Answer? The firefighter monument at the Rose Garden!

deerIn the last post, I shared a funky photo, and I asked if you knew what it was.

Someone emailed me and thought it was the grill of my 2014 BMW. Well, the only grill I’ve got is a barbecue grill, so no.

The photo was a close up of the firefighter monument at the Missoula Memorial Rose Garden. Here’s another photo, and it’s an easier one to identify, isn’t it? Deer on Rattlesnake Creek.

Wouldn’t they look lovely on my grill later this fall?

Alright, the stories you shouldn’t miss:

– An event in Missoula to draft Schweitzer for a U.S. Senate campaign.

– The big mess at Partnership Health Center. 

– The tiny number of calls coming from Fire Station No. 5′s district – and a question about whether it’s worth the cost to stay open.

All for now. Other than the sad state of affairs with the lack of candidates filing for local offices, but you knew that, and we’ve still got time.

– Keila Szpaller

The “roller skate” health plan!

PhotoIt was a hot topic on Facebook.

Councilman Adam Hertz did an analysis showing the city of Missoula could save an estimated $1.6 million if health premiums here more closely tracked the national average.

Here’s the “Health Contribution Analysis” from Hertz and his comment on Facebook.

“A lot of hard work went into this analysis, and I was met with some resistance in trying to get solid information on our city’s health plan. If the City of Missoula has a ‘Chevy’ plan as described by the Mayor, then Blue Cross Blue Shield must be offering the ‘roller skate’ plan.”

Some people worry city staff can hardly afford flip flops. Councilwoman Cynthia Wolken said she is concerned with employees at the lower end of the pay scale and shifting costs onto those with the least ability to pay

It’s no big secret the City could reduce its budget by slashing employee benefits. For example, we could force my committee secretary, who barely makes a living wage, to pay the equivalent of a monthly mortgage payment just to buy health insurance for her family (not including the co-pays and deductions required for actual health care).

Heck, in this economy, we could probably even slash wages below a living wage and desperate folks would still apply. So should we stoke the fans of resentment and jealousy and go back and forth with the private sector to see who can squeeze their employees the hardest? Or should we treat our employees with dignity and fairness and advocate for the same for everyone?

Either way, it seems like Hertz’s data is valuable for people who will negotiate union contracts in the future. The police and firefighter agreements are a large part of the city budget.

The picture? It’s from an excursion I took this morning. If you can ID it, I will give you a prize.

– Keila Szpaller

Sun worship and climate change!

tech-peopleDo you think putting exclamation points at the end of every headline is annoying?

It’s my attempt to make up for writing lame headlines. It’s my only strategy.

Are you reading this on Thursday? That’s alright. I’m trying to post the conservation plan pieces on Fridays, but I don’t feel like “scheduling” the post for later. So it’s going up now, and we’ll all be ahead of the game.

First, though, do you know what happens when our computers go haywire in the newsroom? We call our tech people.

Today, when I came back to the newsroom, I found the tech crew sitting on the lawn outside in the sun, and now, you know who they are, too. In the photo, that’s Tom Vulpis, left, and Zander Beck, right, both pictured without their capes. They’re smart and helpful gents.

On our topic of the day, though, we’ve hit page 10 on the Conservation & Climate Action Plan. It goes through milestones, such as resolutions signed and a “green team” formed.

On page 11, we hit something a little more interesting. To tackle emissions, you have to know what’s emitting, and how much.

“The largest contributing sectors to the city’s carbon footprint were wastewater treatment, municipal buildings and municipal vehicles,” reads the plan.

That’s in order, so the sewer plant emits the most CO2. Employee commuting, outdoor lighting and “water and misc.” follow those other top three items.

The estimates are based on 2008, though, and that was six years ago. And “city operations are dynamic and constantly changing,” the plans says.

So guess what?

“The Task Force recommends that the greenhouse gas emissions inventory for municipal operations be regularly updated every two years, starting in 2013.”

That’s now. Doing the inventory was a big job the first time around, and I wonder if updating it will be easier or if it means mean heavy lifting every couple years.

I checked in with Mr. Action Plan Chase Jones, and here is his response:

“Updating the emissions inventory is still a goal for this year – and we hope to do it. I don’t have an exact date, but we are taking a few steps in preparation. First, we are working on an arrangement to utilize a software called Utility Trac Plus. It will allow us to review, analyze and audit all City utility accounts – in one place. This organization will save lots of time when moving forward with the emissions inventory update. Also we are forming the Conservation & Climate Action Plan Technical Advisory Team that was part of the resolution adopting the Plan. That Team is made up of four Mayor appointees and four Energy and Climate Team members. I think that team will be in place by the end of the month.  I see the technical expertise and guidance from that Team being crucial in the emissions inventory update. Once we get those things in place we will start to move forward.”

– Keila Szpaller

Fireworks! New Zealand! Beers!

Mayor John Engen said he wants to see the fireworks ban in city limits enforced.

He asked for an enforcement plan from the fire and police chiefs, and he will review it with the Missoula City Council Public Safety and Health Committee soon, maybe next Wednesday.

In the past, Missoula Police Department Chief Mark Muir has offered a number of reasons for why he hasn’t had his officers enforce the ban. This year may be different.

In other business, did you see that Councilwoman Cynthia Wolken went to New Zealand with the American Council of Young Political Leaders?

