Two dogs for you, one in Missoula!


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


Harlan Wells wants to be Missoula’s next mayor

harlan-wellsHarlan Wells, a Missoula City Council member, talked last week with the Five Valleys Pachyderm Club, and reporter Dillon Kato had this story about the event.

Wells wants to run for mayor in 2017 against incumbent Mayor John Engen. I think Engen is closing in on 132 months in office as head of Missoula, the longest serving mayor in the history of the city. (He first took the office in January 2006; 11 years x 12 mos = 132. Right?)

Here’s the list of Missoula mayors. In 1970, John Patterson was acting mayor for one week. That might be fun. I wonder if Council President Marilyn Marler will be on the list since she stepped in for Engen recently for a few weeks.

Anyway, back to Wells, if he wants to be mayor, I hope his participation on council has improved. Earlier this year, he wasn’t as involved as you might think a mayoral hopeful would be.

I hope we see another name in the race, too, though I can’t think of who that might be. (I also hope it isn’t someone who wags her finger in my face and swears at me after getting drunk, as happened a while back. ‘Member … ?!) I’d like to ask local government reporter Peter Friesen what he’s heard about other possible candidates but he’s deep in conversation right now, so I’ll bug him later.

Oh, speaking of candidates, did you see Denise Juneau might apply to be University of Montana president? Interesing news. Juneau might turn out to be the best person for the job, but let’s hope they don’t play politics with the hire.

A fun aside: I tracked down Juneau in person, without warning, and she was kind. I’d tried calling her about people pushing her to apply for the job, and I didn’t get through. Soon after, news editor Ashley Scully saw Juneau at a nearby coffee shop and let me know. I hopped across the street, reintroduced myself to Juneau, apologized for interrupting, and posed the question. She answered, and she and the person she was meeting with were obliging.

In other news, Kato also had this story today about what happens in Missoula County Justice Court when the parties disagree on what was said in court.

The Montana Legislature in 2003 gave counties the power to require their justice courts, which handle state misdemeanor crimes, to record their proceedings, making them “courts of record.” Few did so, and Missoula County has not.

Happy Monday.

  • Keila Szpaller

University of Montana president is on his way out


Here’s my story on University of Montana President Royce Engstrom’s departure, which was requested Thursday by the Montana Commissioner of Higher Education.

Here’s reporter Chelsea Davis’ story about Sheila Stearns, who will serve as interim president. Stearns was mostly retired, and she’s willing to serve UM as needed. A lot of people think she’s a rock star and the right choice for this transition. Said Stearns about taking the helm temporarily:

I’m still a little bit taken aback myself. It feels very recent. I’m only maybe 24 or 36 hours ahead of everybody else. If I didn’t know the University of Montana so well, I certainly wouldn’t have been prepared to – even though this is a real shock to me – I wouldn’t have been prepared to say yes so fast to a major decision.

Maybe we’ll talk more about leadership another time. President Engstrom certainly righted UM from the rape crisis, and he also hired a vice president for enrollment who looks to be kicking some booty. VP Tom Crady has been candid with the campus and public about UM’s need to move quickly, and people are inspired by him.

Faculty Senate Chair John DeBoer agreed Crady was offering a new dose of energy on campus.

I really enjoy working with Tom Crady. He speaks clearly. He’s forward looking. And he does give me hope and a source of stability on campus.

*Addition: I just saw these kind words DeBoer had about Engstrom and his wife, Mary Engstrom, and wanted to include them here as well. This paragraph came from a letter DeBoer sent to faculty leadership that also landed in my inbox:

Finally, ECOS (Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate) thanks President Royce Engstrom and Mary Engstrom for their service to the University of Montana. On a personal level, both have been an influential part of my time here and I will miss their support and collegiality. If you have the time and inclination, please reach out and wish them well.

Today, a longtime communications director from Montana offered props to another Missoula leader, Mayor John Engen. I’d noticed Engen’s absence shortly after the election because it felt like an uncertain time, a time when the community would normally hear from him. He’s one guy I wanted to hear from about those racist pamphlets landing on people’s doorsteps, for one. (They’re still appearing around town, BTW.)

