Report from Missoula police chief is today

Missoula Police Department Chief Mark Muir talks today with a Missoula City Council committee about how police handle rape investigations.

Reporter Betsy Cohen will be reporting live into a feed on Missoulian.com. It’s called “Scribble,” and if you head to our main page, it should be listed as the main story of the day.

We’re using #Missoularapes as the hashtag.

If you want to listen live, go to this link (thanks, City Clerk Marty Rehbein):  http://www.mcat.org/MCAT_ch11_stream.php

Councilman Jon Wilkins is the chairman of the Public Safety and Health Committee, and he scheduled four hours for the meeting about rape investigations. I don’t think it will take that long, but we’ll see.

See you there.

— Keila Szpaller

I <3 Allegiant

Do you know what the down side is of living in Missoula?

There isn’t one anymore. Not for me.

Well, I exaggerate, but today, Allegiant announced, finally, finally, that it’s at long, long last, flying to the San Francisco Bay Area.

That’s great news. It means direct flights, and it means cheap flights.

My family lives there, and so far, a good ticket has been in the $350 range.

I’ve driven to Spokane, Wash., in the wee, wee hours of the morning to get on a Southwest flight. I’ve wasted time waiting for a connection in Salt Lake City when San Francisco and San Jose are just a little ways away.

So, I bought some tickets today. Don’t tell my mom. I’m surprising her for her birthday in May. Then, I’m going back for another birthday.

I know that sounds over the top, but let’s just say one of my one-way tickets cost $19. Yeah.

So I know Missoula still has down sides. Like a lack of great jobs that pay great salaries. But there was a little bit of good news on that front this week, too.

Here’s that story, 25 jobs coming to Missoula over the next two years with an average salary of $35,000.

So back to Allegiant, yes, I know there’s a downside to flying into Oakland, and the flights are limited. But I’m in a Pollyanna mood right now, I’m sticking with it for at least the next 12 hours, so you can find complaints elsewhere.

For the time being.

Yay Allegiant!

— Keila Szpaller

The buck stops where?

The Missoula Police Department is reviewing an estimated 50 sexual assaults from the last two years to collect data and make sure the cases were properly closed.

The department re-opened two cases as of the latest report and gives a full account Wednesday to the Missoula City Council Public Safety and Health Committee. Chief Mark Muir cautioned that outcomes in those cases could be the same even though investigators are taking more steps.

After that story Sunday, a couple licensed clinical psychologists commended Councilwoman Cynthia Wolken in a letter for her “commitment to investigate crimes against women, including cases of rape.” I’m sure that goes for rapes against men, too.

In the letter, Drs. Frances Buck and William Hahnstadt ask the Missoula County Attorney’s Office to take a hard look at its work responding to these crimes as well:

Due to the attention, requests for investigations, and hearings now being conducted, it appears that the Chief of Police and the UM administrators are willing to evaluate their organizations’ roles and operations in responding to assaults.  We commend them.  However, the DA’s office should also be a focus of comprehensive review.  No matter what the University or police do, the District Attorney’s office holds the final card in decision making.

As an aside, Muir set a goal to improve data collection on all violent crimes back in August. Recent news about rape in Missoula and the chief’s attempt to gather related data put the project on the front burner.

Here’s a related guest editorial from Councilors Wolken, Caitlin Copple, and Marilyn Marler.

I’ll post in full below the entire letter from the psychologists; it was copied to the Missoulian. It will be clunky, but you’ll be able to read it all, and I don’t have to scan it.

Continue reading

Deputies come bearing handcuffs … and donuts

donutsI am waiting to hear back from seven people, so I thought I’d report a couple things here in the meantime.

1. Do you remember the latest story I wrote about the North Missoula Community Development Corporation? And Councilman Bob Jaffe’s idea to help them out? Well, it involves forgiving a $400,000 loan the city made with Title I funds.

I wasn’t able to reach the grants administrator before the story ran, but I saw her afterward. That’s Cindy Wulfkuhle, in the Office of Planning and Grants. She said the money can be used toward any project for low income folks, and forgiving the loan would totally deplete the account. But she also said she thinks there’s some other ways to help NMCDC without totally depleting the fund.

2. Also, did you know the Missoula County Sheriff’s deputies brought coffee and donuts with them when they went to clear the Occupy Missoula camp yesterday? Check out the pictures on their FaceBook page. I posted one here, with photo credit to the Sheriff’s department.

I don’t know if the guy who got handcuffed got any before he went to jail, but I hope so. I think it’s been at least a year since I’ve had a donut. I’m going to buy donuts soon. Or visit the sheriff’s office.

My phone hasn’t rung yet! Well, I can toss out some papers on my desk, finish reading a study for a story, and do some work on my story list. Ciao for now.

Oh, and if you are in a similar holding pattern and need a break from your current activity, consider emailing a story idea to … keila.szpaller@missoulian.com.

