Marilyn Marler Likes Dogs

The thing is, the Ward 6 councilwoman also likes deer, grouse, ground squirrels and baby bunnies. Marler, a natural areas specialist with the University of Montana, said the Missoula City Council vote Monday to preserve the leash law on the North Hills and Mount Jumbo has some people thinking she doesn’t like pooches AND that she somehow tried to quietly sneak something through the Council. In fact, Marler was the councilor who requested a public hearing on the matter. She also said the vote needs to be properly characterized. It wasn’t a change in the rules. Rather, the 7-5 vote preserves the status quo — on the books, leashes are required on conservation lands. (The Parks and Rec director has said the decision changes the way the department has been doing management and public education.)

Marler, among the majority in favor of a stringent leash law, said some people have asked the council to repeal or reconsider the vote, but that might be confusing. So she said she and maybe some others have asked the mayor to veto the law so there’s a clean slate.

She contacted me to ask that the council’s decision be properly couched as preserving the current rules and not as a change of law. I, in turn, was eager to ask her why off leash, Allen the dog would be such a nuisance to deer. Hypothetically, of course. If — hypothetically — he once in a long while took off after a deer, he’s so big and slow that there’s no danger he’d catch anything. Plus, it’s not like he’d be after a rarity, like a bald eagle or the queen of England.

Marler explained, and apparently without undergoing cardiac arrest. Even if a dog isn’t ever going to catch a deer, his racing along behind it stresses the deer out. And a dog that once in a long while chases a deer is probably chasing other animals, too. That includes ground squirrels, which means the dog is maybe digging up holes, too. And she said it includes baby bunnies: “Everybody loves baby bunnies.” The impacts on the deer might seem mild, but Marler said they’re cumulative. She said not all dogs, but some dogs, interfere with people’s use of open space, like runners who nearly trip over them.

Marler said she agrees people need places to let their dogs run off leash. She does feel like dogs are family members, but she also said she’s going to be more protective of wildlife than some other folks. (She’s definitely more protective than one of my former coworkers who lives outside Great Falls and refers to deer as “farm fleas.”) Basically, Marler wants Missoulians to tread lightly on conservation lands.

“There’s so many of us and so little space for wild animals that I really do think we need to consider that.”

— Keila Szpaller

Two weeks

Repeal the leash law. That’s the aim of Facebook group that kicked off after the Missoula City Council said ‘no’ to an ordinance designed to allow people to legally do what they’re already doing — walk their dogs off leash on Jumbo and the North Hills. The Council voted 7-5 this week for a stringent leash rule instead, turning a recommendation from Parks and Rec and the Health Department on its head. If you have a Facebook account, you can get to that page here.*

The Missoula City Council was leaning that direction earlier*, but the move took some folks by surprise. You can read about the rationale for a stronger rule in “Open Spaces in Three Parts” below. If the Council is to backtrack, it needs to do so within its next two meetings, according to a city official.

Monday, several council members spoke in favor of letting dogs roam in the hills. Folks who want to undo the rule — or make sure it stands — might contact Ward 3 Councilwoman Stacy Rye, SRye@ci.missoula.mt.us. At the meeting, she said she didn’t have a horse in the race and could be convinced either way. She ended up voting in favor of leashes. Ward 1 Councilman Jason Wiener, among the minority who supported the “voice restraint” proposal, said he didn’t want to legislate for worst case scenarios. And Ward 2 Councilman John Hendrickson, also in favor of the voice control rule, said big dogs need their exercise.

— Keila Szpaller

Open Spaces in Three Parts

Part I. The stringent leash rule the Missoula City Council put in place will be difficult to enforce and goes against the public’s wishes, according to Parks and Rec and the Health Department. In 2006, those departments solicited public comment and heard people wanted places in town where they could let their dogs run free. Department officials wanted people to do a better job of leashing their dogs in town, so a deal of sorts emerged. Leash up in town — and let your dogs roam free in the hills. Since then, people have been more willing to comply with the leash rules in the city, according to Parks and Rec. The new rule is going to crimp their style. “It changes all the education and all the outreach,” said Parks and Rec director Donna Gaukler. The rule also means an estimated 30 new signs, said the department’s Morgan Valliant.

Council members who support the rule say it protects wildlife and people. Ward 6 Councilwoman Marilyn Marler said people only think their dogs are behaving under “voice restraint.” Marler spends a lot of time on conservation lands — it’s part of her job — and said she frequently sees dogs chasing wildlife. Ward 5 Councilwoman Renee Mitchell said the city needs a rule at least so people know where the buck stops when there’s doggie entanglements in the hills.

