Amazing photos from … Council Chambers!

cleaningceilingdistillerySee? I told you I’m having a little problem with Instagram. Click. Click. Click.

I walked into Council Chambers this morning and just shot the gee willikers out of it.

Councilwoman Cynthia Wolken was cleaning out the council workroom, and she found this old T-shirt she was showing Councilman Bob Jaffe. I pretended to be a tourist and asked for a photo.

Weird thing: That’s a CDBG – Community Development Block Grant – T-shirt. Jaffe figured it must’ve been from some conference.

I went to one of the committee meetings ’cause I was curious for an update on the Montgomery Distillery. (Stay tuned!) But another agenda item was first, so I took this lovely picture of the ceiling in Council Chambers while those guys talked about … something else.

I guess some folks thought I was editorializing about how boring the meeting was. Nope, just trigger happy with the camera.

Last picture? The layout of the new micro distillery from architect David Gray in Missoula.

That one doesn’t have an Instagram filter ’cause I wanted you to be able to see the details. It’s not a good picture, but you can still get an idea of how it will look.

Owner Ryan Montgomery said the place is slated to open in May. Can’t wait to try out their vodka, gin and later, whiskey.

If I’m still on this camera kick, I’ll take a bunch of pictures and post ’em here.

— Keila Szpaller

Maynard waits for spring

Maynard Here’s Maynard, one of my neighbor dogs.

I’m still fooling around with Instagram, and Maynard was happy to pose for a quick photo shoot last night before the Council meeting in exchange for a bowl of kibble.

At the meeting, Councilman Dick Haines just reamed the University of Montana for being myopic and failing to see the campus as part of the wider community. Your university is within a residential neighborhood, he said.

That story here.

During public comment, another topic came up that sounds interesting. From the story:

“We the People, Missoula” invited the community to a free lecture 7 p.m. Friday, March 2, by Paul Cienfuegos on “recovering our democracy from corporate rule.” It will be held at the Gallagher Building, Room 123, University of Montana. The group also is holding a weekend workshop called “First Steps on Dismantling Corporate Rule: We the People Are More Powerful than We Dare to Believe.” It costs $100; a sliding scale is possible. It’s 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, March 3, and 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 4. Call Brian Battaglia at (320) 310-7104 for more information or to register or donate.

Susan Stubblefield is the person who announced the lecture and workshop, and when she handed me a flyer, she noted the group “We the People, Missoula,” is an offshoot of “Missoula Water Now,” which formed to try to protect local water and stop the sale of Mountain Water to the Carlyle Group.

Anyway, if you’re already busy and can’t go to the lecture by Paul Cienfuegos, Stubblefield said it will show on MCAT later.

— Keila Szpaller

The North Hills and more weekend wonders

North Hills I’ve walked that loop on the North Hills the last couple weekends, the one that curls down to the homestead and then back up to the old peace sign.

Saturday, a blast of wind almost pushed me and a friend off the ridge, but in the end, it was worth it. I’ve been playing around with Instagram, and here’s one of the pictures I took. I forget the filter in use here, but these hills are such a beautiful piece of Missoula.

Anyway, in case you missed it over the weekend, here’s reporter Gwen Florio’s most recent analysis of the University of Montana’s response to the series of rapes involving UM students.

On another note, this evening, the Missoula City Council is taking up a couple formal steps toward two new ways to pay for sidewalks. It seems pretty clear the ideas will get bright green lights, but I’m pretty interested to hear the comments of councilors as the proposals move forward.

Tweet you there. Ugh, sorry. But that reminds me that I wanted to share a list of Twitter handles for council folks. Not everyone is super active, but here are the ones who have addresses:

@davestrohmaier

@cynthialwolken

@adamhertzmt

@caitlincopple

@edchilders

@marilynformsla

A Twitter handle for Alex Taft is coming soon, I do believe. I’m @keilaszpaller, and unless there’s some big sports thing happening, I’ll tweet about the council meeting from @missoulian as well.

— Keila Szpaller

Blue Skies Campaign rallies against coal

Tayler Eubank, left, and Ally Mueller get ready Sunday to protest coal with the Blue Skies Campaign.

Sunday at the UM Oval, Tayler Eubank, left, and Ally Mueller get ready to protest coal with the Blue Skies Campaign.

