opinion piece. (I’ll put Millar’s info up in a separate post.) I like this idea more and more as I think about it.

— A look at how technology has enriched civic engagement. A ton of people subscribe to Councilman Bob Jaffe’s listserv, for starters. There’s Missoulapolis, 4&20, Shakespeare, which posts about books but occasionally also about local government. Also, who’s left out? If you’re an old codger who gets tripped up on a computer, are you left behind? Sorry to be ageist.

— The city of Missoula gets sued about half as often as the other biggish cities in MT, but it’s paid out more $$ in the last couple years. Why? And how does the county stand?

— More on the zoning rewrite. I wrote this story because I think it’s important people know a minority — and disgruntled — voice is, while maybe not driving, at least having a big say in the agenda — and also the consequence. I wrote about the sign ordinance. But there’s a lot more to say. Holler if there’s a zoning topic you think should rise to the top of the list.

— There’s more. Just got off a call about cats getting shot in the lower Rattlesnake. Sounds not so nice. But the list of stories is lengthy and always growing, so I’ll leave it at that for now and await any responses.

— Keila Szpaller

Clarity, finally

The Missoula City Council deals with plenty of nuances, so what relief to find some certainty, even if it’s a bit far afield from city matters. This on Monday from Ward 5 Councilwoman Renee Mitchell: “We’re in for a white Christmas. That’s one thing I’m not in doubt about at all.”

— Keila Szpaller

Russell comments updated

Gregg Wood, at the Public Works Department, updated the Russell draft EIS comments so attachments come through. Missoulian super tech Anne reposted them here. (If you read the comments, you may have come across 10 that had attachments you couldn’t open. Problem solved.)

— Keila Szpaller


Bullet points are handy. This round: snow trucks, sidewalks, and the cat hearing.

*Snow trucks: A resident of Heritage Way in the Rattlesnake called this morning to report a lot of expensive equipment taking a long time to do minor snow work on a cul-de-sac needing even less attention. The man wondered why some of the six-person crew, dump trucks, snow blowers and other trucks couldn’t head into town. He said his road has no traffic, hardly any snow, and it dead ends.

*Julie Merritt announced the approval of the Franklin to the Fort sidewalk project. She said in an e-mail the Public Works Committee unanimously approved it. Using CDBG money for this kind of project is pretty unusual and pretty cool, according to one source.

*A hearing on the cat ordinance has moved. It’s now scheduled for Jan. 12. Actually, as City Clerk Marty Rehbein says, “Cats and dogs on the 12th.” The pooch issues include leashing near trailheads. The cat issue is setting a limit for the number of cats people can have in city limits. The proposed limit is five. There wasn’t a limit before, but shelters are overrun.

— Keila Szpaller

UPDATE: Ode to the Griz.

Author of the Itsy Bitsy Spider Griz-version, Mike Clark, spent a little more than an hour redoing the lyrics to the popular nursery rhyme. Clark, a 1984 graduate of Stevensville High School, is a science fiction writer working on his debut novel from Missoula. No wonder Clark came up with such clever Griz lyrics in a short amount of time. He’s a wordsmith.

Ode to the Griz

Apparently there is more than one Griz fan that wasted little time funneling their creative energy and school spirit into modifying Christmas poems/nursery rhymes in advance of the big national championship game Friday. Here’s a taste of their work. The first is a remake of the Itsy Bitsy Spider, and the other of Twas the Night Before Christmas.

If there’re others out there (as I’m sure there are), please post here or email me at: Let’s start a Griz poem collection!

The itsy bitsy spiders run a down and out

Along come the Griz, and wipe the spiders out

Ref spots the ball, a down without a gain

And the itsy bitsy spiders give up the ball again

The Montana Grizzlies run a deep post route

All the Grizzly fans begin to scream and shout.

Montana throws deep, across the goal line plane

And the Montana Grizzlies have scored six points again.

The itsy bitsy spiders do the ‘Nooga shout

Along come the Griz, and wipe the spiders out

All in Finley Stadium, they feel the spiders’ pain

Oh itsy bitsy spiders, don’t come back again!

The Montana Grizzlies, what are we all about?

All the Grizzly fans begin to scream and shout:

We are the Grizzlies and Monte is our main

And the Montana Grizzlies are National Champs again.

Michael John Clark, Missoula

Twas the week before playoffs

And all through the state,
Griz Nation was ready
We knew it’d be great!

First up Texas State and
Griz fans would not worry.
31 to 13
Skinned dem Cats in a hurry.

With a smug attitude
The Wildcats came flaunting
Our seismic North End Zone
Their players were taunting.

But once was enough
And redemption at hand
Weber got spanked
Now ain’t vengeance grand

Of the Dukes they all said
“They’re the best in the land,”
Redemption round two
Just as we planned.

Special Teams were excited
Showing grit and some gristle
Our defense ignited
And launched the Butte missile.

A pick and a swat
From a corner named Swink
On 4th down and 20
Duke’s hopes he did sink.

Bring on the Spiders ,
The Grizzlies don’t care
We’ve got Chase Reynolds
Who runs like a wild-hare

Mariani , Ferriter
Pfaler and Beaudin
Our feared air attack
Will soon be explodin’!

Now on-Quinn, now on-Horn,
And don’t forget Dow
On Hillesland, on Dyk,
Bring it O-line Kapow!

