I had no better place to be tonight than the Missoula City Council. Few seemed to be thinking that when I walked in around 7 PM. Faces looked haggard and gaunt, eyes looked sunken and hollow. Not on the councilmen and women, no – these were the faces of those in attendance. The faces of the City Council looked just fine, more than fine in fact, plump and full of excess and greed. Although I couldn’t see under their tables, I imagined their pockets bulging with the people’s money.
Such had been the story before, and you can read about them in these old Missoula City Council reports of mine:
I had no cause to believe tonight would be any different. There were 25 people in the audience when I arrived, and the council chambers were a cool and balmy 60 degrees. The mayor was not present at this meeting. One of the City Council clerks read off the whole 6-page Monday.
June 8 agenda. These were some of the items that were to be discussed:
- Approve claims related to the water acquisition in the amount of $162,409.08.
- Adopt a resolution extending the boundaries of the Missoula Downtown Business Improvement District.
- Approve or deny the request for a Tavern and Casino on Reserve Street.
- Approve the extension of Hotel Fox LLC's exclusive right to negotiate a development agreement for redevelopment of the Fox Site in the Riverfront Triangle Urban Renewal District by 18 months to January, 2017.
There’s a lot more than that, but those are the highlights, the problems, the things that get people riled up. Let’s go over them for a moment:
- First, the water lawsuit. We continue to send hundreds of thousands of dollars out of the community each week on this;
- Next, why do we need to give the city of Missoula more tax authority by expanding this district?
- Then, another damn casino? You’ve got to be kidding me.
- Finally, the riverfront triangle hotel. Boy oh boy, we’re just getting to the latest chapters in this ongoing boondoggle, and it will cost a pretty penny when it’s all said and done, with a questionable – if any – benefit to the community.
So that’s how things stood as I walked into that meeting. Things had not been going well for the Council already. Just the night before it was reported that councilman Jordan Hess wanted to ban the Apple Watch. Coming on the heels of beer bans for transients (or just dirty-looking people) and bans on sitting on the sidewalk, though we are allowing gender reassignment surgery on the taxpayer dime for city workers. Yes, people were beginning to wonder.
They were wondering and they were complaining as well. Unfortunately, no one got up and gave a public comment. The voting proceeded and the money - $447,760 for various checks, $162,409 of which was water lawsuit appropriated – went right out the door.
After that it was declared that June 9 would be University of Montana Retiree Day.
After that we had a special proclamation by Merab Tsintsabadze, who is a representative of Kobuleti, a city in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. He spoke in Russian or something – my wife would have understood – for a good three or four minutes. It was two pages, handwritten in blue ink, lined white paper. He thanked the council and then a written translation was read by Ward 1’s Jason Wiener.
It seems that Kobuleti is quite the place, and though surrounded by despots, it has a Wikipedia entry. That’s pretty much what was handed to the City Council. I honestly don’t think that the good folks from Georgia were expecting anyone to read all of that. Population numbers, physical features, attributes of government…all were discussed in extended detail.
After that…it was determined that…I don’t know. That was it.
Extend the services is what we’re looking at, as well as some “behind the scenes work,” that’s what’s really important on this issue. They remove graffiti and trash. Some of the officer foot patrols are sponsored by this. Assessments would go on tax bills this November.
The properties have asked to be taxed, so I guess that’s alright. These are special services for people that don’t live in this district. These properties have asked to be included, they’ve asked to be taxed.
I got up and really gave them a ribbing, saying that the city’s insistence upon taxing individuals to death is forcing people out of their homes and into second jobs. I really harangued ‘em for a good two minutes or so, and then sat down, quite pleased with myself.
At that point a public comment was given by Geoff Badenoch. He wanted to make clear that this taxing measure only affects 3 to 5 businesses. That’s great…why the hell didn’t anyone tell me?
I tried to give another public comment, they didn’t want to hear it. That was called an outburst by Marilyn Marler, who was running the meeting while the mayor was off on his jaunt.