— Keila Szpaller

Statutes-Sleuths-R-US!

mcaSo I’ve written some stories about paying for sidewalks, and one idea is a local option gas tax, but it requires Missoula County commissioners to put the matter on the ballot, AND I hadn’t talked with those folks yet, so today, I did, and some questions came up about what the law allows and requires, so I called City Attorney Jim Nugent a couple times, and he always calls back right away, but he didn’t, so I found out he was gone, and no one else could help me, SO I decided to dive into Montana Code Annotated all ALONE to try to find the statutes and answer my own questions, and I was filled with trepidation because I was looking BLINDLY, and for some reason, after one false start where I found blank pages and an old website, I actually stumbled across the VERY STATUTES I NEEDED TO FIND.

I’m quite pleased.

I thought I’d celebrate with a run-on sentence and a link to MCA Title 7 Chapter 14. Title? LOCAL OPTION MOTOR FUEL EXCISE TAX!

I’m also certain this success is just beginner’s luck, so have a nice time off, Jim Nugent, and then hurry back to the office, please.

— Keila Szpaller

Councilors want to quiz the police chief

Councilwoman Cynthia Wolken wants to ask questions about how the Missoula Police Department treats victims of alleged rape given recent complaints from two women. That story here.

In the story, Councilman Dick Haines wonders if police are somehow hamstrung when it comes to cases tied to the University of Montana.

Haines likened UM calling a judge to investigate rape allegations to a bank calling in a judge if a robber steals its money. The crimes are felonies, and he wants police involved.

“Is the university playing a game by themselves? Do they think they’re above the city?” Haines said.

This morning, Maureen Theiler of Polson called and said the comments from Haines had her wondering about the UM investigation as well.

Theiler said former state Supreme Court Justice Diane Barz, hired to investigate by the UM, is an alum who earned the Distinguished Alumni Award and is active in the School of Law Board of Visitors.

She said if Barz is a good independent thinker, the investigation might work well. But she also said it looks like a conflict of interest.

“My mom used to say, ‘Is that like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank?'” Theiler said.

The final report from Barz isn’t out yet, but she issued a preliminary report saying there’s evidence sexual assaults aren’t reported in the University system.

The recent reports to police don’t appear to be headed to the police commission for review because Missoula police chief Mark Muir said they’re informal “inquiries” and not formal complaints.

I wrote a story a while back about how most local government boards and commissions skew heavily toward men. The police commission of three members is one of the bodies that’s 100 percent men.

Muir said the commission reviews zero to eight complaints each quarter, but it has no complaints to review from recent victims of sexual assault.

Mayor John Engen said he and the chief will help the councilors write the referral, or agenda item, that brings the chief before the council to answer questions.

“I have nothing but faith that we’re doing our best,” Engen said. “If there are ways that we can do it better, we absolutely want to do that. We are but one component of the criminal justice system.”

Muir said police have a track record of being proactive: “We take proactive steps all the time. I’m just not prepared to give you a laundry list of them.”

Yesterday, neither Muir nor Engen could point to specific changes or procedure reviews the administration or police were calling for based on the recent complaints. Muir said he’d fill in the council if that’s what they want, and Engen said the number of complaints is low although he’s open to suggestions.

“Frankly, I am not aware of any complaints today beyond this,” Engen said of the two, and he said people aren’t shy about complaining to the mayor.

— Keila Szpaller

Paying for sidewalks

If you’ve ever paid too much for a sidewalk in Missoula, you should head to the Public Works Committee meeting 2:05 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 11, in Council Chambers. (Time will be confirmed this evening.)

Councilwoman Marilyn Marler is going to share some ideas a subcommittee came up with to make the pricey but popular walking paths more affordable.

I’m most curious about the public’s reaction to a local gas tax that would support sidewalks and possibly trails. Some folks won’t want to pay more, but I bet some people will like the idea that they’d be contributing to clean transportation each time they fill up their gas tanks.

Anyway, head to Council Chambers this week if you want to weigh in on ideas. It’s early in the game, but it’s better to try to steer any decision at this point rather than when it’s up for a public hearing.

— Keila Szpaller

It’s fabulous Friday!

twinglaresHere’s three fun pieces of information for you:

1. Councilwoman Marilyn Marler is shooting to be the next president of the Missoula City Council. Councilman Ed Childers, also of Ward 6, is the current president, but Monday we’ll see if the Council gives Marler a turn.

“My biggest hope is that I can foster better communication among city council members, and I think we have a pretty good council group coming in, so that’s always a good time to start over,” Marler said.

2. I don’t know if you saw the new year’s resolutions we ran in the Booming section, but if not, here’s a link. I got resolutions from Rep. Champ Edmunds, R-Missoula, by email, and the “notice” at the bottom of his note gave me a chuckle.

Usually, they say something like, you should think twice about printing an email because it’s bad for the environment. This one?

“NOTICE: It is okay to print this electronic message. Paper is a plentiful, biodegradable, renewable, recyclable, sustainable product made from trees that provide jobs and income for millions of Americans. Thanks to improved forest management, we have more trees in America today than we had 100 years ago.”

I just might paste that note to my desk and read it every time I print out some report or presentation or other lengthy missive that goes through reams of paper.

