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

 

Sweetgrass Commons, Missoula City Council elections, more

Reporter Martin Kidston had this story over the weekend about Sweetgrass Commons, an affordable housing project Homeword is building at the Old Sawmill District.

Years ago, city officials talked about making sure some of the housing on the site was affordable. No one made it a requirement, though, and I remember at least one former councilman, Bob Jaffe, expressing concern for the lack of it.

Now, 26 units are in the works, and they’ll be offered to people earning 40 percent to 60 percent of the area median income. That’s the design above.

In the weekend’s story, though, Councilman Adam Hertz questions the amount of subsidy going into the project, some $19,000 per unit.

The total cost of the project is $5.9 million, including land, putting the price per unit at an estimated $228,000, per the story.

By comparison, the John Lynn Apartments cost some $118,750 per unit. Tenants pay $250 a month plus utilities in the 8-unit project of the Western Montana Mental Health Center.

I don’t know the difference by square footage. The John Lynn apartments are small, some 500 square feet, and for single individuals.

Homeword’s Heather McMilan argues Sweetgrass Commons must remain affordable for 46 years. She also said units will be offered for as low as $375.

It’s good Councilman Hertz is asking these questions, even though he won’t be on the council for much longer. (See election coverage here.) It makes me wonder if there’s a rule of thumb for these subsidies.

I looked at an old story about the Burns St. Commons, from 2012: “The North Missoula Community Development Corp. calculates the subsidy per unit at $27,070 to $33,220.”

At the time, the subsidy amount was roughly half what other communities were spending per unit, or $50,000, according to NMCDC.

By that measure, the $19,000 a pop for Sweetgrass is a good deal.

The upshot? The Old Sawmill District finally has affordable housing, a longtime goal of a lot of city leaders. The … down shot? Affordable housing still seems to happen in a willy-nilly fashion, and the amount of subsidy a project should get isn’t clear.

– Keila Szpaller

 

Harlan Wells, Jack Rowan finalists in Ward 2

Harlan Wells and Jack Rowan are the finalists in Ward 2.

They have different visions, so that’s good for voters in the general election. Here’s Wells, pictured above, on his win in reporter Martin Kidston’s story:

A lot of people had a lot of hope that the fiscal conservative message would appeal to the voters, and it did.

Councilman Adam Hertz isn’t seeking re-election.

Wells received 752 votes, the most. Rowan got 347, candidate Anita Green, took in 211, and candidate Aylinn Inmon won 169.

Green has already has pledged to back Rowan. Inmon is asking more questions before giving either finalist support.

If they both back Rowan, it looks like it might be a good race. But the primary turnout wasn’t inspiring, according to numbers in my colleague’s story:

Roughly 4,810 ballots were issued in the Ward 2 primary and 1,487 were returned.

All for now.

– Keila Szpaller

Jack Rowan only Ward 2 candidate to show for forum

Seriously?

The Missoula Downtown Association held a candidate forum Tuesday for city council hopefuls, and only one out of four candidates in Ward 2 showed up.

Jack Rowan answered questions at the forum, and you can read all about it in this story by Martin Kidston.

Reasons not to to ditch? There’s a primary next week. Ellen Buchanan was asking questions there. She’s the head of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, and they do lots of big projects in the city.

Free buses were on the agenda, and they’re “free” because various organizations contribute. If you’re running for the Missoula City Council, don’t you want to tell people you think the city support for Mountain Line is awesome … or a waste?

Other candidates who showed up were Ward 1’s Bill Murray and Heidi West; Ward 3’s Gwen Jones; and Ward 4’s John DiBari.

All for now.

– Keila Szpaller

Stacy Rye will be good for media

Photo editor Kurt Wilson captured the look on Stacy Rye’s face. I think it’s happiness and surprise all at the same time.

In September, Rye will be sworn in as a county commissioner, replacing Bill Carey. Carey is retiring before the end of his term.

Sometimes, I think process is a sham, and deciders have already made a decision before the process follows its course. In this case, my faith in process was restored a tiny bit.

Early on, Commissioner Jean Curtiss talked about selecting a candidate to replace Carey. She didn’t mention Rye by name, but she said the job differs from city government, and she said commissioners don’t represent just one city ward.

Rye served on the Missoula City Council for eight years, and the comments definitely seemed like a direct notice to the former councilwoman.

I figured the remarks meant she wouldn’t be voting for Rye.

