Missoula bridges ace and flunk inspections

I like that little Maclay Bridge, and the way people wait for each other to drive over one at a time in each direction. It reminds me that we’re still friendly and not in a constant rush around here.

I like seeing who is hanging out on the riverbanks below, too. Maybe a family with their feet in the water, or a blue heron, or someone fishing even in frigid weather.

The bridge doesn’t get good grades when it comes to “sufficiency,” though, and the Madison Street Bridge doesn’t either. At the same time, they’re safe and sound, according to the Montana Department of Transportation.

Here’s the inspection reports mentioned in the story:



Higgins Avenue.

Reserve over Broadway.

Reserve over the Clark Fork.

Orange Street.

The railroad overpass at Orange Street is the one city officials have had concerns about, and Montana Rail Link takes care of that structure. An MRL spokewoman said the company takes care of necessary fixes, but maintenance records are not available to the public.

— Keila Szpaller

Missoula readies to protect farmland

Missoulian reporters Kim Briggeman and Gwen Florio were on my beat yesterday! Woot! Well, actually beats overlap, but here’s their reports.

Briggeman notes in this story “an unlikely coalition” that presented some ideas on saving agricultural land to the Missoula City Council and Board of County Commissioners. One leader sums it up:

“The message I hope you take away today,” said Paul Hubbard of the Community Food Agriculture Coalition of Missoula County, “is that now is the time to act. Missoula County still has a critical mass of farm and ranch lands to pass on an agricultural legacy that is rich.”

Also in city business, Councilman Dave Strohmaier is going to take another whack at his social host ordinance and then see if it can finally get to the floor for a public hearing.

Eight in the morning is a little early for a philosophical discussion. But that’s what a Missoula City Council committee meeting sounded like at times on Wednesday as councilors focused on the meaning of “knowledge.”

Oh, and lest I forget, here’s one of two final pet pictures in the pet parade. Were you having withdrawals? Well, I can’t wait for next year’s glamor shots.


This one is from Keith Blackwell, who recently lost one of his kitties to the Great Beyond.

“We got a new cat this week to keep our other cat company,” wrote Blackwell on the 14th “Here he is, Chaz … adopted from the pound. He’s a long-hair, about nine months old.

“His hair was a bit matted and filthy, so we had him groomed. This is the famous ‘Lion’ hair style popular with cats today.  He seems to like it, and is quite adorable.”

Thanks for sending the happy ending!

— Keila Szpaller

Missoulian streams State of the State address

schweitzer mugThe Missoulian is live-streaming Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s state of the state address.

That’s 7 tonight. Wear your bolo tie.

Last night, the state of the union speech went over well with folks paying attention to transportation, according to T4America, or Transportation for America.

In a news release, a Missoula T4 partner offered this reaction:

“I was particularly pleased to hear the President connect transportation with economic growth and town-center development,” said John Horner, board president of the Missoula Downtown Association. “We need to plan and fund all transportation modes, including public transportation, biking and walking, as well as road maintenance if we are to continue to have an economically healthy and vibrant downtown. I hope to see the President’s call to action reflected in the next federal transportation bill.”

Also, T4 American director James Corless shared this reaction:

In response to Tuesday’s State of the Union address, Transportation for America Director James Corless issued the following statement:

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Missoula mayor releases “best practices” on reg review

Mayor John Engen released today a “best practices” report on the way Missoula should oversee development regs. This note from his introduction:

A recurring theme during the course of nearly a decade in public office is simple: our reviews take too much time, we are inconsistent, we don’t communicate well inside and outside of City Hall, we don’t work at finding solutions or coming to resolution, we are regulators, not facilitators.

In some cases, those criticisms are exaggerated, but generally they are consistent, persistent and fair.  They’ve been expressed by reasonable folks and confirmed now by three reports: the Mullen Report, the National Community Development Services Report and, now, the Taylor report.

Each of them says we could get better. I think we should try; it’s as simple as that.

More on the recommendations in another story.

Yesterday, I was in Helena tailing around John MacDonald, the lobbyist for the city of Missoula. He climbs lots of stairs — 28 flights in one day, once — and delves into lots of legislation — 19 yesterday by a rough count.

Since I was gone, I missed the swearing in of Cynthia Wolken, and reporter Jamie Kelly covered the ceremony in this story. Yay! Ward 2 has a full house of councilors! Yay! Councilwoman Pam Walzer doesn’t have to be the only Ward 2’er!!

