“Abhorrent.” Is it the inversion?

Are folks in need of a little more oxygen around here?

In Missoula, a former city council member is comparing Obama to Hitler, and a citizen wants only people who own property to vote on the proposal about secondary dwellings, ADUs*.

Yesterday at a committee meeting, Dennis Gordon quizzed Councilman Jason Wiener about his status as a renter, and Gordon suggested only people who own property should be allowed to vote on the ADU proposal.

Yes. Really.

I wasn’t covering the ADU item of the day – public outreach – but it seemed like something folks in Tweet land would be interested to hear.

KeilaSzpaller11:49am via Twitter for iPhone

If you don’t own property, you shouldn’t have a vote, per public comment at a council committee meeting about ADU outreach.


@Jedzilla 11:53am via TweetDeck: “Landed Gentry” concerning votes and ADUs

@mollypriddy 12:04pm via Web: Pretty sure that’s how they controlled women and minorities back in the day.

Councilman Bob Jaffe had a few choice words, too, for the idea you don’t have a say if you don’t own land.

@KeilaSzpaller11:56am via Twitter for iPhone

“Abhorrent to the Constitution.” Councilman Bob Jaffe said city attorney used that phrase to describe limiting votes to property owners.

*(ADU = Accessory Dwelling Unit. Backyard cottage, granny suite, basement or garage apartment.)

Then today, I got this email from Renee Mitchell, who was a councilwoman for one term. In it, she compares U.S. President Barack Obama to dictator and murderer Adolph Hitler of Nazi Germany. (Thank you, copy chief Justin Grigg, @jjgrigg, for the PDF, JPG.)

“This year will go down in history. For the first time, a civilized nation has full gun registration. Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient, and the world will follow our lead into the future!”

~Adolph Hitler, 1935,

on The Weapons Act of Nazi Germany

According to a scholar in this story on Salon.com, the quote Mitchell uses there is “probably a fraud” and “suffers from severe credibility problems.” (Thank you, Cory Walsh, @walshc, for the link. Too many titles to put here.)

Missoula? Not. Good. Juju.

What’s up with Municipal Court?

Here’s a link to some stories I wrote about Municipal Court.

The first story is about illegal arrests the city has made on bad warrants. It’s something Mayor John Engen considers more of a problem on paper than in real life, but a University of Montana law professor and criminal defense lawyer said is big trouble.

“The volume of warrants poses an enormous risk for the city,” said UM law professor Jeff Renz, who specializes in criminal defense. “I’d love to be the civil rights lawyer who brings the class action for those who have been wrongfully arrested and jailed.”

Judge Kathleen Jenks used to take the old warrants home with her at night to clear out the invalid ones, but she already works 50 hours a week, and if she kept up the work after hours, she’d burn out.

It seems the city could hire one or two or half a dozen judges to churn through the remaining warrants in question, some 2,000 per a  rough estimate, and just get them out of the way so people don’t end up going to jail when they shouldn’t be there.

City officials tout the improvements the court already has made. One is it doesn’t issue those bad warrants anymore, although things like database entry errors still occur.

Judge Kathleen Jenks has created some forms so defendants have a clear statement from the court about their obligations, and the court has a way to follow up. I was going to link to the documents here, but I can’t scan right now.*

*Update: I was just looking at committee agendas for Wednesday, and I found this document from Judge Jenks. It has a photo of an old scribbled warrant and a new form.

Also, even as the court is collecting more money, court administrator Tina Schmaus said it isn’t sending people to collections anymore. So their credit scores aren’t taking a hit.

Here’s a list from her of revenue from Municipal Court the last three years:


Collection Bureau Collections = $223,529

Fines & fees ordered = $1,977,546

Fines = 1,252,568

Fees = 724,978

Fines & fees collected = $1,380,465

Fines = $842,242

Fees = $538,223

Restitution ordered = Dollar figure not available due to underuse of software.