So then the council decided to move on to a staff report, given by Ward 3’s Emily Bentley. It was declared that the city and the Housing Authority needed to have a strong relationship. Instead of paying taxes, the Housing Authority pays $11,000 a year.
It’s very important to remember that many on the current City Council are quitting their jobs. These people don’t want to be here anymore. They’re sick of the low pay ($1,200 a month), and how it cuts into their life.
Public comments were requested, and there were none. Voting took place, and everyone voted for it.
What were we voting for? I have no idea, and I feel that no one else in the room did either. Adam Hertz then asked if there were any other nonprofits that were paying one-time payments instead of taxes, and someone from the city said no.
It was then determined that the people didn’t even know if they had any other nonprofits or not. Of course that report was given by the outgoing official, one thinking more of retirement than where you tax dollars are going.
Jason Weiner then said that this money is important, as “hundreds if not thousands” of people are being housed that otherwise wouldn’t be housed. So he thinks that this is a small thing to forgo, because it’s an “incredibly valuable service” that could save us “millions of dollars” in social services. After that we had Jon Wilkinson say that there’s a thousand people on that list.
Again, this points to our terrible economy, our terrible jobs situation, that we need to continue to prop up a whole class of people that can’t get work or enough work to even pay for a house. Now, it could be argued that these people are disabled or old, but then why the hell isn’t the federal government paying for this?
Of course it’ll be approved and built and we’ll then have another 7,000 square foot casino, one of dozens in the city. They’re open all the time, so you know it’ll always be there for you, the warm shiny glow of the machines. And of course, a city and state that’s never come to grip with its taxing dilemma, will have one more source of juice, one more spigot to turn on in times of need.
I’ve rarely seen a group of City Council members more bored and looking like they’d rather be anywhere else than when that report was given.
The applicant got up after that, a representative from the Boise Idaho commercial developers. They’re “really excited to be in the community,” as they should be – more money going out of town.
After that it was opened up to public comments. We had Brad Williams come up, the owner of the establishment. And Mr. Williams had the most staggered speech pattern I’ve ever heard, just like the guy the was on My Cousin Vinny, you know the guy that stutters like hell. This was almost as bad, but…well, it was worse.
This guy has a store in Phoenix, a Freddy’s store. He’s a bigshot, a businessman, a mover and shaker. Next a broker in Missoula came up, mentioned how they spoke with developers and owners and tenants for 28 months on this deal. This was really bread and butter stuff here, getting this casino. Wow, what a great addition to the community, it’s said.
Both operations would employ 90 people. This is going to be high school kids, their very first job. “That’s what those people are worth at that point!” he said.
Then Williams mentioned that some people would be making $50,000 a year. Williams has 530 employees altogether, and they “would pack this room and tell you I take care of ‘em,” he said.
A manager might make $75,000 a year, Williams said. So we’ll be having 170 and 180 employees, and “none but four would be coming from somewhere else, they’d all be local people,” he said.
Wow, talk about throwing down the gauntlet. So this guy is going to hire all of these people and he’s going to be paying them good pay. I’ll believe it when I see it.
After that Jon Wilkinson mentioned how he made $1.25 at Eddies in Great Falls. He’s so clueless, for he thinks that only young people are making these poverty wages from ol’ Williams. Ward 5’s Mike O’Herron said that this project was worth “the frozen custard” that this business will bring, so you knew he was voting for it.
Ward 4’s Patrick Weaslehead then said we shouldn’t focus too much on paying people the minimum. Adam Hertz of Ward 2 then said he started at $5.15, and that you have to start somewhere.
It was generally agreed that most had started at minimum wage, and also that this project would be supported. It was also noted that there’s already a tavern and casino on this site, and that those will be replaced.
Before closing the debate Ward 6’s Marilyn Marler needed to emphasize that she started at $3.33 minimum wage. After that it was a roll call vote with everyone voting for the measure.