Part 2. Open calendars? So U.S. Sen. Jon Tester has earned all kinds of kudos for opening up his calendar to the public. Wanna see what your local folks are up to? County commissioners send out their weekly schedule and post it online. Council committee meetings are posted online, too, an agenda for each Wednesday. But what about the city’s top dog? Mayor John Engen said he likes sunshine and talked about opening up his calendar when he first took office. He worries that it changes so fast, people will expect to see him at some meeting that’s already changed on his schedule. But he said some gatherings are the same from week to week, and he could probably post the standard items. Anyone can call and ask about his whereabouts, too. Said Engen: “I’m happy to be open.”

Part 3. Some open spaces are getting filled. The pothole patchers are already at work this spring, filling in the broken roads. The holes seem to be breaking open earlier this year. Merry spring, I suppose.

— Keila Szpaller

Woof!

Remember this face? This dog’s picture appeared in the Missoulian, prompting a flurry of phone calls to the pound. My guy wanted to visit the pooch, and when we got there, we learned Sandy had been adopted. Yes, we wanted to see him anyway, and Animal Control’s Barbara Parker introduced us to the quiet fellow. The proud new owner of the wiry-haired pup? Mayor John Engen, Parker said. I immediately left the mayor probably the sappiest voicemail he’s ever gotten, especially from a reporter. (“What a cutie!! Congratulations!!! So adorable!!!” Things you don’t say about the budget or Hillview Way.) Today, an email from the mayor arrived in my inbox with the picture at left and this subject line: “Odie on his day bed.” (OMG. Odie. Too precious.)

“Good morning, Keila.

We’ve renamed Sandy in honor of a childhood neighbor. He’s a sweet, shockingly shy boy, but he gets better every day.

Thanks for your call last week.” Well, that was Friday’s exchange. On Monday’s calendar? A conversation with the mayor about, ahem, stimulus money for Missoula. Sounds like bringing some of it here will be a tough go, but I think the first question will be something like … um … how’s Odie?

— Keila Szpaller

Blowing the whistle on coffee

Are city employees taking road trips with government cars? Probably not because vehicle maintenance superintendent Jack Stucky likely would have a complete cow. The city of San Francisco shares that kind of thing in its annual Whistleblower Report. Road rage leads to “disciplinary action,”  and beating on another employee can get you fired. Complete with cartoons, it notes the complaints, findings, and outcomes. Sample here.* Missoula chief administrative officer said the city here doesn’t have such a report. The mayor’s office investigates complaints: “Most of those are service type complaints but we have gotten questions about vehicle use or coffee breaks,” wrote Bender in an e-mail.

— Keila Szpaller

Jobs

The manager of the Missoula Job Service served up good news and bad to the A&F Committee. That was Wednesday, and here’s the story.* Also, handouts from the meeting: 1. Job Service tasks*, 2. Job orders and placements*, and 3. Monthly walk-in traffic.* (Click on the *starred* items.)

Some of the good news: Sen. Baucus helped get more money for retraining into the federal stimulus bill. Also, the Job Service placement is 100 percent for people who do get retrained at places like the COT, said manager Wolf Ametsbichler. He said retraining works as long as people train for skills in a different industry. Otherwise, they  can just end up getting laid off again.

Ametsbichler said the traffic count at the Job Service jumped around November when the economy fell off a cliff.

“It was a very, very drastic break with what we had before,” he said.

People with Ph.D.s are seeking jobs, too. Six to nine months ago, businesses were almost desperate to find bodies for jobs, Ametsbichler said. Now, employers are taking the cream of the crop. Most jobs require someone have at least some college education or be skilled in a trade.

Ametsbichler also said people who get laid off need to file for unemployment since they’ve been paying into it, just like they pay into car insurance. In other words, forget the stigma.

“It’s a right that you have,” he said.

He also said the Job Service isn’t the unemployment office, a common misconception.

The last three or four months, wages haven’t gone up around here.

Councilman Dave Strohmaier had invited the Job Service to present, and he asked if it was time to revive a long-dormant economic development subcommittee.

— Keila Szpaller

Wait. There’s more.

Eager for some of Joe Gorsh’s famous chicken-fried steaks, this driver took a little-used shortcut to the Gorsh front door at 4511 Hillview Way. (Just kidding.)

Here’s another photo and email from Gorsh. (Lightened by Missoulian designer Ken Barnedt for your viewing pleasure.) Again, Gorsh is a resident who wants the road rebuilt but didn’t think the earlier SID was fair and opposed it.

“This car came over the wall in front of our front door @ 9:45pm, 1/7/09 (note lamp post on right).  The police called a wrecker to lift it off of the wall.  The one last year was about ten feet to the left, and the one a couple of years ago came down on the other side of the lamp post.”

— Keila Szpaller