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


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

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

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


These guys are full of beans, and this motion is horse pucky

Hey, this is fun. Since I’m not the lead reporter covering the water case for the Missoulian anymore, I’m going to tell you what I think about this motion.

Reporter Martin Kidston has this story about a group of eastern Montana ranchers opposing the city of Missoula’s eminent domain case against the Carlyle Group and Mountain Water Co.

The group is called United Property Owners of Montana. Its policy director, Chuck Denowh, said this: “We really see this (Mountain Water) case as a concerning precedent that could be set in terms of what’s an appropriate use of eminent domain.”

It’s a goofball argument. Of course, the group offered a bit more than Attorney General Tim Fox did for his rationale opposing Missoula’s proposed gun control ordinance, but that’s another topic.

The picture? Well I searched in our archives for “horse pucky” but I didn’t find anything. Then, I searched for “manure,” and I found that beautiful picture by Perry Backus. It’s chickens pecking apart manure. I’m not implying the state supremes are chickens, but I am saying there’s some smelliness here.

Here’s the state’s legislative handbook on eminent domain, and I’m also going to paste below the Montana statute that discusses public uses, and yes, it includes water pipes, supply systems, canals, reservoirs, and more:

70-30-102. Public uses enumerated. Subject to the provisions of this chapter, the right of eminent domain may be exercised for the following public uses:
(1) all public uses authorized by the government of the United States;
(2) public buildings and grounds for the use of the state and all other public uses authorized by the legislature of the state;
(3) public buildings and grounds for the use of any county, city, town, or school district;
(4) canals, aqueducts, flumes, ditches, or pipes conducting water, heat, or gas for the use of the inhabitants of any county, city, or town;
(5) projects to raise the banks of streams, remove obstructions from streambanks, and widen, deepen, or straighten stream channels;
(6) water and water supply systems as provided in Title 7, chapter 13, part 44;
(7) roads, streets, alleys, controlled-access facilities, and other publicly owned buildings and facilities for the benefit of a county, city, or town or the inhabitants of a county, city, or town;
(8) acquisition of road-building material as provided in 7-14-2123;
(9) stock lanes as provided in 7-14-2621;
(10) parking areas as provided in 7-14-4501 and 7-14-4622;
(11) airport purposes as provided in 7-14-4801, 67-2-301, 67-7-210, and Title 67, chapters 10 and 11;
(12) urban renewal projects as provided in Title 7, chapter 15, parts 42 and 43, except that private property may be acquired for urban renewal through eminent domain only if the property is determined to be a blighted area, as defined in 7-15-4206(2)(a), (2)(h), (2)(k), or (2)(n), and may not be acquired for urban renewal through eminent domain if the purpose of the project is to increase government tax revenue;
(13) housing authority purposes as provided in Title 7, chapter 15, part 44;
(14) county recreational and cultural purposes as provided in 7-16-2105;
(15) city or town athletic fields and civic stadiums as provided in 7-16-4106;
(16) county cemetery purposes pursuant to 7-11-1021, cemetery association purposes as provided in 35-20-104, and state veterans’ cemetery purposes as provided in 10-2-604;
(17) preservation of historical or archaeological sites as provided in 23-1-102 and 87-1-209(2);
(18) public assistance purposes as provided in 53-2-201;
(19) highway purposes as provided in 60-4-103 and 60-4-104;
(20) common carrier pipelines as provided in 69-13-104;
(21) water supply, water transportation, and water treatment systems as provided in 75-6-313;
(22) mitigation of the release or threatened release of a hazardous or deleterious substance as provided in 75-10-720;
(23) the acquisition of nonconforming outdoor advertising as provided in 75-15-123;
(24) screening for or the relocation or removal of junkyards, motor vehicle graveyards, motor vehicle wrecking facilities, garbage dumps, and sanitary landfills as provided in 75-15-223;
(25) water conservation and flood control projects as provided in 76-5-1108;
(26) acquisition of natural areas as provided in 76-12-108;
(27) acquisition of water rights for the natural flow of water as provided in 85-1-204;
(28) property and water rights necessary for waterworks as provided in 85-1-209 and 85-7-1904;
(29) conservancy district purposes as provided in 85-9-410;
(30) wharves, docks, piers, chutes, booms, ferries, bridges, private roads, plank and turnpike roads, and railroads;
(31) canals, ditches, flumes, aqueducts, and pipes for:
(a) supplying mines, mills, and smelters for the reduction of ores;
(b) supplying farming neighborhoods with water and drainage;
(c) reclaiming lands; and
(d) floating logs and lumber on streams that are not navigable;
(32) sites for reservoirs necessary for collecting and storing water. However, reservoir sites must possess a public use demonstrable to the district court as the highest and best use of the land.
(33) roads, tunnels, and dumping places for working mines, mills, or smelters for the reduction of ores;
(34) outlets, natural or otherwise, for the flow, deposit, or conduct of tailings or refuse matter from mines, mills, and smelters for the reduction of ores;
(35) an occupancy in common by the owners or the possessors of different mines of any place for the flow, deposit, or conduct of tailings or refuse matter from their several mines, mills, or smelters for reduction of ores and sites for reservoirs necessary for collecting and storing water for the mines, mills, or smelters. However, the reservoir sites must possess a public use demonstrable to the district court as the highest and best use of the land.
(36) private roads leading from highways to residences or farms;
(37) telephone or electrical energy lines, except that local government entities as defined in 2-7-501, municipal utilities, or competitive electricity suppliers may not use this chapter to acquire existing telephone or electrical energy lines and appurtenant facilities owned by a public utility or cooperative for the purpose of transmitting or distributing electricity or providing telecommunications services;
(38) telegraph lines;
(39) sewerage of any:
(a) county, city, or town or any subdivision of a county, city, or town, whether incorporated or unincorporated;
(b) settlement consisting of not less than 10 families; or
(c) public buildings belonging to the state or to any college or university;
(40) tramway lines;
(41) logging railways;
(42) temporary logging roads and banking grounds for the transportation of logs and timber products to public streams, lakes, mills, railroads, or highways for a time that the court or judge may determine. However, the grounds of state institutions may not be used for this purpose.
(43) underground reservoirs suitable for storage of natural gas;
(44) projects to mine and extract ores, metals, or minerals owned by the condemnor located beneath or upon the surface of property where the title to the surface vests in others. However, the use of the surface of property for strip mining or open-pit mining of coal (i.e., any mining method or process in which the strata or overburden is removed or displaced in order to extract the coal) is not a public use, and eminent domain may not be exercised for this purpose.
(45) projects to restore and reclaim lands that were strip-mined or underground-mined for coal and not reclaimed in accordance with Title 82, chapter 4, part 2, and to abate or control adverse effects of strip or underground mining on those lands.

All for now.

– Keila Szpaller (not a lawyer, but scores fine on reading comprehension)

Jack Rowan only Ward 2 candidate to show for forum


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

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.


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.

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



Bob Jaffe isn’t having withdrawals from Missoula City Council

Bob Jaffe spent eight years on the Missoula City Council, and I thought he might have some withdrawals.

Not at all, he said.

I talked with him this week for a story about the sign in front of his office, Cedar Mountain Software.

Afterward, I asked him about life after council. He said he’s really likes to keep up on the happenings without the pressure.

He reads the listserv and newspaper stories, and then, he goes about his life.

“It’s nice to follow it from a much more passive perspective,” Jaffe said.

I figured constituents might still be calling him, but that’s not the case, either, he said. All in all, he has less stress on his life.

“My kids have even commented on how much more relaxed I am these days,” Jaffe said.

Probably lucky for the sign smasher.

In other business, the Indy writes about dogs pooing in the cemetery; and Governing magazine has a chart on minimum wages in all states, with 2.1 percent of hourly workers in Montana at or below the federal limit.

— Keila Szpaller

Goodbye, Danskos, hello, JLos

SHOESphoto Trevorphoto

High heels in winter? They’re no problem for Trevor Parr, who was having coffee this morning at Le Petit Outre while working on a tattoo design for a client.

Three cheers for people like Parr who are willing to paddle upstream when it comes to fashion in Dansko- and Carhartt-friendly Missoula. AND be a person named Trevor in stilettos. (Well, they look like stilettos to me.) The design is by Jennifer Lopez, said Parr.

In other news, I was surprised Wednesday to arrive early to a 1 p.m. meeting and see 11 council people in an off-the-mic meeting with Rob Scheben, crime prevention officer with the Missoula Police Department.

The meeting wasn’t noticed, and when I arrived, the council people were talking about what to do in case of emergency in Council Chambers. When it ended, I asked Council President Marilyn Marler why the event wasn’t noticed.

Marler said she didn’t know, but she said it was part of the training for new councilors. I wanted to know how often so many councilors met together in unnoticed sessions.

“This is the only one,” Marler said. “It’s a pretty special situation.”

If you want to know what council people are up to in their Wednesday committee meetings, go to “Most Recent Committee Schedule” here.

The Montana Constitution protects people’s rights to know what elected officials are up to, to observe them in the sausage making, and to give their two cents. In order to participate, people need a heads up and an agenda.

City Clerk Marty Rehbein posts council’s agendas for its Monday night meetings a couple days before the meeting. You can find those in the same place as committee agendas.

I don’t believe council people were making any decisions when they met this week for the training, but I do believe we should know in advance when so many elected leaders are in the same room — and the nature of their business.

Oh, one more thing. It looks like the council is going to grant the Hotel Fox group a one-year extension on its reservation on the old Fox Theater site. I really, really, really would like to be able to tell you something juicy about the project, like, the developers revealed plans for a terraced herb garden and outdoor bar, a rooftop deck, a Ferris wheel operated by friendly llamas, but no such luck.

I can tell you not everyone is pleased with the imminent extension: From Twitter:

Reaction: MT @jhwygirl: If Fox Grp can’t meet original expectations, why in hell is council affirming them? Again?

For the record, I deleted an F-bomb. The project has grown even bigger, and sometime between now and June, the Hotel Fox people are going to solicit public input. I’m won’t mind if you share my Ferris wheel idea.

Happy Friday, by the way. And unless you’re practiced, leave the stilettos for springtime, alright?

— Keila Szpaller


Roger Seewald mounts write-in campaign in Ward 2

dowtownpicBut first things first: You can register to vote all over Missoula on Tuesday, Sept. 24. Details here in this letter.

More here about registering Tuesday at the Missoula County Courthouse.

Now about the election: Roger Seewald wants to be elected to represent the Missoula City Council in Ward 2.

His name won’t appear on the ballot since he didn’t file in time, but he’s hoping to best Jordan Hess. Hess did file by the deadline, and his name will be the only one on the ballot for Ward 2.

Seewald is a military veteran and consultant for fire and law enforcement. His top issue is “excessive taxes on business and property owners,” according to a campaign brochure of his that landed in my inbox.

Hess wants to hear from constituents about “boulevard trees and economic development, potholes and the welfare of your children, snow removal and affordable housing.”

— Keila Szpaller

Photo credit: KS, Instagram