I figured wrong. Curtiss and Commissioner Cola Rowley had to reach consensus on the appointment, and they did on the first try after multiple candidate interviews and at least one questionnaire.

Here’s the comment Curtiss made in Martin Kidston’s story:

(Rye) is the one who is the most ready on Day 1. She has served as an elected official for eight years, has experience with public policy, has knowledge of local government and understands the challenges of the (agricultural) policy.

Also running were Shantelle Gaynor, a longtime county employee, and Jim Parker, who runs campaigns for Democratic candidates.

As a reporter, I’m glad Rye got the job.

Candidates often pledge transparency and media access while they’re campaigning, and once they’ve won, they batten down the hatches. Or cry about coverage. Or throw tantrums. But I digress.

I covered City Hall when Rye was a councilwoman, and I’m pleased someone who talks to media got the commissioner job. I know Rye didn’t like at least some of my City Hall coverage, but she never shied away from talking with the Missoulian.

Gaynor also has a track record of being available to press, and I believe she would have continued to communicate with reporters as well had she been appointed.

In other news, I’ve continued to cover the departures of the state medical examiners. Here’s a story about a family who was told the wrong cause of death for their child by a pathologist the state retained for years despite his problematic track record.

All for now.

– Keila Szpaller

 

City wins condemnation case, Carlyle appeals

Here’s a link to the order itself. It’s short and easy to read.

Natasha Jones, a lawyer for the city, said everyone in Missoula should read it.

Here’s a look at some of the interesting things in the judge’s order if you don’t have time to read the whole thing right now.

Here’s a story about the appeal.

Here’s more about the role of Robert Dove of The Carlyle Group in the water case in Missoula.

Here’s reporter Dave Erickson’s story about the Mountain Water Co. employee group’s plan.

C’est tout. Except this bunny picture.

The bunny is a Happy Wednesday for Councilman Jon Wilkins, who recently inquired about Red Tape. If you care to adopt this rabbit, it’s at the Humane Society of Western Montana, and it has a friend, also a bunny, also black and white.

– Keila Szpaller

 

Changing up the beats at the Missoulian

My colleague Martin Kidston is now covering City Hall AND the Missoula County Courthouse, as well as development, ’cause he likes to see buildings go up around town.

How about that? Last night*, the council appointed Patrick Weasel Head to replace outgoing Ward 4 Councilwoman Caitlin Copple.

*Follow @martinkidston for #mslacc:
martinkidstonFeb 23, 7:57pm via TweetDeck

“God, geeks, gays, love them all,” Copple says in giving her goodbye; Ward 4 vote now up.

I’m covering the University of Montana now, but I’ll continue to cover the city’s eminent domain case against Mountain Water Co. and the Carlyle Group. The latest is Carlyle again loses in court.

Two true things about condemnation so far? The city is paying a lot, much more than it projected. Carlyle is losing a lot, at least on motions before trial.

The beat change is old news, but we were locked out of the blogs for a while. (The technical people know the reason, and I do not.)

A few people have wondered how the switch came about. Our editor asks us periodically if anyone wants to change things up, and I’ve pretty much loved covering City Hall.

This year is a city election year, and I’m usually curious about who is running again, and who the new candidates are, and which councilors are supporting which newbies. This year, not so much.

I found myself dreading the elections and, even before filing opened, tired of the political narrative in Missoula, maybe still fending off the aftertaste of 2014. From the bird’s eye view, the entitled progressives meet incompetent conservatives, and they’re off to the races.

Obviously, both sides have delivered candidates who work hard and do cool things for Missoula. Council president Marilyn Marler muscled through the sidewalk subsidy, one of the more monstrous pieces of business I’ve seen go through council. She and some other councilors spent a lot of time and sweat in direct response to constituents. Councilman Adam Hertz studied the city’s health insurance, and he presented a valuable analysis of how it compares to the norm. I doubt the council majority will make adjustments based on his work, but the numbers are good to know nonetheless.

Either way, it’s time to read someone else’s take on the narrative, and I’ve nearly tap-danced in the break room to see Martin’s stories. He’s been covering the Mayor’s Downtown Advisory Committee, which I never did, and it’s interesting stuff. Here’s the latest from Sunday on trying to clean up downtown.

I’m likewise tap dancing about my own new world. Scientists! F-bombs! Aquaponics! Blue hair! Sea turtles! 

My first foray into campus life was Love Fest at the University Center, where students wore condoms taped to their jackets, and they handed out flowers and “make out kits.” Toto, we are not in Council Chambers anymore.

