City of Missoula grows, and what’s next for University of Montana open meetings

ParkMissoula is busy.

St. Pat’s is still in turmoil, according to this story from reporter David Erickson.

Planners talked growth Monday at Missoula City Club. That story here. Sounds like déjà vu all over again to me when it comes to the fight about growing in and up – or out and out and out. Back in 2008, or thereabouts, Missoula went through all kinds of planning, with the Urban Fringe Development Area Project and Envision Missoula, and at the time, the community notion was to grow mostly inwardly. The Growth Policy 2014 builds on the ideas, according to the city’s website.

Last week, I went to a budget meeting at the University of Montana, and it made me again curious about how the open meetings and access issue will play out for UM and the Montana University System.

The meeting was noticed, and I did get copies of the materials presented afterward. But it isn’t a given that UM will make materials available to the public, or do so in advance, as the city does.

Sooner or later, I need to follow up with Gov. Steve Bullock’s legal counsel, Andy Huff, on this topic. Huff redistributed a 2014 memo telling government agencies they need to have rules in place for public participation, as former Gov. Brian Schweitzer did.

But it’d be good to know if the Montana Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education received that directive. Huff said he wasn’t sure if OCHE got the original memo.

I’m not sure if the memo went to OCHE in 2014. The most recent distribution however occurred at an in-person meeting, and no one from OCHE was there. At chief legal counsel meetings, I typically invite only those agencies/departments under the Governor’s direct authority.

It doesn’t seem like an agency would need to wait for a directive to deal with public participation, but a spokesman for OCHE said he doesn’t believe the system is obligated to adopt such policies.

I can’t think of a time when UM has denied my request to get a copy of a document reviewed at a meeting, but I can definitely think of times people haven’t been sure whether they can provide documents that were clearly public (no names, all campus budget info), and I had to wait until well after the meeting (that wasn’t the case last week).

Also, water. The city of Missoula is taking over water projects slowly but surely, and reporter Peter Friesen has the story.

Picture is from the overlook at Milltown State Park.

  • Keila Szpaller

 

How to compost your twiggy bits (no couches allowed)

This week I went out to the city’s composting center, Garden City Compost. Aside from a new sign and front gate, it’s largely the same as EKO Compost for now, but Wastewater Superintendent Starr Sullivan’s plans are pretty drastic.

He wants to lay down concrete pads in neat rows to sort waste and mulch at different stages of the process, eventually storing finished compost in a warehouse and using conveyor belts to transfer waste from pile to pile.

Curb side pickup, although the hot topic on the city government’s listserv this week, isn’t yet in the works, but you can go out there and buy as much or as little compost as you like for $26/yard.

My favorite part of the story: About 5-6 years ago, EKO’s grinder stopped working consistently and their pile of unground green waste (tree branches, grass, logs, etc.) piled up on 17ish acres of land. Sullivan estimated it would take them three years to get through it all.

Plus, the pile is full of random trash including couches, beer cases and a car transmission

Read it!

Then go check out the Big Lebowski back at the Wilma Friday night. I’m excited to not hear one line of dialogue over the crowd yelling it out over the movie.

PF

University of Montana budget isn’t straightforward

alley pic

This sunrise is from yesterday when I was walking the dog through alleys in our Northside neighborhood.

Spring is here and you can feel it. It’s lovely. This morning, we passed a couple neighbors smoking cigarettes, one on her stoop, one on the sidewalk, and you can sense people easing into the season.

In July, the seeds that we plant now will be growing like crazy, and I’m thinking about that despite my dislike for gardening. But I’m also thinking about July because that’s when I hope we’ll have better financial numbers, or more clear information, from the University of Montana about where it’s spending – and not spending – this tight fiscal year, 2017. It ends June 30, 2017.

As UM has cut its budget, professors and others have decried cuts to certain programs, and I had hoped to get a crystal clear picture of where the money has really gone over the past few years and more. Unfortunately, it’s hard to do, and there are reasons for it that I’m not going to get into much right now.

I appreciate UM offering this data, though: Expenditures by Program for Red Tape. At the very least, it shows that since the 2008 fiscal year, a couple colleges have grown like mad. Dean Roberta Evans heads the Phyllis J. Washington College of Education and Human Sciences, and she didn’t return my requests for comment in time for the story, but I receive an email from her today about the significant growth in her area. But she’s had to cut as well, and Evans said this in the email:

Doing more with less is incredibly difficult; I can’t begin to tell you how inspiring it is to see brilliance, creativity and enduring commitment in outstanding colleagues who devote their careers to fulfilling students’ academic dreams, despite the sacrifices involved.

Continue reading

A Flood of Water News (sorry)

black-and-white-drip-gif-water-Favim.com-367748

The city of Missoula’s years-long crusade to own its own water is in the final stages (I estimate about a dozen more stories before we put it to bed) with a couple of significant happenings this week.