Anyway, while I was in Helena, I saw Rep. Kristin Hansen, who has a draft request for a bill that would nullify Missoula’s anti-discrimination ordinance.

She hadn’t responded to calls for comment, so I was able to follow up with her in person. Hansen said she read the story and doesn’t have much to add until an actual bill is drafted. She said a couple Constitutional questions are being researched as well.

It seems if a bill is going to come up, it’ll still be a while. I don’t know how many days before transmittal a draft must emerge to be viable, but maybe you do and will share.

Happy Wednesday.

— Keila Szpaller

Councilor Strohmaier takes another shot

Councilman Dave Strohmaier is taking another shot this week at a “social host” ordinance. Here’s his latest draft.

(If you can’t open the file, shoot me an email and I’ll send you text. keila.szpaller@missoulian.com.)

Last time, the idea didn’t go over well with some other members of the Missoula City Council. One even used the phrase “nanny state,” if memory serves. To try to gain some support, Strohmaier made some adjustments to the draft.

We’ll see Wednesday if this version will be more palatable. The general idea is to hold adults accountable when underagers under their supervision are drinking. The ordinance is tentatively on the docket in Council Chambers for 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Perhaps we’ll get to see a new Ward 2 councilor in action then, too. The council makes its pick tonight to replace Roy Houseman, and if schedules allow, city clerk Marty Rehbein would like that person to be sworn in Tuesday and ready to work Wednesday.

— Keila Szpaller

Flurry of letters back Furshong for Ward 2

Did you see all the letters for Gabriel Furshong today?

The Missoula City Council will make a pick for Ward 2 on Monday. Should be fun!

Before we get to the letters, though, I have to follow up on the pothole patching. I used the Report a Pothole link on the city website to report two potholes one morning this week.

Guess what? I drove over both of them later that same night and both were patched. One was a crater at the Russell and Third Streets intersection, and probably everyone reported that one.

But the others were a couple on North Second Street West, more out of the way, and they also were filled in. City communications director Ginny Merriam said the ones on Greenough were fixed too.

“It’s been just scary, and this morning it’s wonderful,” Merriam said (some morning this week but I can’t remember which). “They have been just working really hard. I admire them.”

Thanks, pothole patchers and Streets SUPERintendent Brian Hensel! Be careful out there and don’t lose any crew members down those holes.

Well, back to letters for Furshong. Today was his day on our letters page, that’s for sure.

Here’s one from Mike Schaedel.

Here’s another from Robert Saldin and an excerpt:

Balancing one’s commitment to important causes with an eagerness to engage and find common cause with apparent opponents is a tough task. Furshong does this better than anyone I know. If appointed to the City Council, Furshong would be a progressive but sensible and tempered public servant who would make Missoula proud.

And another one, also full of pride, from Leslie and Phillip Mullette.

See you at a meeting.

— Keila Szpaller

Mountain Line goes high tech; more on the anti-anti bill

Mountain Line general manager Michael Tree took the wheel in November and he’s pushing technology onto the buses. If you missed that story, it’s here.

One thing he wants to do is add a tracking technology to the buses so people can get arrival times sent to their phones and track them on the computer.

In an e-mail about the technology, Tree pointed to a site, NextBus, that offers more information about the systems and links to other transit agencies using them.

Other reputable firms also will provide Mountain Line with proposals, Tree said.

On another front, I got this note from Matt Singer about the bill being drafted to knock down Missoula’s anti-discrimination ordinance and stop similar ones in other communities:

I’m not really sure how it could pass Constitutional muster:


“Romer v. Evans517 U.S. 620 (1996), is a United States Supreme Court case dealing with civil rights and state laws. The Court gave its ruling on May 20, 1996 against an amendment to the Colorado state constitution that would have prevented any city, town or county in the state from taking any legislative, executive, or judicial action to recognize gay and lesbian citizens as a Protected class.”

Singer said he isn’t a lawyer but the decision seems relevant.

If a draft emerges, we’ll check in with the lawyer folks and get their read.

— Keila Szpaller

Missoula Ward 2 candidates are on the home stretch

Councilwoman Stacy Rye has noted the wealth of applicants for the Ward 2 seat, and yesterday’s interviews made it even more clear the choice is anything but.