When all are covered
with a juke and twist
He carries the rock
Our mighty Cole Bergquist.

Too many great players
To name in a poem
But at Finley Stadium
All Grizzlies will roam.

Under Friday night lights
Our fans have a wish
The Grizzlies will find
Some Spiders to squish

We’re ready and willing
And can’t hardly wait
The players, the coaches
This game could be fate.

You’ve practiced, you’ve sweated,
You’ve worked the whole season
The Championship Game
Is the one single reason.

So Santa is here
To offer a toast
To the Montana Grizzlies
The team we love most.

To all of our coaches
in this season of light
Merry Grizmas to all
And to all a good Brody McKnight


So many stories, so little time. Here’s some tidbits on buses, a subversive ornament hanging on that Bitterroot Christmas tree, a complaint filed against the OPG director, the sign ordinance, and more.

* Councilwoman Pam Walzer was right: Riding the bus IS great. At Monday’s council meeting, the Ward 2 councilwoman praised the buses. She said a rider could get around, stay warm and read the newspaper all at the same time. Shazzam! And it happened just that way for me both Tuesday and Wednesday when I ventured a Mountain Line ride for the first (and second) time. The bummer was trying to get information online about all the times the bus goes past “my” stop, but a man on the phone helped. And it all worked out. I stood close to the sign to make sure the bus driver wouldn’t mistake me for someone loitering near Ole’s. I triple-checked the sign to make sure it was the bus sign and not some plaque resembling a bus sign. I asked the bus driver for a transfer to bus 6 and — Shazzam 2! — he said my bus turned into bus 6. On the bus, I recognized a man who’d crossed my mind just days earlier. I’d read that some Seattle artist made an ornament for the White House Christmas tree that called for Bush’s impeachment in teeny tiny letters. The people in charge decided it’d be too hard to find the ornament so evidently it’s still hanging. It reminded me of the time a Missoula artist was asked to send a piece over to the Governor’s Mansion back in Gov. Judy Martz’s day and he sent vases covered in vermiculite (the benign kind, but making his point). And on the bus, there was Steve Thorstenson, the potter, a Missoula guy from Libby. (And warm and reading the paper, just like Walzer had said.) So I told him I’d thought of him when I read about the Seattle artist. He said it was too late to impeach Bush. I asked what he was working on, and he said he actually has 40 different species of birds he makes now. That’s a lot. The whole thing made me wonder if anyone has sent subversive art Schweitzer’s way. A bolo tie would be a good canvas. (Guv: Why is it blank? Artist: Why, it’s not blank. That’s a nice picture of clean coal there, sir.) Anyway, at my stop, the bus driver pointed out the return bus stop for me without my asking, which was nice even though I was in a car on the way home. Today, he told me to stay sitting down until he stopped so I wouldn’t fly through the windshield and ruin his holiday. It’d ruin mine, too, so I thanked him. The buses I’ve taken haven’t been “eyeballs only” as the Mountain Line general manager has described so there’s plenty more room for others to be warm and ride around feeling like they’re in the big city.

*Jane Rectenwald, former local government study commission member, isn’t happy with the director of OPG and filed a complaint against him. She commented at last Wednesday’s zoning meeting and said — and I paraphrase — OPG director Roger Millar tried to muzzle her and scare her from coming to other meetings. “I don’t know what it was he was so angry about. I didn’t think I was rude. I thought I was just straightforward,” Rectenwald said. Some folks weren’t happy with her at the meeting either and said she’d spoken out of turn. Here’s a complaint she filed with the mayor and county commissioners against Millar. A copy of her testimony at the zoning meeting follows. Mayor John Engen said — and again, I paraphrase — Millar is one thousand percent awesome. “Roger Millar is the last person I can think of who would try to stifle public comment, democracy or participation,” Engen said. He figured Millar might have been frustrated, though. Life would be easier if all we had to complain about was fruitcake. Does anyone even give that stuff away anymore?

*Council guys Strohmaier and Jaffe want to give the sign ordinance an overhaul so it deals with the flashier signs. This from a memo: “They (the newer signs) are capable of many new display techniques that can be particularly distracting acccording to complainants. As well, some of these signs appear to be inappropriate for some locations where they detract from neighborhood character, contribute to light pollution, distract driver attention causing safety hazards, or generally meet the intent of the City Sign Ordinance.” Watch for a public hearing.

*Also, Eric Andersen commented on a story I wrote about the weather and de-icer. He said I’m Bob Giordano’s mouthpiece. Well, as folks who attend meetings know, Giordano speaks for himself quite well. Me, I was curious to know if one of the city’s most ardent bike advocates had finally been forced into a car by the weather. And he wasn’t. He actually liked it and even likened it to skiing. It’s crazy, and I wonder if the cops can pull him over and ticket him for riding in weather that’s too cold. Maybe a judge can sentence Giordano to a short trip in a warm, roomy Hummer, just to see what happens. (Or trip on a BUS! He could be warm, catch up on his reading …) Uh,  maybe the court could even loan his bike to MDT director Jim Lynch next time it’s this cold, just to shake things up some. (So, Biker Bob, Lynch says the wool pants are too warm but can he keep your balaclava?) Stay safe out there, all.

— Keila Szpaller