A ribbon-cutting for a machine?

Well, maybe some fanfare for a machine is alright ’cause it could be a lot to celebrate.

Streets superintendent Brian Hensel said he’s putting in a request to buy one of those fancy machines that grinds up asphalt for potholes. Remember?

It takes in broken up chunks of asphalt and melts them into pothole fill. I don’t remember what it’s called.

During the pothole outbreak this year, Bozeman loaned Missoula its, err, asphalterizer because nothing else seemed to work here. The roads were like Swiss cheese.

Hensel said he’s going to write up an order for Missoula to buy one of its own. If he gets a green light, the asphalt-eater should get here in three or four months.

Councilwoman Lyn Hellegaard said maybe the city could do a ribbon cutting ceremony for the machine. She was probably half joking ’cause, you know, Missoula does a lot of ribbon cuttings.

But if the pot-obliterator means the roads will look more like smooth slabs of Gouda than Swiss cheese, it’d be the ribbon cutting event of the century.

Yep, hungry over here. I don’t remember how much it costs, but I’ll be on that story like, well, cheddar on a pile of Old Post nachos.

— Keila Szpaller

Tuesday: Reading suggestions

I’m reading “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union,” by Michael Chabon. A friend of mine is a huge Chabon fan, and I haven’t read any of his books, so I told my friend to make a recommendation.

I like the story, but all the Yiddish is driving me nuts. I have to keep a bookmark in the glossary in the back of the book. Shtetl. Noz. Shtarker.

Momzer. I’ll admit I like that one. Yiddish for bastard.

But here’s the point. As soon as I’m done, I’m going to read “The Ripple Effect,” about the future of freshwater on this planet. I was just talking on the phone with Councilman Jason Wiener for another story about the sale of Mountain Water, and I mentioned I thought it’d be interesting to try to get the author, Alex Prud’homme, on the phone for a Q&A after I read the book.

Wiener said a Public Works Committee discussion is scheduled on the pending sale and on the possibility of city ownership. It’s 1 p.m. Wednesday, August 10. Super. Wiener is one of many folks who have been commenting on Councilman Bob Jaffe’s listserv, and you should read those posts, too, if you’re a Missoulian.

More reading suggestions? If you can’t make that meeting, read the minutes so you know what your councilors, the mayor and people from Mountain Water and the Public Service Commission are thinking.

Another topic? Ross Best is pushing the council on that quorum rule he doesn’t like. He made some information requests in an email, pasted below. I’m playing phone tag with the city attorney about when the city will respond.

I think Best and and the city attorney consider each other momzers, figuratively. I could be wrong.

Well, that’s my update. If you have reading suggestions, post away.

Below: Email from Best.

Continue reading

“Like” the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office

I think it’s pretty cool the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office is on FaceBook.

I just hit  “like” so updates will come through my feed. Here’s a sample of information the Sheriff’s Office is reporting on FB:

Missoula County Sheriff’s Office MCSO took several recent reports of theft of belongings from motor vehicles. In all the cases, victims had left valuables in their UNLOCKED vehicles. Missoula is a great place to live but please lock your vehicles.

They’re also fielding questions from people. One man wondered if it’s against the law to put blue LED lights on a street bike. (What a responsible citizen.)

Here’s the answer:

Hi Kevin, You should only have amber colored lights on the front or sides of a vehicle and red on the rear. Lights under the vehicle (ground effects) are okay as long as you are in the parked position. No driving down the road with them on. Hope this helps!
I like how conversational the posts are. It looks like the author is detective Jason Johnson.
Maybe the Missoula Police Department will start up a page, too. In this story about the county’s page, reporter Gwen Florio notes that the Billings Police Department has one. And we can take Billings.
— Keila Szpaller

But Ross is right!

So city attorney Jim Nugent described citizen activist Ross Best as “an obstructionist,” and one reader objects in this letter to the editor.

Here’s Jim Habeck, who took umbrage at Nugent’s characterization:

It was Ross Best who researched out-of-state land laws and discovered that the University of Montana’s attempt to sell its Fort Missoula acres to the Divot Co. to build hundreds of homes surrounding the golf courses at the fort was illegal. Ross Best discovered that such a decision was in the hands of the State Land Board composed of the state’s top five elected officials. That board voted against this deal and as a result of Ross Best’s efforts we still have Fort Missoula mostly undeveloped as a regional open space park.