Freespeechboard

They’ve got free speech boards posted around campus. (I’ve seen two, so far, and both had F-bombs written in very large letters.) They’ve got professors who are doing cool research in the national parks. (On Martians; I’m not kidding.) A Dining Services staffer who creates a sushi bar every Friday. (Actually, I don’t know if it’s Dining Services. It’s the cafeteria in the UC. I imagine I’ll figure out the name sooner or later.)

Martin’s been more and more interested in development, and covering city and county fits well with that interest. He isn’t into the Love Fest kind of story, and there’s less of it in local government.

So here we are. Sorry, Geoff and whoever else, for the gap in posts.

Enjoy the breath of fresh air in local government reporting, and, I hope, some interesting news from campus. I’ll keep posting here, both local government stories and pieces about UM, and Martin may join me as well.

– Keila Szpaller

*I reposted this entry from Feb. 24 because it was lost in a server move. I don’t remember which of Martin’s tweets I had pasted here, so it might not be the original one. Just letting you know.

Koalas! Copple. Condemnation. Missoula government.

koala

Do you know how to sew? Even a little bit?

If so, there’s a koala bear out there who needs your help with a pair of mittens. Apparently, they’re not hard to make.

This from the Washington Post’s Speaking of Science blog:

Over the past week, a series of bushfires in Australia has left koalas badly burnt or even killed. It’s summer down there, and the hot, dry weather makes some areas prone to wildfire.

And in local news? Hmm.

Councilwoman Caitlin Copple is resigning. She did a lot more in three years than some council members do in a full term. Stay tuned for the application deadline to be considered for the post.

The South Avenue property rights lawsuits cost the city $671,000, according to the chief administrative officer.

The Carlyle Group’s lawyer was in Missoula County District Court on Thursday arguing to dismiss the global equity firm from the case. The exchange between lawyer Bill Mercer and Judge Karen Townsend was interesting.

That’s it for now. Please click on the Post’s blog so you can see a photo of an actual koala with mittens.

– Keila Szpaller

Photo: Thinkstock

 

A post for Councilman Ed Childers

Councilman Childers wants more posts.

Here’s one.

I check in with Governing.com once in a while, and here’s a story about the way S&P and Moody’s give cities credit ratings. The story suggests cities should get a Moody’s rating to be sure their scores aren’t inflated, and to people who aren’t Ed, Missoula uses both S&P and Moody’s. (Ed already knows this, and more, as a veteran council member and former longtime money man for the city of Missoula. Treasurer, maybe.)

Also, if you missed it, here’s my story about a smell that’s making some neighbors on the Northside and Westside feel nauseous. I’d like to find out more about what it means to deem a smell a “public nuisance.”

Now, a question: Do you know anyone who needs a dog? A one-eyed black lab named Thor needs a home. More here.

The dog reminds me: The other day, I walked up Waterworks with a friend, and we saw a bunch of cigarette butts under one of the trees. We used my friend’s Mutt Mitt to pick up the cigarette butts, and I fantasized propaganda headlines as a way to diffuse my anger.

“Council adopts ordinance banning smoking in parks and trails everywhere, instates strict penalties; public shows broad support for new rule as beneficial for lungs, environment.”

The butts were annoying, but they also reminded me of running through the Orange Street underpass soon after someone smoked a cigarette in it and inhaling a bunch of second hand smoke. OK, enough on that. Enough.

But one last thing: If you’re on Instagram, follow @missoulian because there’s wonderful photos posted.

I’ll do another post for the councilman later about transportation, and it’ll be great.

Happy Friday.

– Keila Szpaller

Russell Street, badgering walkers

1. Plans for Russell Street are on the front burner. I hope the meeting Wednesday night – 6 p.m., Burns Street Commons – is productive.

2. Also Wednesday, the Public Safety and Health Committee talks about “pedestrian interference” and “aggressive solicitation.” Here’s a link to related documents. Have you seen the sign one man posts downtown offering to wrestle a mother-in-law for $5? Or something like that? It’s kinda funny, but strolling downtown hasn’t been a picnic lately.

3. I wrote a story today about the Municipal Equality Index of the Human Rights Campaign. (Missoula gets a perfect score.) I wasn’t able to reach our quality of life officer at the Missoula Police Department in time for the story, but the report says that “cities that have LGBT liaisons in their police department significantly outperformed the national average.” Cool factoid.

There you have it.

— Keila Szpaller