Engen shared the reason he had been absent, and communications director Matt McKenna had this to say in part about the mayor’s actions:

I am certain this journey has made John a better person and a better mayor, someone I’m more proud than ever to call my friend. Missoulians would be lucky to keep calling John Engen their mayor as long as he’s willing to serve. I’d follow him into a fire, and if I lived in Missoula, bet your Griz tickets I’d vote for him.

All for now. TGIF.

  • Keila Szpaller


Mayor is direct about absence; Engstrom, OCHE, comment on UM

Good for Mayor John Engen. Last month, the mayor temporarily handed over the City Hall reins to Marilyn Marler, Missoula City Council president.

Engen is back at work today, with an explanation that he’d checked into treatment for alcohol addiction.

I always appreciate the insight of Jim Lopach, retired political science professor from the University Montana, on city and county matters. Lopach offered local government reporter Peter Friesen his take on the mayor’s letter to the public.

“It’s important for him (Engen) – it’s important for his political future – that he appears to have acted quickly and forthrightly,” Lopach said.

City editor Gwen Florio said she missed Missoula Red Tape, and frankly, there’s been quite a bit of fodder lately, so here we are. We’ll give it another go.

On the University of Montana front, you might have seen this story about UM with comments from the Montana Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education.

President Royce Engstrom had this to say in response to the story in a Thanksgiving memo to the campus:

I am compelled to address an article that appeared in this morning’s Missoulian. The University of Montana submitted a budget to the Regents this year based on the hard and painful work we did last year to adjust our personnel base. Our tuition revenue is running significantly ahead of that budget projection and the implication that jobs are threatened is some immediate sense is simply wrong. As does every institution of higher education, we will continue to align our personnel base in accordance with our enrollment and we will continue to reallocate our precious resources in the most educationally sound and cost-effective manner. We will, of course, do this through all appropriate legal and ethical channels.

Commissioner Clayton Christian had comments as well.

From: “Commissioner Clayton T. Christian”<

Date: November 25, 2016 at 9:04:49 AM MST


Subject: Message from Commissioner Christian

TO:  UM Campus Community

FROM:  Clayton T. Christian, Commissioner of Higher Education


A news story in the November 23 issue of the Missoulian understandably generated a lot of concern among UM faculty, staff, professional, and administrative employees. The article addressed a number of issues, including the university’s budget, staffing levels, and program prioritization efforts.


Included in the article were statements by a member of my staff in which he offered opinions about faculty and staffing levels at UM. It is understandable for people to be concerned about what they read.


Neither the Board of Regents nor its Commissioner have mandated any staffing reductions. Staffing is a university-level decision to be included in the annual operating budgets that the Board of Regents reviews to ensure revenues and expenditures are in line. The faculty, staff, professional and administrative team at UM have worked hard through past budget alignments to place the university on strong forward footing. At the same time, the collaborative program prioritization efforts and improved student recruiting methods are key to maintaining strong sustainability into the future.


The Board of Regents does not micromanage to the level of particular numbers of employees. The Board does monitor big-picture elements, or so-called “dashboard” indicators, such as institutional student to faculty or staff ratios. The Board relies upon university-level collaboration to develop and propose program-level ratios, address necessary nuances, and manage the resources and impacts to meet the needs of students.


Despite comments reported in the article, I assure you there is no intent to lay blame on faculty, the Missoulian, or any stakeholders in the University of Montana for the challenges ahead. We will rely on the expertise of participating faculty, staff, administrators and an informed public in transparently making this great university even stronger.


Thank you.

I’m probably rusty, so thanks for bearing with Red Tape.

  • Keila Szpaller

Some observations from Missoula condemnation court

We’re nearly halfway through the city of Missoula’s condemnation case against Mountain Water Co. and owner The Carlyle Group.

It’s as interesting as I thought it might be. The witnesses are providing fascinating details, and the lawyers are giving some engaging performances.

A couple themes have emerged in testimony so far. One thing I’m curious about is the relationship between Mayor John Engen and Robert Dove, managing director of infrastructure for Carlyle.

From all accounts to this point, it seems like Dove did intend to sell the water utility to the city of Missoula. Bruce Bender, chief administrative officer, remembered an evening with Dove, I think at Finn and Porter, where Dove put his arm around Engen and said, “Mayor, are you ready to buy a water company?”

So what happened? Did someone above Dove’s head shut it down? Did they figure they could get more from someone else? Then why not counter?

Last March, Dove answered written questions from the Missoulian, and I just took another look at them. They didn’t help me with my new questions, but I’m putting them here and follow ups here* anyway in case you want to take a look. (No answer to my question of whether the Carlyle crew had checked out Charlie B’s.)

More questions? Yes. Have ’em.

Would Carlyle actually benefit if it loses to the city? (And is this the reason they didn’t do well before trial? ‘Cause they didn’t need to?) Since Algonquin proposed to buy Western Water, the three companies, regardless of the outcome of the eminent domain proceeding, then wouldn’t Carlyle be better off getting paid from both the city and Algonquin? Or does Algonquin then take Carlyle to court? Messy.

Alright, other themes from trial. So far, only the city’s witnesses have testified. The picture they’re painting is that the utility is in dire straits and desperate for repairs, but instead of putting money into fixes, the private owners are pocketing it.

Of course, when Mountain’s own engineers take the stand, they may testify that the city cherry-picked photos of rotting pipes. They might say most of the pipes are actually alright, although I’m not sure how they will contest the high leakage rate.

Time is proving to be a focus in this trial, too. Judge Karen Townsend is keeping track of the minutes, and the lawyers are paying close attention. Here’s an order that explains the reason.

Shoot, I want to say more here about the lawyers and, ahem, #condemnationwear, but I’ll do that another time. Calling it a day, unlike all the attorneys and paralegals, who are probably working right now.

Good night.

– Keila Szpaller

P.S. The photo is of Joe Conner, taken by Missoulian photo editor Kurt Wilson.

*Updated with correct doc. Sorry!

*A roundup of recent words on Krakauer’s “Missoula”

1.  This week (actually last week*), the Montana Kaimin calls for transparency from University of Montana officials:

The Montana Kaimin Editorial board asks the University of Montana to release the files regarding the Student Conduct Code hearing of former Montana Grizzlies quarterback Jordan Johnson.

2.  Doubleday plans to release no advanced reading copies. Barbara Theroux at Fact and Fiction said if Jon Krakauer wants a reading, she’ll suggest a community forum.

Theroux also said interest in Krakauer’s book about campus rape is “not on the high level.”

“When a new book is announced by James Lee Burke, we sell books all across the world, and we have lots of, ‘How much is it?’ ‘I need a signed copy,'” she said.

“That’s not what’s going on with this one.”

3. The list of people saying the bestselling author didn’t contact them prior to writing the book is pretty long. It includes UM President Royce Engstrom, Missoula County Attorney Kirsten Pabst and former County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg, Mayor John Engen, police chief Mike Brady, and former police chief Mark Muir.

In an email, a Doubleday spokesperson did not confirm the author didn’t reach out to those people.

When I reached him by email, Muir was not pleased about being left out. I quoted his email in this story, but here are his full remarks:

No, Krakauer never reached out to me or anyone I know personally.  Unfortunately, I suspect that much like the DOJ investigative findings, his work will be crafted as mostly one-sided.  The DOJ, as you may know, never interviewed even a single MPD officer or detective about any single specific sex crime reported to the MPD.
If Krakauer has taken the same approach,  then once again the community (and the nation) will only hear one side of these difficult cases that arise in virtually every community in the nation.  If that’s so, this community get short-changed twice over.
DOJ singled out Missoula as the first campus community on the sex assault issue and will then use the outcome here to force the hand with other cities and universities.
While I don’t disagree with the capacity for improvement across the country, I still take issue with the unethical bullying tactics DOJ has used under AG Holder.  Hopefully, the new AG can realign the compass and get onto a calmer, clearer path.

4. An editorial talking about reform at UM. 

5. My story talking with marketers who believe “Missoula” will give Missoula a blemish.

6. The latest in Krakauer’s lawsuit trying to release records.

All for now. I’m off on a road trip for the day with reporter @kathrynhaake and photographer Tom Bauer.

– Keila Szpaller

*Reposted. This post from Feb. 25 was lost in a transfer from one server to another. I’m posting the recovered file here.

GOP makes a dent, even in Missoula; Otter, pandas


Here’s my story about the way the surge of support for the GOP affected even races in Missoula. Said Bowen Greenwood, head of the Montana Republican Party:

“I think there’s no question that the Republican message of more jobs and less government resonated with the voters last night.”


Also, this week, the public urged Mayor John Engen and the Missoula City Council to continue the fight to control Mountain Water Co. The call took place at a council meeting, and it was one of those refreshing hearings where you hear from a lot of everyday people.

Also, city editor Justin Grigg passed this story my way about homelessness. It says that Medicine Hat, Alberta, is on track to end chronic homelessness by 2015.

Also this: Baby otter; pandas. Now you can’t say I haven’t ever done anything for you.

– Keila Szpaller



A wandering photo editor; candidate forum; the state of things

This Instagram shot is from photo editor @kurtwilson in Unionville. Follow his “Roadside Wanderings” across Montana at #roadsidehistorymt.

Other cool or important stuff:

– The Missoula County Democrats host forums with Board of County Commissioner candidates and Missoula County Sheriff contenders 7 p.m. tonight, Tuesday, April 8, in Council Chambers.

Missoula City Club hosts State of the Community from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday, April 14, at the Doubletree Edgewater. Mayor John Engen, Commissioner Michele Landquist, and University of Montana President Royce Engstrom report on the state of the city, county and campus. The event is free, but reservations are required.

– Boston doctors prescribe bike-share programs to patients. Seriously.

– Keila Szpaller


Big budget increases for districts in Missoula

I just took another look at the trend in the city’s park and road districts.

In an earlier story, I included the information that the road district had increased 121 percent in one year, according to city finance documents.

I think it’s because of the sidewalk program the Missoula City Council adopted.

The piece I missed in the first look was that the road district went up 325 percent from FY12 to FY14. See page D-13.

There’s a hearing tonight on a new district, a public safety and justice district, for police and fire. We’ll see who turns up.

Police are stuffed in their offices, overstuffed. Photographer Michael Gallacher took the photo above.

In 2012, I wrote this story about the general fund ballooning nearly 30 percent since Mayor John Engen took office. It was based on this comparison, which I hope you’ll be able to open if you want, but if you can’t, I can email it to you: Budget comparison.

I haven’t updated it, but I should do so sometime this spring. At the time, finance department head Brentt Ramharter confirmed the information and increase.

Engen wrote this response in October to our election question about the budget increases:

General fund expenditures during my tenure as mayor, from FY2007 to FY2012 grew by about 20 percent and largely reflect negotiated salary increases for union employees and other employees, the folks who make City operations work every day. Because I’m the primary author of those budgets, I stand by them. They reflect a balance between community interests and the desire for city services and meeting our statutory obligation to deliver a balanced budget. I’ve also delivered significant budget cuts during the depths of the recession, which included a reduction in the number of employees.

— Keila Szpaller


Thursday digest!


1. Michael Bennett questions Mayor John Engen’s desire to purchase Mountain Water in this column about a “watery dream” becoming a nightmare.

2. The meeting about changing Fifth and Sixth Streets was odd. The idea has been cooking for months, since before July, and still no one knows if the city or state has jurisdiction? And a cost estimate wasn’t available on a day the committee almost voted? And neither were crash statistics? The neighbors who worked on the pilot project probably didn’t know how much patience they’d need to advocate a relatively cheap idea get a trial run. Will it fly? Maybe,  maybe not, according to Councilman Bob Jaffe’s estimate.

3. What else? Oh, right. A couple council members asked Parks and Rec to list all the herbicides it uses in its turf management manual so people can see the details.

There’s more, but all for now.

— Keila Szpaller

Photo: KS/Instagram. Fruit at the Missoula Food Bank.