Here’s a couple pictures of demonstrators getting ready to march downtown Missoula to protest coal and its transport by train. I’ll add a link to the story once it’s up. *And here it is!

— Keila Szpaller

*Added!

Blue Skies Campaigners Cassie Sheets and Lowell Chandler offer a message to U.S. Rep. Dennis Rehberg, U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, and Wells Fargo Bank.

Blue Skies Campaigners Cassie Sheets and Lowell Chandler offer a message to U.S. Rep. Dennis Rehberg, U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, and Wells Fargo Bank.

If staff members of Montana's delegation to Washington, D.C., aren't in their offices, Blue Skies folks post pictures of their event on the FaceBook pages of the U.S. Senator and Representative.

If staff members of Montana's delegation to Washington, D.C., aren't in their downtown Missoula offices Sunday, Blue Skies folks will post pictures of the event on the legislators' FaceBook pages so they still get the message.

Be an election judge!

Why? Because you get to knit and play Sudoku!

Just kidding. It’s your patriotic duty, according to a couple elections judges who love the work.

Here’s that story. This year, some 600 judges are needed, and the county is 175 short. Call 258-4751 ASAP to help.

As for being short, we were short on space yesterday, so the story got cut. Here’s the rest of it, for your reading pleasure:

And if there’s a shortage, it won’t be because of Lynn Solomon, a “big fan” of being an election judge. Solomon has been a judge for three rounds of elections, and a friend of hers just signed up for the training, too. Elections are significant, and she likes being involved.
“I feel like I’m playing a part. It’s this good mix of fun and sort of service at the same time,” Solomon said.
The social part of it includes seeing neighbors vote, even unknown ones, like the man with the Dalmatian in the blue house, say. Once, Solomon met another judge who was “more Betty White than Betty White,” and she’s bonded over ballots with a woman from Bonner who was her counting partner.
“We don’t have much in common, but by the end of the night, I gave her a hug when I said goodbye,” Solomon said.
She and Sharkey agree it’s a good way to give back to the community, and at least in this case, it brought up the Mansfield memory for Sharkey.
Only one thing he said still stands out for her, though. Sharkey said the Montana Senator talked about having a little child who had an accident sit on his lap: “(Mansfield) said, ‘I’ve been for flood control ever since.’”

And if there’s a shortage (of judges), it won’t be because of Lynn Solomon, a “big fan” of being an election judge. Solomon has been a judge for three rounds of elections, and a friend of hers just signed up for the training, too. Elections are significant, and she likes being involved.

“I feel like I’m playing a part. It’s this good mix of fun and sort of service at the same time,” Solomon said.

The social part of it includes seeing neighbors vote, even unknown ones, like the man with the Dalmatian in the blue house, say. Once, Solomon met another judge who was “more Betty White than Betty White,” and she’s bonded over ballots with a woman from Bonner who was her counting partner.

“We don’t have much in common, but by the end of the night, I gave her a hug when I said goodbye,” Solomon said.

She and Sharkey agree it’s a good way to give back to the community, and at least in this case, it brought up the (Mike) Mansfield memory for Sharkey.

Only one thing he said still stands out for her, though. Sharkey said the Montana Senator talked about having a little child who had an accident sit on his lap: “(Mansfield) said, ‘I’ve been for flood control ever since.’”

— Keila Szpaller

A full house in Council Chambers

scoutsFirst things first: There’s nothing like starting off a Missoula City Council meeting with the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts. Super cute.

Secondly, the loan forgiveness to the North Missoula Community Development Corporation passed, but I didn’t get to hear the whole conversation. I was pretty bummed because I wanted to hear from all the new councilors, but I had to leave before they got hot and heavy into their discussion.

I did, though, hear one encouraging thing that makes me think conservative folks around Missoula should be pleased as punch with Councilor Adam Hertz.

When Hertz, one of the new folks, saw the matter wasn’t going to go back to committee, he pitched an amendment. It shaped the finance deal so that if NMCDC pulls in more money than the plan projects, the city gets to recoup some dollars.

Other councilors agreed, including Councilman Bob Jaffe, who proposed the loan forgiveness.

It was a small but I think important move. In the past, it seems like a lot of hollering came from folks in the minority, but not as much action.

This piece of work might not have any impact on the city budget in the end, but it means that a conservative viewpoint helped shape the final product. Yes, of course it’s very small potatoes for folks who didn’t want any portion of the loan forgiven.