What a wallop of energy and experience and smarts in that room. Around the corner in City Hall, city clerk Marty Rehbein and her people have been busy with all the paperwork that goes into these rituals.

Rehbein sent links to the candidate’s written responses. If you see something you find notable, please post it in a comment. (With your real first and last names, please.) I haven’t read these yet.

Myrton Charney

Gabriel Furshong

Adam Hertz

W. Jordan Hess

Matthew Lowy

Patrick Maddison

Miles McCarvel

Nancy Wilson

Cynthia Wolken

As you may have seen, Wolken gets another nod of support in today’s letters to the editor. Her collection of them is growing, and she plans to run for the Missoula City Council whether appointed or not.

Furshong also gets accolades in today’s letters. This one is from Jeremy Smith:

The open seat has attracted several worthy candidates. None, though, will do more to maintain and build on the values that make Missoula special. And I know Gabe Furshong and his supporters will work tirelessly to guarantee not just his re-election, but those of other like-minded councilors.

On another note, yesterday, 4&20 Blackbirds posted the salaries of Mountain Water’s parent company, Park Water. Ross Keogh forwarded the filing with this note:

The Mountain Water salaries are subject to a district court proceeding in MT, and will not be released unless the court finds favorably.  MT Water has represented that about a 1/3 of the salary expenses are assigned to Montana Customers.

Coming soon: More on new technology coming soon to Mountain Line! A final pet picture! (Or two!) How the Ward 2 candidate gets selected Monday night!

I hear someone is bringing popcorn to Council Chambers. Nice.

— Keila Szpaller

Missoula anti-discrimination ordinance could be under fire in Helena

Missoula completed today interviews for Ward 2 candidates, and if you want to listen to the exchanges yourself, check out the audio link here.

Both the candidates Roy Houseman supports interviewed today. Cynthia Wolken, one of them, also forwarded an email about a possible move in Helena to “invalidate” the anti-discrimination ordinance Missoula adopted.

Wolken is chairwoman of the Montana Human Rights Network board of directors and executive board member of the Missoula County Democrats. She forwarded this note:

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Cynthia Wolken <cynthia.wolken@gmail.com>
Date: Tue, Jan 18, 2011 at 4:10 PM
Subject: Legislative attack on Missoula’s anti-discrimination ordinance
To: mso-dems-e-board@googlegroups.com


Rep. Kristen Hansen (R-Havre) has been working with Dallas Erickson on a bill that would prohibit – and invalidate – local anti-discrimination ordinances in Montana.  Because this bill is still in the drafting process, there is no substantive language yet (I’ve spoken to the drafter, who provided me with general information).  Obviously, there are more questions than answers at this point regarding the substance, breadth, and legality of the bill.  It doesn’t look like we will get draft language in the next week, which means any hearing is pretty far out.  At this point, we just need to alert folks to its existence – I will continue monitoring it and pass along information as it comes.  If you are tracking it in LAWS, draft information can be found here:


Jason – since this will restrict all counties from similar ordinances, I would strongly urge the County Chairs to put this on their conference call agenda.  Missoula’s lobbyist should also be on top of this.  I will be working with ally groups such as the ACLU, MHRN, and Dem. Women’s Caucus on this legislation.

Please let me know if you have any questions.


Cynthia L. Wolken, Esq.

This bill could be great for whatever bus companies run from Missoula to Helena. I imagine quite a crowd would show up at the Capitol for any hearings.

— Keila Szpaller

Pothole outbreak hits Missoula early

potholeSomeone tried to tell me yesterday the potholes aren’t worse this year. Well, phooey. I’m thinking about installing a flotation device under my driver seat.

You could swim laps and spy on China in those holes. Maybe develop a whole new sport, like underwater cycling.

As drivers wobble and jerk along the streets, city crews work “around the clock” to fill the craters. The irksome thing this year is the pothole patches aren’t lasting.

“I think this year we’ve had more trouble with getting the pothole patch to last for more than a couple days,” said Brian Hensel, city streets division superintendent.

Missoulian photo editor Kurt Wilson shot the photo above. Here’s another picture at 4&20 Blackbirds, where problembear recounts the disappearance of  Le Petit Outre truck, possibly down a pothole. I hope it wasn’t carrying the sourdough baguettes.

A few years ago, the city purchased a software program that was supposed to allow people to name a problem — like the gargantuan crater at the intersection of Russell and Third Streets — and track the fix.

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