Again, this just points to the desperation of Missoula. We don’t have any kind of growth plan, so there’s no housing. Businesses just come in and set up shop on the highway, raping our people of their dignity, livelihood and value.
It was a long PowerPoint, with blueprints and everything else. Remember, this all means extra cash for the city, work for the city workers. I picture them like hungry dogs myself, snapping at whatever scraps of work are thrown to them. A few hours of paperwork on this will get them through another week of city employ.
A woman got up and asked that this be denied. She said she’s a neighbor, and right behind the ADU, or Accessory Dwelling Unit, which is the name for these things.
Factors to consider on an ADU include:
- New buildings and structures create a positive relationship;
- Building and open space is addressed;
- Structures are compatible with current structures;
- Colors and design are important to review board;
- Access has to be safe for public.
The neighbor says turning the existing garage into an ADU is a bad idea. She had a lot of viable concerns, such as traffic. I could quickly understand why the homeowner had quickly gotten up before her, saying he were there “if there were any questions.” I imagined there would be, after listening to that neighbor’s 3-page report.
She hoped that each member had had a chance to take a look at the alley in question, but I highly doubted any of them had. I was therefore surprised when Ward 4’s Jon Wilkinson said he had, and then he started to raise hell with the city staff. The city staff hadn’t even heard of this letter that the neighbors have given.
So trouble was brewing for this homeowner, and strife was imminent between those neighbors. Each time they crossed on the other side of the fence, animosity and resentment would radiate from the other.
That’s why people like Wilkinson say that ADU’s “are not right” and “coming through the back door to change our zoning.”
Tough words. People that are neighbors of ADU proposed-units in Missoula have 9 days to send in a comment letter saying they don’t like the addition.
The homeowner has owned the property since 1992 and he’s a developer in the area. He got up next and defended the thing. After that Wilkinson said the previous City Councils were wrong in allowing this process to continue. Ward 3’s Alex Taft then pointed out that ADU’s like this allow low-paid workers to get housing, workers that may be working at that new casino on Reserve. He said he was happy to see those issues together tonight.
Weaselhead then brought up the idea of neighbors, which no one else had. He hoped things could be civil with these neighbors, but since the generational difference is so much, I doubt that will be a concern for too much longer.
The longest discussion of the night took place on this ADU. It lasted a good 20 minutes or more and in the end everyone but Wilkinson voted for it – the ADU would proceed.
After that just about everyone in the City Council meeting left. I did see the homeowners shake hands, so there’s that. There were now 11 people left, 2 of them from Russia. There were 13 City Councilors and workers present.
Another city worker got up and gave a PowerPoint on another expansion project in the Rattlesnake area. The City Clerk and several other people began to get up and walk around. Things were dying quickly.
I questioned whether I should stay on, covering the meeting. I’d already written more than 2,600 words and 9 pages, plus I was getting hungry. Would anyone even read this rubbish? I began to wonder.
I stopped wondering a few moments later, put my computer in my bag, and got up. I gave a final nod to our international friends, for they too had lived in despotic conditions, though I doubted they expected to see them here, in the bosom of America. But they did, and while their scars will never fade, yours might. That’s right, it’s an election year, and half the City Council is up. Do the right thing – vote the crooks out.
You Might Also Like
Kohl’s in Missoula: Another Bad Place to Work (Jul 19, 2014)
The Difference Between Kohl’s and Decker in Missoula (Jul 20, 2014)
Who Profits from the Mountain Water Lawsuit in Missoula (Aug 16, 2014)
A Grave Injustice in Missoula Continues (Dec 4, 2014)
Franklin to the Fort Neighborhood Council Meeting (Feb 3, 2015)
If I Wanted to Run for Missoula City Council, What Would I Do? (Feb 22, 2015)
Missoula School District Elections, Will it Solve Problems? (May 3, 2015)