Restitution collected = $67,580


  • Collection Bureau Collections  = $228,918
  • Fines & fees ordered = $2,288,701

–   Fines = 1,446,365

–   Fees = 842,336

  • Fines & fees collected = $1,452,180

–   Fines = $882,478

–   Fees = $569,701

    • Restitution ordered = $31,787
    • Restitution collected = $65,254


  • Collection Bureau Collections = $247,690   (with NO new cases referred to collections in 2012)
  • Fines & fees ordered = $2,695,333

–   Fines = 1,808,995

–   Fees = 886,338

  • Fines & fees collected = $2,193,405

–   Fines = $1,395,619

–   Fees = $797,786.48

  • Restitution ordered = 181,462  
  • Restitution collected = $106,636 (one case paid $30,000 in this figure)

That’s it for now.

– Keila Szpaller

A fossil-fuel-free traveler lands in Missoula

On Tuesday, Jeff Conly was walking his bicycle across the Higgins Avenue Bridge, and I couldn’t help but notice his wheels were loaded down. Conly, of Fort Worth, Texas, looked like he was pedaling a long ways.

I made a bet with myself that he was traveling straight to Adventure Cycling for an ice cream cone. Yes, Conly was headed downtown to the nonprofit known as bicycle Mecca, but he’d heard he’d get his picture taken there.

I wanted his picture, too. He’s on a fossil-fuel-free trip from Texas to Montana to Wyoming to Michigan to … some other places.

Summer is usually the time bikers flock to Adventure Cycling. Happy snow pedaling, Conly!

Don’t turn Missoula into Vegas, Disneyland

Do you want the bridges in Missoula lit up? Or don’t you?

Ross Best can’t be the only person who has objections, and he wants others who share his concerns to speak up. From last night’s meeting of the Missoula City Council:

At the meeting, citizen activist Best also noted a proposal to light the Madison Street pedestrian bridge will go before the Conservation Committee at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Best asked the council to slow down the process and give the public ample time to weigh in with financial, environmental and cultural considerations.

“It’s time for citizens who object to the proposal to start speaking up,” Best said.

Here’s a link to city documents related to the project. Here’s an earlier post with picture about it.

– Keila Szpaller

Mugs for the Pov! A new playground for Missoula!

mug-150x150The Poverello Center is asking for mugs! Bring in your old coffee mugs so they can serve up some hot soup.

 ”Do you have some extra ones laying around? Please bring them, we are running very low!”

That’s the request on its Facebook page, and all mug shapes and sizes are welcome at 535 Ryman St. Because you shouldn’t go without a picture today, however tiny, here’s my favorite Missoulian mug from a campaign a long time ago.

More? Missoula is going to get a new playground in McCormick Park, and it will have  equipment all children can use.

Here’s word from Councilman Bob Jaffe’s listserv about Wednesday’s committee meetings:

In conservation we talked about the All Abilities Playground Project and authorized the mayor to receive a $150,000 grant from the Silver Foundation for the project. This new playground will replace the playground at McCormick Park. The folks raising the money now have enough pledged for the project to move forward.

You can learn more here: http://missoula.siretechnologies.com/sirepub/view.aspx?cabinet=published_meetings&fileid=40718

Amazing connections happen in these parks, said Parks and Rec director Donna Gaukler. Children with special needs already have given input into the project, and one suggestion is having a surface wheelchairs can easily roll over.

So the park, which has yet to be named, will bring together all kinds of little folks. I love this quote from Gaukler about how intentional playground equipment can have a huge impact on the community.

“It’s when you make friends with kids that are different than you that the differences go away,” Gaukler said.

– Keila Szpaller

More on downtown Missoula parking meters!

Missoula Parking MeterGuess what? A top chef was in Missoula and got himself a parking ticket on Jan. 3. And CJ Jacbson was pleased!

If you hadn’t guessed, he got a freebie with the “You have been forgiven” note. Here’s the Tweet from @bigceej, forwarded to me by copy chief Justin Grigg, @jjgrigg, and the photo from Instagram:

This happens. Another reason Montana is awesome!http://instagr.am/p/UEnEgiwXFJ/

What else? Last week after we ran this story about parking meters running fast, Deb Koprivica sent me some emails she and Missoula Parking Commission director Anne Guest had exchanged. I’m pasting them here; Read from the bottom up.

Forwarded message ———-
From: Deb Koprivica
Date: Tue, Mar 13, 2012 at 10:56 AM
Subject: Re: Ten-Hour Meters
To: Anne Guest

Good morning, Anne. Yesterday I received a $5 ticket while parked at a ten-hour meter. The meter is #3013. I put ten hours worth of quarters in the meter at approximately 8:00 a.m yesterday and was ticketed at 15:25.57.

I called the Commission this morning and spoke with Mary. She said she would have maintenance check the meter and get back to me. I just received a follow-up call from Mary. According to her, maintenance has checked the meter and found it to be working properly. Therefore, according to the Commission and maintenance, the ticket is valid.

Anne, I can assure you that the meter in question did not function properly yesterday. Had I not fed the meter, I wouldn’t have bothered your staff – I would have simply paid the ticket. There is apparently no recourse for me in this matter, other than to pay the ticket, which I will do today. I hope I don’t receive another ticket today as I am parked at the same meter.

This is an extremely frustrating situation, with no apparent end in sight.

On Wed, Feb 1, 2012 at 2:07 PM, Anne Guestwrote:


We don’t have a specific timeline for implementing these zones. A lot has to do with the Maintenance Dept. and their work load. Regardless, there will be notices distributed well ahead of time.

There should be no impact on businesses, retail or restaurants because the zones will be serving a completely separate group of users.

The monthly lease will be $30 – the same as the other zones.

Hope that helps.




Missoula Parking Commission

Phone: (406) 552-6244

From: Deb Koprivica
Sent: Wednesday, February 01, 2012 12:32 PM
To: Anne Guest
Subject: Re: Ten-Hour Meters

Thanks for dismissing yesterday’s ticket, Anne. Can you tell me what the timeline is for eliminating the ten-hour meters and creating “on-street permit only” zones? Also, how will these zones impact downtown retail businesses and restaurants? At this time, has a monthly rate been established for a permit in these zones?

On Wed, Feb 1, 2012 at 12:24 PM, Anne Guestwrote:


We had the Maintenance Dept. check out meter #3012 and found it to be running fast so we will dismiss ticket #12200746.

I understand your frustration with the ten hour meters. These meters are old and we can no longer get parts for them. They are constantly vandalized and are very vulnerable to challenging weather conditions – blowing rain, freezing, snow, etc. We have struggled with them for years. At this point, our only solution to prevent having continuous problems with them is to turn these areas into “on-street permit only” zones. This has worked extremely well in other areas of the downtown where we were experiencing complaints from the public.

I appreciate you emailing me your comments. When we established the new zone, notices will be placed on your vehicle and you will have the opportunity to secure a lease space which will provide you a lot more convenience.





Missoula Parking Commission

Phone: (406) 552-6244

Error! Filename not specified.

From: Deb Koprivica
Sent: Wednesday, February 01, 2012 9:48 AM
To: Anne Guest
Subject: Ten-Hour Meters

Good morning, Anne. Yesterday I was parked at Meter Number 3012, located on Washington Street. At approximately 8:05 a.m., I put ten hours’ worth of quarters in the meter. Less than nine hours later, I received a $5.00 ticket. (Ticket number 12200746.) Please confirm for me that this ticket will be dismissed.

What is especially frustrating about this incident is the continuing problem with ten hour meters that do not function properly, resulting in unwarranted tickets. I’ve reported this problem meter in the past via phone calls to the Parking Commission office. I’ve also reported problems with other ten hour meters. Some of them seem to have been repaired, some have not. On January 4, I received a “forgiven” ticket while parked at Meter Number 836 on East Alder Street. This ticket was issued after I had paid for ten hours’ worth of parking but r I eceived the ticket after being parked in that spot for less than seven hours. I didn’t bother to contact the Parking Commission regarding this ticket or the problem meter. In hindsight, I should have.

I work downtown and park at a ten hour meter Monday through Friday. In addition to confirming for me that the ticket I received yesterday will be dismissed, please share with me plans the Parking Commission has to insure that all meters function properly.

Thank you.

