The mayor’s “Chippers”

I wasn’t sure this week if Mayor John Engen was joking when he mentioned the chocolate-covered potato chips his North Dakota relatives brought him.

Well, this picture arrived from the mayor last night as proof, along with a brief note.


“I didn’t know these existed,” Mayor Engen wrote in an email. “Tracy and I are afraid to open them for fear of developing another sweet-savory addiction.”

If you look closely, you can see the box comes from Fargo. Are these “chippers” supposed to be like the pile coming out of the wood chipper in the famous “Fargo” movie scene?

So many questions, these potato chips raise. Perhaps the mayor will report back and let us know how the chippers taste once he and his wife set sail on this mid-western culinary conquest.

— Keila Szpaller

No more council meetings?

Well, maybe no more weekly council meetings. A council that meets every other week is one idea Mayor John Engen said he’s going to pitch to the group as part of a penny pinching plan.

It’d save some money, and maybe even some hot air, although no details on the amounts just yet. Maybe it’s savings in energy or salaries or something else or lots of things.

The councilors themselves would have to approve the deal, and it’d take at least eight of them. The City Charter says this: “The City Council shall establish rules by which it will carry out its business, including the setting of regular meetings.”

Some of the citizen regulars probably won’t like this plan, but maybe they can go to Sean Kelly’s next door on the off weeks. Bet they could win some of those pub trivia games. In any case, off the cuff, the idea Engen mentioned Wednesday at a Budget Committee of the Whole meeting didn’t strike a couple councilors as totally absurd.

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Money, money money … must be funny

Today, Mayor John Engen releases his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year. Sounds like it’s smaller than last year’s budget, continuing the trend lately of shrinking city coffers.

The tax increase? Union contracts? Possible wage freezes? Fuel costs? Um … status of a new cop shop? Still on hold? Maybe that one would be better after The Best Place Project pays off and we’re all living in a rich man’s world.

— Keila Szpaller

“Absolutely not handsome”

That was Councilman Dave Strohmaier’s conclusion a couple weeks ago on ExxonMobil’s super-sized mobiles. No beauty pageant tiara for you, big rigs.

Strohmaier offered the trucks the big fat zero — like an “O” for obese — on May 10 when the Missoula City Council took up a resolution urging the Montana Department of Transportation to do an in-depth environmental review.

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High and Wide … but Handsome?

So remember I said I’d tell you something about Stephen King?

I found the phrase “high, wide and handsome” in his book “The Shining.” At the time, I wondered if it was a more common phrase than I thought, but my book club gals said it’s not too common. So I started thinking it really might be a tribute to Montana and Joseph Kinsey Howard’s quintessential Big Sky book, “Montana: High, Wide and Handsome.”

You probably already know this, but King based the Overlook Hotel on Many Glacier Lodge, in Glacier National Park. Even the fire hose that chases the boy in the book exists in one hallway of the Glacier hotel. Once I learned those bits, I decided the “high, wide and handsome” phrase was definitely an allusion. It can’t be just coincidence, right? (Does anyone know him? If you do, would you ask him? And report back? Thanks.)

High and Wide also is the term given to the route those supersize-mobiles Imperial Oil-Exxon wants to use. (I haven’t heard anyone out there call them handsome, though.)

Last week,  Councilman Jason Wiener grilled Montana Department of Transportation director Jim Lynch in Council Chambers.

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Goodbye, Crystal Video

Last January when Tim Huffman announced the closure of Crystal Video, the end of the Hip Strip shop never came about.

A dedicated customer convinced Huffman to take another look at the books to see if there was anything else he could do, and Huffman carried on more than one year.

This week’s news isn’t a surprise, but it’s still one big bummer. The Crystal really is closing, and this time, I suspect it will be for good.

Here’s a note that came Sunday night from Jace Laasko, who owned the Crystal for years:

It is with great sadness that I announce the closing of Crystal Video. It has been an institution in Missoula for over 23 years, first as part of Crystal Theatre and then on its own since 1997. Its collection of unique international and independent films on tape and DVD has kept it afloat while other video businesses have come and gone.

Unfortunately the economy and the increased competition from numerous sources such as on-line movies, Netflicks and cable has caught up with Crystal Video. This has made it very difficult to continue operating as a small local business.

On Friday, May 14 at 1 PM, this incredible collection of videos and all assets, furniture and fixtures will go on sale.  The sale will continue through two weekends and if necessary, a third weekend culminating on Sunday, May 23.

To all our dedicated customers, we thank you for your support and love of great film.

— Keila Szpaller

Cluck cluck!


Fun Fridays are back. Remember?

The chicken debate is brewing in Great Falls, and what could be more fun than that? Great Falls Tribune reporter Richard Ecke has this story about a hen “squabble” with “exiled” chickens in the Electric City, and it may sound vaguely familiar.

Question: What do you get if you cross urban chickens with the Electric City? Answer: Fried chicken.

The photo above is of a souvenir I kept from the great chicken debates in Missoula. It’s a letter dated August 29, 2007. Nearly three years, and no reports of fowl cannibalism in city limits have wafted to Animal Control yet. (Seen Food Inc., though? It happens when those birds don’t have enough leg room.)

The man who sent the letter would go to Missoula City Council meetings in a chicken suit, and his note had tiny plastic rubber chickens taped all over. Plus the rubber chicken keyring, which you can see.

Evidently, the problem in Missoula, albeit a small one, isn’t the lack of leg room, but sometimes too much. The latest chicken report in Missoula is this, today from Animal Control’s Ed Franceschina:

— Number of permits issued: 50 (That means 300 maximum chickens)

— Number of complaints this year: Seven, including the following: three reports of injured chickens; one report of a roaming hen (See? Too much room to roam); one in an open yard; and one apparently crowing “chicken.” Uh-oh.

Franceschina said he’s gotten calls from people in Great Falls and even Canada asking how Missoula’s fowl law is working out.

“A lot of places want to become Meccas for chickens,” Franceschina said.

He said he doesn’t live next to chickens, but from an Animal Control point of view, seven calls in five months this year is a sleeper of an issue.

“It’s just not a big deal,” he said.

Now, with the crowing rooster in mind, and because substitutions can work out nicely, I pulled up an old recipe for Butter Chicken with curry and garlic and herbs and ginger.

More fun later, with Stephen King. Honest.

— Keila Szpaller

Speedy on the beatie

That’s cops for you. They’re quick this year on the panhandling calls in the downtown when they show up, according to data from the Office of Emergency Services.

In case you missed it, there’s a lot to show up for, especially in Hell’s Alley.

Here’s a closer look at the data. First, it’s only a record of hostile panhandling calls and not other yucky downtown activities. Second, it’s January through April this year. Third, it’s this area: the Clark Fork River to the tracks, and Orange Street to Eastgate, plus the Safeway and Toole Avenue pocket.

There’s 32 calls on the list. Cops didn’t turn up to four of them, and Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir said the reasons range. Some calls get canceled ’cause the problem goes away. Other times, cops are busy with harder crimes.

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Hell’s Alley

That’s the unofficial name of the alley where Johnny Joe Belmarez was beat to death last month. So learned Bob Snodgrass, owner of Bob’s Sew Vac & Janitorial.

Murder, of course, is the worst of the goings on in an alley, even one called “Hell’s Alley.” Snodgrass, who is fed up with downtown and poking around other possible neighborhoods, started keeping a log of other distasteful things he and his employees witness there at the rear entrance of the shop on Broadway.

(I heard it was a “blog,” as in, Bob’s Log = Blog, but Snodgrass said that wasn’t the case. He’s calling it a “lob,” ’cause he’s “lobbing” the reports to city officials.)

Here’s the log. More from Snodgrass on Thursday in a story my editors are improving upon this very second. As for the log, it includes drug sales in the alley; five people sleeping in the alley ’til police disrupted the slumber party; more drug sales; more sleeping.

— Keila Szpaller

That’s what I want to know

I’m back and have scrubbed spam from Red Tape. Man, those dermatologists are persistent with their links. Must be a slow time for people who treat pimples.

Anyway, as you know, the cops want to be able to police in the county, and that idea is still pending. One question Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir addressed during this week’s council meeting is why, with arguably too few police as it is, they want to take on a bigger jurisdiction.

“This is not about stretching out the resources of the MPD. Folks, we know that we all already have too much to do,” Muir said. “We are simply saying that we don’t want to drive past problems that are occurring and causing people to be harmed. Police officers outside their legal jurisdiction are nothing more than highly visible, well-equipped, well-trained citizens.”

That’s only if there isn’t anything else going on in the city, though, right? Otherwise, won’t the crimes that are low priorities in the city now fall even further down the list?

Reporter Rob Chaney touched on some questions in today’s story about a fence going up across from the Sha-Ron fishing access:

Missoula police have authority to make arrests for criminal behavior there, but can’t patrol it for open-container violations or disorderly conduct. The Missoula City Council is exploring options that would expand police presence there. But there is plenty of opposition to increased city influence that might lead to annexation. And there’s the tricky issue of city police spending tax dollars supervising county territory.

So, does the county even want the help? And if so, would there be some kind of agreement where the county reimburses the city for — I don’t know — hours spent, or crimes averted (five stopped cold in their tracks! Yes!!), or arrests made, or scoldings given, or open containers closed, in their jurisdiction?

— Keila Szpaller