Oh, and I heard from Anne Guest of the Missoula Parking Commission about her new year’s resolution, too, but it was too late to include it. You should hear it, though. Guest resolves to do this: “Eat more chocolate.” I’m in total solidarity there.

3. This morning, I ran into Geoff Badenoch at the Break. (Do you know how many times I might be able to write that sentence in a year and have it be true? A lot. Great town.) He pointed me to a blog by author and former Missoula mayor and state legislator Daniel Kemmis called Citizens Uniting. Take a read.

And that picture? That’s Chelsi Moy in the front and me and my chocolate bonbon lamp in the back. K2, Kathleen Kimble, took the shot when Moy and I were talking about another publication taking Missoulian material and not crediting us or linking to our site. K2 titled the shot “Twin Glares.”

I forgot to mention one other thing about Kathleen. If I have some kind of typo on a blog post, I get a text from her post haste, pronto, right away, yesterday. It’s not like it’s her job; she’s just cool that way.

Happy Friday. I’m going to write some stories.

— Keila Szpaller

My biggest hope is that I can foster better comm. Among city council membersn and I thnk we have a pretty good ocuncil group coming in sot aht’s always a good time to start over

I wish it was Saturday!

Why? Not because I want the day off, although I do like me my days off.

Saturdays, I have time to hang out a little more with the newspaper, not just slam it down with my coffee. And today, we had a bunch of awesome stories.

If you haven’t caught up yet and you don’t have lunch plans, make a date with a juicy burger and the Thursday Missoulian. The print edition … but if you can’t wait …

Here’s Jamie Kelly’s story about the evidence mounting against a man accused of rape and other crimes. The jury is deliberating this morning.

Here’s Chuck Johnson’s story about the American Tradition Partnership case likely heading to the U.S. Supreme Court. Read this analysis of the case posted on Truthout. A great quote from the piece:

“The Montana Supreme Court, through this decision, has shown contempt for the overriding law of the land and has thumbed its nose at the United States Supreme Court, which has specifically held that the State of Montana has no interest in prohibiting people who associate together from speaking,” said ATP Executive Director Donald Ferguson.

Here’s my story about the rail yard in Missoula. I think it’s time for some meaty coverage on this topic. First, though, a couple pictures I took yesterday of Lowell Chandler and his dirty hands.

hands

Is it coal dust? Is it other grime? Does anyone care? Yes, but read the story. Sorry, but the picture with Chandler’s face cuts off his head when I load it into WordPress, so I’m not using it.

Oh, also, here’s Kim Briggeman’s story about the Board of County Commissioners banning camping on county lands.

I heard the story on KUFM yesterday, and one of the Occupy people argued that Missoulians would have no idea that Occupy Wall Street existed if it weren’t for campers on the Missoula Courthouse lawn.

Perhaps we can look forward to edifying reenactments of other world events soon.

— Keila Szpaller

Happy 2012!

k2Happy New Year!

I was going to be done sharing tidbits about my colleagues with you by now since the holidays are over, but I happen to have a picture of Kathleen Kimble in a really cute, sparkly hat, so indulge me for just another.

Kathleen, or K2, is one of those people who really cares about local government, so I’m constantly grateful she’s in the newsroom. I just learned that she’s worked here 30 years. Can you believe it?

GADGET FOOTBALLShe’s worked here since reporters smoked cigarettes in the newsroom and used typewriters to write stories. That was a long time ago, and I have to wonder if in all those years K2 has ever brought Gadget the Wonder Dog to the newsroom. He’s her sidekick after work, and he plays football, both offense and defense. But I’ve never seen him!

Anyway, K2 is a news junkie, so she’s full of commentary on coverage and tuned into details when it comes to city government. Guess who is all ears? Yes. The city government reporter.

Kathleen is full of news tips, too, and you can bet that if something is on TV or Twitter that’s not on our website or newspaper and possibly should be, Kathleen will sound the alarm ASAP.

Her actual job is laying out pages, but in her tenure here, she’s also been a receptionist and librarian. Her official titles aren’t the first thing that comes to my mind when I think about Kathleen, though.

You know how we run the Western Montana Lives section on Mondays? Well, I think K2 reads the print edition of the Missoulian from cover to cover, every single obituary included. She clips obits of people she recommends we profile, and she puts them in a folder for us.

We’re on rotation for those features, so when it’s my turn, I’ll go looking for the folder that’s filled with ideas, many of them Kathleen’s. She underlines the interesting bits about them in the obit, and I like how she often picks people who are salt of the earth folks. So maybe someone didn’t win any great prizes, but he had a really great laugh or played the banjo in a band or drove truck all his life.

Anyway, now you’ve met some of the crew here. You can follow a lot us on Twitter, too, and if you want to follow K2, she’s @kathleenmkimble.

Onward and upward, and if Gadget shows up to work one of these days, I’ll let you know!annielaurie

Oh, and I have a bonus round for you here. Last year when I profiled  people’s pets, reader and commenter Ryan Morton shared a picture of his golden retriever, Annie Laurie. He shared another picture of her this year, and in a different haircut to boot. Enjoy.

— Keila Szpaller