Messages and attachments sent to or from this e-mail account pertaining to City business may be considered public or private records depending on the message content. The City is often required by law to provide public records to individuals requesting them. The City is also required by law to protect private, confidential information. This message is intended for the use of the individual or entity named above. If you are not the intended recipient of this transmission, please notify the sender immediately, do not forward the message to anyone, and delete all copies. Thank you

More chatting about Missoula parking meters

meterman-300x195This story about parking meters running fast prompted a number of people to send notes my way about the similar experiences they’ve had downtown Missoula.

Since he got a parking ticket for a meter he knew he plugged, Shayne Johnson has been documenting the mechanical meters he uses in downtown Missoula.

“Almost every meter that I park at is running fast, usually by about half an hour, sometimes up to an hour, in one case, over an hour,” Johnson said Thursday.

Sonja Verlanic, who works downtown, has had problems with the meters on Pattee Street, she said in an email. To convince the Missoula Parking Commission she was plugging the meters, she started painting her quarters with nail polish.

I even had the maintenance person meet me at the meter with the painted quarters, and they still said it was my error.

One of the biggest concerns for downtown employees is parking. … The monthly rate for the new parking garage is $70. Other lease parking in downtown Missoula ranges from $45 to $85 per month. If we want a vibrant downtown, we need employees to work. If you cannot afford to park and the city bus does not have a route to cover employees shifts, how is that going to happen? I am so frustrated I do not know where to turn.

Here’s a couple comments from Twitter:

Lgpguin11:08am via txt

Knew it !**! MT @KeilaSzpaller#Missoulaparking meters running fast, short-changing users, per a recent tally by… ow.ly/gxQyX
MikeMNugent10:31am via Web

@KeilaSzpaller I have noticed on some that two hours goes faster than two hours.

In response to my Facebook post, Michelle Lousen said this:

I’ve been at the fast meters but it seemed like it would have been an unbelievable complaint, so I just paid my ticket. I think people who work downtown pay more attention to how much time they have on the meter now that tickets go up to $15 and $20 very quickly, so we’ll be hearing of others who have gotten tickets they shouldn’t have.

The Missoula Parking Commission responds to complaints quickly, agency officials said. Workers test allegedly bad meters (I can’t believe I’m writing “allegedly bad meters”) and changes out the ones that are actually broken.

Parking commission director Anne Guest said a systematic review of the mechanical meters isn’t planned, but the agency wants to put a whole new system in place this year.

“So we just do everything we can to make sure they’re in good working order, but there’s only so much we can keep up with,” Guest said.

– Keila Szpaller

Brain slow to get into gear, but PLAN in the works

bridgepic-300x300I like to start out the new year with A PLAN.

My plans have personal and professional goals, and at work a goal could be completing a story series I’ve been collecting information on or doing something brand new in the digital world.

Right about now, I’m a little behind with A PLAN, but I thought I’d solicit your ideas. You know how to reach me, but I’m here, @keilaszpaller, and keila.szpaller@missoulian.com. Oh, right, the old fashioned phone number is good, too: 406/523-5262.

It’s a great year for a plan for the city government beat. It’s an election year with the mayor on the ballot, for one thing.

Also, for the first time in many, many years, the municipal judge race will be a real competition since Judge Donald Louden retired and the seat isn’t a gimme anymore. As you may have gathered, looking at that office and court is part of my plan. Wonderful!

What else? I don’t know right now. But send me a note with your ideas, at least if you’re a regular reader.

I have this pet peeve when people say stuff like, “WHY ISN’T THIS IN THE NEWS?!” when we’ve actually reported the dickens out of it. This happens on Facebook sometimes, and it makes me feel like introducing the person to our Sunday print edition in a forceful way.

Anyway, speaking of Facebook, I think I may try to use it more as a reporter. What do you think? I tire of it personally, but it might make some sense to craft it as a way people can follow local government coverage.

OK, I think you’ve talked me into it. So the first thing I’ll do is start the “subscribe” button.

What else? I don’t know. I think this is enough for now. But if you’re sitting at a coffee shop right now, and you need a little break from your work, please order a refill, and then send me a story you’d like to read in 2013. Thank you, and an extra awesome 2013 to you!

– Keila Szpaller