First, District Court Judge Leslie Halligan ruled Tuesday that the developers fees, however much they end up being, will come out of the $88.6 million purchase price.

While that’s great for the city, it doesn’t exactly end the case. Halligan also gave all parties 45 days to enter the amount they believe is fair (the previous number bandied about was $22 million), so expect some further debate over that.

Halligan wrote “preferably, through compromise or otherwise, the parties could present a single number to the Court.” That seems unlikely, given how far apart the city and Mountain Water have been on almost every dollar amount that’s come up in this case.

She also threw out the idea of appointing a panel to oversee the court accounts that would be set up to receive Missoula’s payments.

Again, Halligan gave all parties the option to file their preferred method for distributing the money, this time within 60 days.

Again, expect those opinions to differ a good amount.

But no matter how this shakes out, the city’s officially off the hook for additional payments to developers, which is good for their financing package.

I’m curious if the city will rethink the reserve loan option City Council’s Committee of the Whole approved last week, or if they’ll still borrow the extra $22.4 million just in case. They’re set to talk about it Monday night.

Good on Keila Szpaller for condensing a 45-page ruling into a readable story. I recommend looking through the decision anyway, though you can skip to section H on page 37 to the good bits.

In other news, the Hardy Boys mystery “Rock Bottom at Lolo Creek” is sitting atop the Missoulian’s online chart this morning for some reason. No comments or anything, just a need to know- why is the creek perennially dry?

-PF

Ruth Swaney takes a Missoula City Council post; advice for the stressed

Beagles

See those beagles? Well, they’re pretty cute. The S.O. saw them at the Missoula Fresh Market and sent a picture.

The picture was his gift to me, and now, my gift to you.

Also, eat ice cream if you’re stressed, or you’re just in the mood for deliciousness. The Big Dipper is open, and I recommend one scoop of El Salvador coffee and one of coconut.

OK, now that you’ve decompressed, the important stuff:

Here’s reporter Peter Friesen’s story about Ruth Swaney, the first Native American woman to take a council seat in Missoula. She takes the seat of Harlan Wells, who took a job working in Helena.

President Donald Trump has inspired a lot of people to protest against him. Climate activists at the University of Montana. Missoulians demonstrating against his travel ban targeting Muslims. Women from Helena to Washington, D.C., demanding human rights for all.

For the time being, anyway, the Nazi/white nationalist/white supremacist beat has been quiet in Montana, and that’s a relief.

One more thing? A request for help. I’m slowly getting to work on some coverage of college affordability. I’ll share tidbits here, and if you have good information or contacts, I’d love to hear fro you: 523 5262 or keila.szpaller@missoulian.com.

Today, Tyler Trevor, from the Montana Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education, testified to legislators that the state’s flagships have increased tuition 31 percent in a decade, compared to the 65 percent to 85 percent increases among peers in the West.

“We are at the top for holding down the price of tuition,” Trevor said.

All for now.

  • Keila Szpaller

 

Perhaps it’ll be a Jack on the Missoula City Council after all

lightsDid you see PF’s post about Harlan Wells? The local government reporter was intrigued by Wells, who isn’t running for mayor after all – and also wondering if a new county commissioner will shake things up.

I was wondering if Jack Rowan, who ran against Wells, planned to toss his hat in the ring.

Today, Rowan told me he’d considered it, but he’s opting out in order to complete his chaplain studies. Good for you, Jack, and hurry back to Missoula.

In a short FB conversaion, though, Rowan also said he’s going to throw his support behind Jack Metcalf, if Metcalf does opt into the running. Do you remember Metcalf from the Justice of the Peace race?

Jack Rowan also said something funny about his endorsement, of sorts, of Jack Metcalf:

There is kinda’ weird satisfaction inherent in having another Jack claim the seat, if that is the way it all plays out. Plus, I really like Jack and agree with his approach.

Did you celebrate Christmas? Are you celebrating Hanukkah? Well, you’d best ring in 2017.

I was in Boise, Idaho, for Christmas, and am grateful for snow plow drivers. The picture is from a botanical garden in Boise that gets all lit up for the holidays … like some of us, perhaps.

  • Keila Szpaller

City Council’s holiday shake-up

Today we published this story on Harlan Wells, who’s leaving his city council seat to work for Corey Stapleton.

I’ve always found Harlan an intriguing member of city council and I’m sorry to see him go, if only because debates may be a little more tame on Monday nights.

Council Chair Marilyn Marler, though, was not happy with his level of participation.

He was the only council member who didn’t serve on any committees-I’m actually pretty sure every other member is signed up to be on every committee-and that made for some longer Monday night discussions while he asked his questions.

But by the last couple months, he mentioned watching meeting videos before showing up on Monday, so I think he was working on addressing those complaints-maybe to solidify his standing before running for Mayor.