I hope to hear Councilors Caitlin Copple and Mike O’Herron talk about these things in the future, too.

What else? Oh, I am always curious to know how Councilman Jon Wilkins will vote ’cause he seems to be in touch with regular folks. So when I saw he had voted yes to forgiving part of the loan after questioning the sales commission, I wanted to know why.

Wilkins said he never thought those types of homes and the limited number of folks who can get into them were a good idea, but the development in general, with the cooperative grocery store and common space, is positive for Missoula.

“Everything else that’s going on over there that they’ve done have been good things. And I hate to jeopardize the whole dang thing,” Wilkins said.

He also said he was persuaded because $200,000 was supposed to be a grant to NMCDC in the first place. And the city years ago asked it to be a loan instead so another organization could get a grant.

Now, a reversal was on the table. Wilkins said the vote he cast surprised even him: “It shocked me at the end, and I came home thinking, did I do the right thing or did I not? I guess I’m even questioning myself today. But it’s the right thing.”

I’m still curious about other questions coming up about the project, but we’ll leave them for another day.

— Keila Szpaller

More questions about Burns Street Commons

Tonight, the Missoula City Council takes up forgiving a portion of a loan for the Burns Street Commons.

It’s a new council, and I’m pretty interested in the discussion ’cause I don’t feel like I can predict how some of the new folks will vote or the questions they’ll ask. Anticipation!

The deal seems to be raising more and more questions, and of course housing development is complicated to begin with. Here’s a note about the project that I got this weekend from an interested party, and it’ll be interesting to hear the response:

The Burns Street Condo project is being marketed as townhouses.  The listing information on the units states “PER HUD THIS IS NOT A CONDO, IT IS A TOWNHOUSE FOR LENDING PURPOSES.”

However, the basis for this “per HUD” is an email from a staffer of Max Baucus, who no longer works for Baucus … .

The project is legally described as the Burns Street Condominiums, and … zoning or a legal description can’t be changed by an email from some congressman’s staffer.

I also called and emailed HUD and they have no record of this project having a special exemption that overrides its legal description of being a condominium project.

…  I am pretty sure that all the units that have sold, have been sold as townhouses.  This is because financing for condominiums is so difficult until over a certain number have been sold.  But, these “townhouse” sales probably have no legal standing.

That’d be troubling if it’s really the case. Obviously, there’s more to know, and I’m looking forward to the conversation this evening.

— Keila Szpaller

Open government … for open wallets?

If you missed it yesterday, a district judge ruled the state must provide salary data to a private think tank in Bozeman.

In her decision, (District Judge Dorothy) McCarter noted that the Montana Supreme Court has interpreted the public’s right to know broadly, “stressing that all citizens have an absolute right to observe and examine the operation of agencies of government and that this right is limited only by the constitutional right to privacy.”

The decision isn’t a surprise, but I think part of the judge’s rationale raises some questions. The Department of Administration estimated it would take 30 hours and $723 to offer up the data in the format requested.

Here’s what McCarter wrote, according to the story:

“Although it may be argued that in some cases that information requested by a member of the public in a particular format is too burdensome for the agency in time and money to be reasonable, the court does not believe (the) Policy Institute’s request is that oppressive, particularly since the Policy Institute is willing to pay for the cost of production,” the judge wrote.

Emphasis added. I’m wondering whether using the rationale that the institute offered to pay undercuts the Montana Constitution’s strong protections for public access to government.

Should public information be available only to people who can afford it? Does charging make sense when public money already supports the data systems that are storing and organizing the information? And when so much data can be transferred in the blink of an eye onto a data stick or via email?

There’s no toner cost. No paper cost. Sometimes, I’m sure there’s staff time, but shouldn’t providing information to the public be part of the cost of doing business?

Another thing that troubles me is whether the potential high costs end up chilling requests for information. And do government officials use cost as a way to stymie people already making demands?

When Matthew Koehlor, executive director of the Wild West Institute, asked for information from the University of Montana about the proposed biomass plant, for instance, the UM attorney told him fulfilling the request would cost thousands and thousands of dollars.

I doubt it ended up being that much.

Koehler isn’t one to be dissuaded, and he wasn’t in that case, but I guess that’s beside the point.

I must say, this all reminds me I have some requests for information I need to get out soon.

— Keila Szpaller