Here’s where Best raised a concern about the legality of one of the Missoula City Council rules. It’s not the first time he’s mentioned this one to council.

Sometimes I wish I was a lawyer because I think I would know the answers then. Naturally, that’s a pipe dream since attorneys themselves interpret things differently all the time.

But here’s the thing with this rule. Even if Nugent is right and Best is wrong about the implications of the rule, I wonder if it’s any skin off the council’s nose to clarify it anyway. Just in case.

That’d be out of character for the body as a whole, though. It’d take dash of humility, and they seem more likely to be dismissive of someone who suggests they are wrong.

— Keila Szpaller

County commissioners scale back meetings

In this story, the Missoula Board of County Commissioners cuts down public meetings from weekly to every other week.

In the past, tons of subdivision work warranted the weekly gatherings. But these days, that kind of thing has slowed down. And chief administrative officer Dale Bickell said it doesn’t make sense to do all the prep work, such as agenda printing and equipment set up, for meetings that aren’t full.

“There are just a lot fewer agenda items recently, and they’d been canceling a lot of meetings lately,” Bickell said in the story.

I think it was nearly a full year ago that Mayor John Engen suggested the Missoula City Council do something similar. Maybe meet every other week instead of every Monday night, or skip the third meeting of the month because it doesn’t have public hearings.

I’m not sure how much money goes into set up and recording, but it’s really clear the amount of money that goes into staff time is huge. Every biggest bigwig in City Hall sits through that meeting. CAO, attorney, finance director, communications director, mayor. It’s a pretty penny if you add up all the salaries.

I haven’t seen the idea to cut down council meetings come up on any agenda, though. Things seem pretty busy right now, but maybe this fall they’ll consider scaling back.

— Keila Szpaller

P.S. If you’re posting anonymously, I’m not approving the comments. (And thanks, Chuck.) FYI, “wrongfully convicted.”

Poverello Center: Thanks, but no thanks

I just got off the phone with Poverello Center acting director Eran Fowler.

I asked her about other locations that have come up for the Pov, and she said her phone has been ringing quite a bit from people in town who are trying to sell their homes.

“My home has been on the market for three years,” someone will tell her. “It’s seven bedrooms. Do you think it’s big enough?”

Maybe, maybe not. But there are other considerations. Fowler mentions zoning, and after listening a while, people tell her the deal just might not work. And they are probably correct.

It’s a little funny to think of trying to sell a neighborhood house to the Poverello, but it also sounds like another sign the real estate market is far from booming.

And this reminds me … there is some appealing property for sale as far as the city of Missoula is concerned. It’s flood plain land the city wants to buy for $1.5 million.

— Keila Szpaller

Councilman “Rasta” Strohmaier: Get beyond cliches

Even some folks who really like Councilman Dave Strohmaier don’t think he’s got a shot for the U.S. House of Representatives. The historian and writer is confident of the 2012 election, though.

“I’m just not seeing it,” Strohamier said of the skepticism. “What makes either of the two other (Democratic) candidates or the Republican somehow a shoo-in?”

Here’s the latest on all the candidates from bureau reporter Chuck Johnson. Other Dems in the race are Kim Gillan of Billings and Franke Wilmer of Bozeman. The GOP has Steve Daines in the race. John Abarr also is running as a Republican, but the  Great Falls man used to organize for the Ku Klux Klan, once wanted to deport “non-whites,” and has been rejected before by the Montana Republican Party for being a racist.

Side note: If you’re one of my relatives reading this post or you’re not from Montana, these posts are nonfiction.

Plenty of folks didn’t think U.S. Sen. Jon Tester had a chance at ousting Republican Sen. Conrad Burns, but then one scandal tainted the Democratic opponent, and the Abramoff story later helped burn Burns.

So maybe a scandal will save Strohmaier, a graduate of Yale Divinity School who represents Ward 1 on the Council. He’s a candidate from Missoula, and that means his appeal elsewhere automatically will be tainted, although he disagrees. And jokes about it.

“I shaved off my dreadlocks for the campaign,” Strohmaier said joked a couple weeks ago.

Want to see his before and after pictures?* Here you go:



Continue reading