In any case, Harlan’s conservative views represented more than 1/12th of Missoula and he took that role seriously enough, voting no again and again on a pretty wide range of issues.

A commenter on the Missoulian’s website thinks Harlan should step up to run for Montana’s U.S. Representative seat in a few years. I dunno if that’s so likely-but maybe more so than him returning to finish his run for Mayor?

The definite upside to all of this is going through the process of appointing a new council representative, which opened on Tuesday.

I hope Marilyn was serious when she told me council could use a little diversity.

“I am not opposed to appointing a conservative person as long as they can demonstrate they’re interested in debate and discussion,” she said. Now to see if the rest of the council agrees.

If not, I’m going to have to get creative on how I can work the phrase “lone dissenting vote” into the paper.

Maybe Dave Strohmaier (who’s getting sworn in tomorrow) will stir things up on the Board of County Commissioners.

PF

Two dogs for you, one in Missoula!

cooper-in-congress

The big news on the local government beat is Harlan Wells is leaving his Missoula City Council seat. Who will take over?

Reporter Peter Friesen has an interesting story about how the city is going about planning its budget this year. I haven’t seen them do this type of work in years past.

One question people were asked is this: “What gets you most excited about the City of Missoula’s future?”

A popular answer? “The mayor.”

Wells was going to challenge Mayor John Engen in 2017, but since he’s moving to Helena for his new job, the most vocal mayor-hopeful is out of the game. (*Correction! Apparently, Wells is only moving to Helena part time. Maybe he’ll work in Helena AND run for Missoula mayor.) A colleague told me a realtor in Missoula was fired up about finding an opponent. We’ll see who turns up.

In holiday cheer mode, here’s Alex Taft’s dog, Cassie, being very busy: alexs-dog. Taft was a council member, but now he’s gallivanting, camping at Holland Lake, doing other fun things.

Here’s Cooper, former crime reporter and always fearless Kate Haake’s pooch. Guess where Cooper is? CONGRESS!

Obviously, Cooper is busy as well. Miss you both, Kate and Cooper.

Photo credit: Haake.

All for now.

  • Keila Szpaller

 

Trump (maybe) picks Zinke. Goat pic south of Missoula. Silver and maroon.

goat

President-elect Donald Trump apparently wants Ryan Zinke. That story here.

A fellow reporter at another outlet said it makes perfect sense to choose a Navy SEAL to oversee Montana wetlands. That’s a very bad joke.

Regardless, we all get to vote again, and that’s cool.

What I’m reading today? How U.S. journalists normalized the rise of Hitler and Mussolini.

In news related to the University of Montana, the consultants hired to recruit a new president and Commissioner of Higher Education held listening sessions yesterday.

Deputy commissioner of communications Kevin McRae provided the contract with AGB Search, and I’m posting it here: agb-search. It is costing $72,500 for the recruitment.

McRae said that’s the only contract signed or sought to date related to transition at UM. In January, the Montana Board of Regents will take up a contract for the interim president, he said.

agb-tie

See the pic? It’s dark, but that’s AGB’s Jim McCormick on the right. I asked him about his silver and maroon tie.

“Are these the right colors?” McCormick joked.

He said his colleague, Janice Fitzgerald, made sure he was sporting the right look for Tuesday’s meetings. I was curious if he was actually an alum. Nope, but when AGB recruits, he said, they take the personalities of campuses seriously, and he pointed to a Grizzlies ball cap he had with his gear, too.

The goat has nothing to do with anything except we are in Montana, and you guys like dogs, and this animal sort of resembles a dog. Please feel free to send your pup pics, cat snaps, anything but snakes, and I’ll make them famous by posting them here.

– Keila Szpaller

P.S. Guys, I’ve got to make an admission. I’m a little worried reporter Peter Friesen won’t be able to manage posting here, that he might go rogue or something. Please let me know if anything goes awry with him.

Happy Friday; happy snacks; happy reading in … Missoula

chips

  1. Happy Friday. We have some digital news people now, a team around Montana, and we received an excellent non-digital tip from the person in charge. Jake Ellison said if you mix normal potato chips with barbecue flavored ones, it’s a dynamite combo. I tried it yesterday, and he’s right. There’s your Friday sodium consumption recommendation from the newsroom, complete with visual aid. And apropos of health-free food and my weekend, here’s a recipe for Martha Stewart’s perfect mac and cheese.
  2. Reporter Peter Friesen gets into the nitty-gritty here on buying Mountain Water Co.
  3. The Indy looks at how the University of Montana is doing an about-face on program prioritization.
  4. The Commissioner of Higher Education takes questions from the Faculty Senate. I wondered what the tenor of the meeting might be, and it was mostly a civil plea to keep faculty in the loop and give real consideration to faculty and student perspectives.

Back on the love-and-hate beat today. Here we go.

  • Keila Szpaller