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

 

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

 

Nuts over wrenches

At least some Mountain Water Co. employees aren’t happy with the city of Missoula, that’s for sure.

One thing that rankled some of the staff was a comment at a meeting from Scott Stearns, a lawyer who is representing the city in its eminent domain lawsuit against Mountain Water and owner the Carlyle Group.

Greg Gullickson, a senior accountant at Mountain, explained his irritation:

“Being referred to as a wrench turner, or whatever it is that I do, the arrogance of that tone … I don’t know where that comes from.”

The employees are pleased with Liberty Utilities, though, which has proposed to buy the water utility. This fall, the CEO of Liberty’s parent company was in town.

My colleague Dave Erickson @david_erickson reminded me that CEO Ian Robertson also had referred to wrenches:

“We’re the guys with the wrenches in our hands, and that’s an important distinguishing factor between Carlyle and (utility companies),” Robertson said.

It’s got to be wrenching for the crew at Liberty and parent company Algonquin to watch the condemnation case. Algonquin agreed to buy Mountain as part of a trio of utilities regardless of the outcome of the case, according to Carlyle.

Two for the price of three, anyone? Just kidding. I don’t know if that’s the way it’d shake out. You might feel like a tool if you engineered a deal that went that way, though.

Anyway, let’s get back to the first comment that got people going. Stearns said this in response to the charge his comment was arrogant:

“The folks who turn wrenches are hugely important to Mountain Water, and … the City wants to fund operations – pipes and pumps – not executives in California and (Washington), D.C.”

Here’s his full statement at the meeting, the one that made people go nuts over wrenches:

“If you work at the West Broadway building, at Mountain Water, we want to hire you. If you’re one of the 35 or so wrench turners, or whatever it is you do, we want the water system and we need water system employees to help us out.”

Trial starts in just a few days, and someone is going to get screwed.

All for now.

– Keila Szpaller

*Missoulian file photo of a wrench made with a 3D printer.

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

 

Happy almost 2015 in Missoula!

My colleague Kim Briggeman has this story about the top news in 2014.

I’d forgotten about Jordan Graham, the woman who pleaded guilty to shoving her husband off a cliff – and to his death – in Glacier National Park.

If you have story ideas for 2015, please let me know. Feel free to do so here or at keila.szpaller@missoulian.com. Here’s one:

@JohnVelkEsq 11:24am via Twitter Web Client

@KeilaSzpaller As a taxpayer in Missoula, I would love to know how much the city spent on outside legal counsel on just the cases they lost.

Also, don’t miss the dorkiest story I wrote in 2014. Yep, it’s related to the city of Missoula’s eminent domain case against Mountain Water Co.

And read reporter Dillon Kato’s update on the needs of the Missoula Food Bank.

Thinking about resolutions for 2015? I’m pasting a Tweet I sent earlier with some awesome ones from kids:

@KeilaSzpaller 10:39am via Hootsuite

“Be less annoying.” “Help a platypus.” (They’re endangered.) “Treat my baby Chihuahua politely.” ow.ly/GyegE#newyearsresolutions

The picture above comes from Addie Kinczel, grade 3, of Florence-Carlton. Her goals? “Get good grades in school and read more often.”

– Keila Szpaller

Stories about water, eminent domain in Missoula, Carlyle

barbedwire

I’m linking to some stories related to the city of Missoula’s eminent domain case against Mountain Water Co. and The Carlyle Group.

1. Apple Valley Ranchos, part of Western Water Holdings along with Mountain Water Co. and Park Water Co., got word it can afford its own water.

2. The city of Missoula can bond up to $102.63 million for a water company, according to Barclays. Mayor John Engen said he isn’t interested in paying that much. The city offered $65 million for Mountain Water.

3. Mooresville, Indiana, drops its quest to condemn the local water company because it can’t afford the price set by a jury.

4. Carlyle dips in the third quarter of 2014 compared to 2013. Some mind boggling numbers here.

All for now. Monday, the Missoula City Council holds a public hearing on an ordinance that gives the administration authority to spend money in acquiring Mountain Water. The council had approved a similar ordinance a year ago, but before the city went to court.

– Keila Szpaller