Wolken talked with me about her trip, and here are the insights she shared. Guess what she’s talking about here?

“It’s 100 percent local,” Wolken said. “It’s never going to be as cheap as Bud Light, but it’s a better product.”

Our microbrews, of course.

Speaking of which, you know Missoula College has a strong culinary school, right? Well, I think it should open a brewing school. I don’t know what you call those, but this city is the perfect place for it, and Montana would be a great fit.

OK, back to Wolken’s trip. Palmerston North is Missoula’s sister city, and it’s in New Zealand. Wolken didn’t have a chance to visit, but she did meet its member of the New Zealand Parliament.

What else? Ooooh, yes. Her Ward 2 seat is open this year, and Wolken still won’t publicly say if she wants to keep it, but she hasn’t filed for re-election.

I just looked at the list of candidates again, and no one else has jumped into the races. Filing closes on June 27.

– Keila Szpaller

Library! Pansies! Budgets.

pansiesGot a flapper dress? The Missoula Public Library has a great venue for you to show it off. It’s doing a fundraiser this weekend called “Gatsby: One Night with a Classic.”

This morning, I talked with city finance director Brentt Ramharter again in City Hall for more budget stories.

On my way back to the newsroom, I saw some people planting flowers in half barrels downtown.

Last year, Joan Mulligan read this story in the Missoulian about Don Ross planting flowers, and he told her his garden received many compliments.

So Mulligan, who owns the Oxford Saloon, decided to do the same thing this year. Eric “the Black” helped her out.

“I’ve been here 30 years, but I’ve never done flowers, so it’s a first,” Mulligan said.

She has a technique, and it means getting dirty: “You really can’t do it right with gloves. You have to get your hands in the dirt.”

Mulligan also has high hopes for the display: “It’s going to be the nicest corner in town.”

– Keila Szpallerjoaneric

More firefighters descend on Missoula?

nestYes, please. Why not?

The Missoula Combat Challenge Team wants to bring an international firefighting competition to the Garden City with 75 to 175 competitors and 5,000 to 10,000 spectators. It’s the Firefighter Combat Challenge, and it’d be in September.

To raise money, the Missoula crew is going to be at the Kettlehouse on the Northside TONIGHT. The K-House will put a portion of every beer sale to the cause. (Disclosure: My S.O. works there.)

I’ll paste below the news release I got. I’ll also mention the grapefruit cask of the Eddy Out pale ale tasted divine last week, and I bet K-H has a tasty twist on one of their traditional beers this week.

In city business, I am disappointed to report that no one else filed to run for city offices yesterday. Tell your friends in Ward 2 that no one is running there yet!

Councilwoman Cynthia Wolken is the incumbent, and she was out of the country last week, but hopefully we’ll hear about her plans soon.

Most of the time, when people want to keep their seat, they file right away. But either way, do you live on the Westside? In Grant Creek? Elsewhere in Ward 2? Think about it.

Also, please tell your mayoral-type buds that Mayor John Engen ran unopposed last time, and perhaps they should consider giving voters a choice this time.

Other city business? I’m doing a series of short stories on the city budget and audit. I’ve mentioned this before, but if you have ideas, shoot me an email. It’s

Do you know where that photo is from? It’s on Higgins Avenue. Hmm.

Alright, back to the firefighter project:

The Firefighter Combat Challenge, or FCC, is an international competition that seeks to encourage firefighter fitness and demonstrate the profession’s rigors to the public. Wearing “full bunker gear” and breathing apparatus, pairs of competitors simulate the physical demands of real-life firefighting. By performing a linked series of five tasks including climbing a 5-story tower, hoisting, chopping, dragging hoses and rescuing a life-sized, 175 lb. “victim”, they race against themselves, their opponent and the clock.

The Missoula Combat Challenge Team, with its long and storied history with the FCC, would like to bring a regional competition to the city of Missoula in the fall of 2013.  At any given two- day regional event, 75 to 175 competitors will participate in the FCC; and up to 5,000 to 10,000 people are likely to observe the competition at different times throughout the weekend. With the international status and the highly publicized events via the internet and television, we envision a seamless melding of the FCC into the vibrant downtown atmosphere.  With the availability of Friday night activities and Saturday markets that already exist, this event will bring a unique experience to downtown Missoula and provide a great promotional opportunity for the Garden City. The projected influx of money for the weekend, as calculated by the Tourism Business Improvement District, is $180,000.

The FCC is also family friendly.  The Kid’s Firefighter Challenge is a scaled- down version of the real FCC, complete with miniature bunker gear, miniature fire hoses and inflatable obstacles. This side-by-side attraction is a huge hit for the kids in the crowd the moment it’s set up.

The Missoula Combat Challenge team needs your help. To get the Firefighter Combat Challenge to Missoula it not only takes dedication and hard work but money. The FCC’s required investment to come to town is $40,000, including the kid’s challenge.  We would like to ask for your donation. This donation will not only get your business  advertised on the FCC personal address system throughout the weekend and  a spot on the sponsor T-shirt and banner space around the competition as well as a potential  influx of patrons to your Missoula business!

The Missoula Combat Challenge Team thanks you for your time and would love to see your business support this unique event.  Please visit us on Facebook for more information.

Please contact team member Justin Walsh with any questions or donations at:

625 E. Pine St

Missoula MT 59802                                                         406.360.6030

Or on Face Book at: