Archive for June, 2007

by Jay Stevens

Okay, here’s the final ballot after a rush of last-minute applicants:

Here’s the list of candidates for Missoula City Council:

Ward 1: Justin Armintrout and Jason Wiener

Ward 2: Don Nicholson, Pam Walzer and Dave Huerta

Ward 3: Stacy Rye and Doug Harrison

Ward 4: Lyn Hellegaard, Denver Henderson, Jerry Ballas, Alan Ault and Joseph Gorsh

Ward 5: Christine Prescott and Renee Mitchell…

Ward 6: Ed Childers, Lewie Schneller and Martin Guthrie

Primaries occur in any ward with three or more candidates. That means Wards 2 and 4. (Ward 4! Clusterf*ck!)

by Jay Stevens

The Missoulian reported our city’s slate of current city council candidates (filing deadline is Thursday).

Here’s the outlook.

Ward 1: It’s Jason Wiener and Justin Armintrout.

In Wards 2 and 3, the incumbents – Don Nicholson and Stacie Rye, respectively – are running unopposed. (Although rumor has another entrant into the Ward 2 race. I’ll report later if confirmed.)

Ward 4 pits Lyn Hellegaard and Denver Henderson are challenging incumbent Jerry Ballas.

Ward 5 is up for grabs, so far. There’s a vacant seat, and no candidates as of print time of the report.

Ward 6 has incumbent Ed Childers running against perennial also-ran, Lewie Schneller.

Commentary later.

Another Red Scare

by Pete Talbot

What do the Peace Center, New Party and Forward Montana all have in common? You got me.

But according to perennial legislative candidate Will Deschamps, in a letter to the Missoulian, these groups want to run your life.

I’ll try to keep this post short because I’m not sure the letter dignifies a response. I get tired of this conspiracy theory crap, though.

First, the Peace Center (I assume he’s referring to the Jeanette Rankin Peace Center): the only area of politics I’ve seen JRPC work in is advancing peace. That’s a bad thing? As far as I know, the folks there don’t run or endorse candidates, don’t hire lobbyists, don’t have a PAC — their mantra seems to be: war is not the answer, and that’s hard to argue with. And I’m sure they’re not affiliated with the New Party or Forward Montana.

Second, from what I’ve seen from Forward Montana, its main goal is to get young people excited and involved in politics. Democratic politics, to be sure, but I wouldn’t hold it against the Republican Party for trying to engage young voters. The causes that Forward Montana advocates for tend to include voting rights, educational funding, environmental concerns and a host of other issues that will appeal to young people. Heaven forbid that there’s an organization out there trying to get more young folks into the political arena. Also, I don’t think that most of Forward Montana’s membership even knows that there was a New Party.

Which brings me to one of my pet peeves: the bandying about of the New Party label. To hear the conservatives, the New Party basically runs every aspect of this town — from growth issues to elections to transportation to taxes, ad infinitum. One problem here; the New Party no longer exists. It disbanded over five years ago and its members have been scattered to the winds. Some now work on affordable housing issues, some on education issues, some on American Indian or environmental themes. I should know, I was one of those New Party folk. After the New Party’s demise I went on to work with the Democratic Party, the so-called big tent, that welcomed me with open arms, sort of.

And I know for a fact that the New Party never had a relationship with JRPC or Forward Montana.

Now that I think about it, though, there is one thing that these three groups have in common. It’s the idealism that things could be better for average people in Missoula, the State of Montana, the country and the world.

 

I tried to link to the letter itself but the Missoulian doesn’t archive letters to the editor. Maybe look in your local bar, coffee shop or restaurant for today’s (Thurs., June 28) copy.

Deadline for filing for any of the 6 Missoula City Council seats is Thursday, 5 p.m. Tomorrow.

Geez, that one snuck up, didn’t it.

There are 6 council seats open, one in each ward. Nicholson, Ballas, Rye and Childers will presumably file (or have), with Reidy and Kendall announcing that they won’t be seeking another term.

Darn if I know what other offices are open. You sure can’t figure it out from searching around either the city or county websites. That’s a shame.

And nada for the Missoulian either. That’s a bigger shame – I mean, what is the purpose of a newspaper if they can’t report something like that? Guess there wasn’t enough people to cover a story about an upcoming election – what with all the athletes being arrested and all, how’s a newspaper to keep up???

The Ravalli Republic was able to put up a story on the filing deadline. They’ve got a few openings down there – Hamilton has 3 ward seats and a city judgeship open, Darby with 4 seats and Stevensville with 2. Darby’s mayoral seat is up too.

Ward 5’s councilman Jack Reidy announced on Monday night that he wouldn’t be seeking reelection for his seat on City Council.

Jack has been a fixture on City Council for what seems to be forever. I will miss his stories of ‘old’ Missoula – he always has a way of using them to put things into context when they needed put into context. Hopefully he will have a few more gems to add over the next 5 months or so.

Some may recall Jack tried to retire about 2 years ago, announcing that he wouldn’t be seeking another term. That quickly changed when he was chosen to fill Councilman Bob Lovegrove’s seat, left vacant due to his passing from brain cancer.

When Jack leaves office, he will have represented Ward 5 for 22 years.

I, and many who read this blog, may not have agreed with his vote on the referendum, but that is but one small blip on the bigger radar. The overall picture of Reidy’s work on Council has been a whole hell of a lot of good, and he deserves credit for it.

Here’s hoping that Ward 5 has another democratic candidate out there with feet big enough to fill his shoes.

by jhwygirl

Unbenownst to me, the city council resolution on placing a referendum before Missoula City voters calling for an orderly and quickened withdrawal of troops from Iraq had a co-sponsor.

Ward 3’s Councilwoman Stacy Rye co-sponsored the resolution along with Bob Jaffe, also of Ward 3…she, in fact, played a big role in putting together the final wording of the resolution, working with City Attorney Jim Nugent throughout the day on Monday to ensure that it would meet all necessary approvals.

So a kudos is well deserved to both Stacy and Bob for getting that resolution up-and-running. Putting that together and sponsoring the resolution took some guts in what they both knew would result in some pretty vocal and emotional opposition.

Missoula has lots to be proud of – and both Stacy Rye and Bob Jaffe are two shining examples of elected officials who go the extra mile to represent and respond to the voters who look to them for leadership.

by jhwygirl

In what might be described as an atypical city council meeting for the Garden City, Missoulians from both sides of the Iraqi war discussion filled city council chambers and waited patiently to let their voices be heard on one of the most contentious issues facing all Americans everywhere – continuation of the war in Iraq.

I watched from afar (gotta love MCAT), fearing that the whole meeting would deride into chaos, but my ingrained cynicism got the best of me last night. I was wrong. All speakers, including the council members, were civil, articulate, thoughtful, respectful and attentive. No boos or hisses, no one walking out of the meeting, no one getting assaulted in the hallway. Pretty amazing considering not only the history of regular Monday night council meetings, but the topic at hand.

I have to add here, to stand out on its own, that I was given new hope in the youth of today. I too often am dismissive of today’s MTV generation (or whatever they are called), and last night proved me wrong. I was mesmerized by the 20-somethings (and probably a few 18 and 19 year olds) that spoke eloquently about their right to be heard and the validity of a referendum and Councilman Bob Jaffe’s resolution. (Sven, I think I am in love.)

I believe the referendum gives Missoulians the opportunity to be heard in a more intimate manner – vote by vote.

More importantly, it opens up a forum for discussion on the Iraqi war itself – the validity, the value, the purpose, the cost. I think the coming discussion will make all Missoulians more aware of the war in an every day, every hour, every minute manner – something that is missing in all of the ‘war’ talk.

Americans go on their merry ways, while soldiers are shipped daily to a war built on a lie, and bolstered still by even more lies. American soldiers die daily, yet at home, Americans head down to the Walmart to buy their stuff. Soldiers are maimed and brought home without limbs while we fill our tanks with the very stuff that is the real reason why we are over there fighting people who have done us no harm. Saddam is gone, hanged, and yet there is absolutely no end in sight. His own Sunni supporters are in positions of power.

The Iraq war is not the Afghanistan war. It is not a war against the terrorists that attacked us on September 11, 2001. A separation needs to be drawn – loud and clear – between Iraq and Afghanistan. Too many blur that line, including the Bush administration. Even today, with all that is know, that line is still blurred. It has to end.

I look forward to the discussion to come. War is unpleasant – and people need to be reminded of it every day. We will be living with reminders of the Iraqi war’s unpleasantness for decades to come, as its soldiers return to live the lives they so richly deserve. We can not and should not waive off any discussion of so important a ‘divisive issue’. It brings shame to the heroes who serve this country so proudly.

The soldiers and their families who have sacrificed and are sacrificing so much deserve this conversation. All of America should be so lucky.

by jhwygirl

Tucked into Monday nights city council meeting, new Office of Planning & Grants Director Rogar Millar reminded City of Missoula residents that his department would be initiating and update of the city zoning and subdivision regulations with a meeting – including refreshments – at the Broadway Building conference room at St. Patrick’s Hospital on West Broadway.

The Town Hall-type meeting starts at 6 p.m., Wednesday, June 27th. The Office of Planning and Grants has this link up for more information. You can also call 258-4657.

As Mayor Engen said “This is an important meeting, folks” – and while zoning and subdivision regulation talk might seem dreary and boring, it is the meat-and-bone of how this city is run. It affects your daily life, your quality of life, whether you realize it or not.

Participating in this discussion and providing meaningful input into regulations that, once they are in place are usually pretty difficult to change, is a worthy project. Elected officials (and department officials, also) are usually reticent to open up approved regulations for fear of not only opening up a much larger discussion that that of which might be intended, but because it could start a whole train of regulation changes.

And besides – just take a guess who is going to be trying to make sure their interests are being covered and protected under the new regulations? Developers and big business.

by Pete Talbot

Missoula City Council voted 6-6 and Mayor John Engen cast the deciding vote to put an Iraq War troop withdrawal resolution on the November ballot.

But that’s the short story. It was a thoughtful, emotional and mostly civil evening. Twenty-six people spoke in favor of the resolution and 17 spoke against. It was some of the better discourse that the council has had recently and the discussion said a lot about Missoula.

“Our decision makers in D.C. have failed us,” said one of the resolution’s supporters. “Give the voters here a chance.”

“You embolden our enemy against us,” said an opponent. “It won’t end until we defeat them or they defeat us.”

“Democracy” was the key word of the evening. The definitions ranged from spreading democracy in the Middle East to allowing democracy at the polls here in Missoula. It came up often.

“More resolutions, more democracy,” said a supporter.

However, those advancing the resolution were said by opponents to be “unfaithful to democracy” and were guilty of “grandstanding and preening.” Resolution proponents were also accused of political motivation, manipulating the public and conspiracy.

Ward Two’s John Hendrickson called the resolution “wrong and disgusting” and certain members of council were “manipulating us for voter turnout.”

Much of the debate centered around the city’s role in non-municipal affairs.

“You’re good at filling pot holes,” said one man, “but don’t do this.”

“Mind your own business” and don’t waste time and resources on matters outside your jurisdiction, said another.

But the wife of a soldier in Iraq said of the resolution, “I really want this vote and I want it bad.”

Here’s the abbreviated version of the “non-binding statement of policy by the citizens of Missoula on the occupation of Iraq by the military of the United States of America. The intent of this referendum is to influence the United States Congress.” It will appear, in more detail, on the Nov. 7 ballot, but the basic gist is:

“The citizens of Missoula, Montana, hereby urge the Congress of the United States of America to authorize and fund an immediate and orderly withdrawal of the United States military from Iraq in a manner that is fully protective of U.S. soldiers.”

The vote followed ward boundaries. In Ward One, Dave Strohmaier and Heidi Kendall voted for the resolution; in Ward Two, John Hendrickson and Don Nicholson voted against it. Ward Three’s Stacy Rye and Bob Jaffe voted for it while Ward Four (Jon Wilkins and Jerry Ballas) voted against the resolution. Ward Five (Dick Haines and Jack Reidy) voted “no” while Ward Six’s Ed Childers and Marilyn Marler voted “yes.” All twelve council members defended their votes during council comments.

“This is the one way we can allow people to weigh in” on such a contentious issue, Councilwoman Rye said.

Public comment started around 9:30 p.m. and council voted on the resolution a little before midnight. The public stayed unusually courteous and attentive throughout. The mayor ran a clean and efficient meeting.

“You all did Missoula proud,” Mayor Engen said of the process.

Some members of council and the public said the resolution would reinforce Missoula’s image as a liberal college town, and give the city a ”black eye.” But considering that the Butte-Silver Bow Commissioners passed their own resolution 8-4 and Helena’s City Commission voted unanimously to put a similar referendum on the ballot, it was an awfully close vote.

by jhwygirl

In a contentious City Council meeting last Tuesday, June 20th, Great Falls Mayor Dona Stebbins had Susan Overfield removed, forceably (via 3 plain clothed police officers), for violating a 3-minute public comment rule.

Apparently there is nothing in Great Falls that is worthy of anything more than 3 minutes of comment from any one citizen – so much so that they have a buzzer and plain clothed police officers, and the elected officials there are more than willing to yank someone physically from the podium, in front of a room full of people, including news reporters and cameras, and then throw them against a wall.

If you did that to me, and you weren’t in uniform, you’d be lucky if I didn’t get in at least one well-aimed kick. Apparently, Ms. Overfield was able to land a punch, though, and for that was arrested for felony assault (later reduced to a misdemeanor.)

All of this over who is going to run the city’s animal shelter. The Humane Society proposed extending their contract at a rate of $186,00/year, for three years, whereas the Great Falls Police Department have proposed a $516,00/year contract.

Ms. Overfield feels that the Humane Society would do a much better job.

Given the way the police apparently treat citizens merely trying to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech, I’d have to say she is probably correct.

Larry Kraj, Environmental Rangers! blogged this up over at Left in the West. Hopefully there will be video up soon, somewhere.

Since the Great Falls Tribune story will go to purchase only in a week, here is a link to the story at the Missoulian.

Missoula City Council’s Committee of the Whole voted yesterday, 5-3, to take Councilman Bob Jaffee’s resolution calling for a referendum vote by the citizens of the City of Missoula, which calls on Congress to fund a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

In a testy committee meeting, Councilmen Jack Reidy and Jon Wilkins expressed their opposition to the resolution. Reidy, a WWII veteran, didn’t think it the place of a city council to discuss foreign policy, while Wilkins, a Vietnam Veteran, felt it too strongly a divisive issue for the community to address. Wilkins then walked out of the hearing.

Wouldn’t want to discuss anything divisive, would we Mr. Wilkins?

Both Jay and Pete have previous posts on this resolution issue also. As Jay points out, both Butte and Helena have taken similar votes – Helena has approved its resolution, putting a referendum vote before its citizens, while Butte went all guts-and-glory, passing a resolution calling for a “rapid and comprehensive withdrawal” from Iraq.

Jaffe suggested a referendum vote before the citizens because he felt the citizens deserved a voice in the matter. He’s right. This is the best and loudest way to go – give all voters in the City a voice.

I’ll be contacting my Councilpersons (Ed Childers and Marilyn Marler) to ask them to support the resolution.

Our Council needs to know that calling for a withdrawal of troops is support of the troops. Iraq is nothing but a full-blown civil war, and sending our troops – of which Montana’s son’s and daughter’s are paying an overwhelmingly higher greater price, per capita, than other states, is prudent. The U.S. can not win an Iraqi civil war.

by jhwygirl

Missoula County Commissioners voted, unanimously, to spend $304,500 of its open space bond money towards purchasing conservation easements on two properties in the Blackfoot drainage.

One was a 3,250 acre easement on Sunset Hill near Greenough, adjacent to a 4,000 acre conservation easement held by the Potter family – known for its environmentally friendly forestry practices. The plan is for the Potter family to extend its forestry practices onto this piece of land, and restore the area to its pre-1885/ Ananconda Copper Mining Company condition, when clearcutting was prevalent.

Public access comes with the Sunset Hill piece – acquired as part of a larger range project with The Nature Conservancy and Plum Creek Timberlands (part of the Blackfoot Challenge.) It was purchased for $200,000.

The second easement, 333 acres, was on the Circle Bar Ranch and purchased for $104,500. It protects agricultural lands, rare wetlands, a section of recently restored Ashby Creek and a recently discovered genetically pure strain of westslope cuthroat trout fishery.

A total of 730 acres is now protected on the ranch – with the remaining acreage placed under easement with the aid of a federal grant buying the development rights.

Since Circle Bar is a working ranch, no public access was granted.

All great stuff. The Sunset Hill was a bargain – and a hugely significant amount of land. The Circle Bar acquisition protects some very important wildlife habitat area.

I hope the Commissioners look to preserving lands further west, out towards Frenchtown, where development pressures are increasing but while there is still some ag land that hasn’t succumbed to the pressure of 5-acre ranchettes dotting the hillsides.

Same for the Clinton area, especially with river frontage properties, where rising taxes are increasing pressures on older landowners to seek out financial solutions to maintaining the property.

The Lolo area could use some help too – the recent sale of the Francis and DJ Maclay property to conservation buyers will protect a huge amount of land, but ranch properties to both the north and south of the ranch remain threatened by development. I hear there are some pretty big elk that roam the Maclay Ranch – and with the Bitterroot running through that stretch of ranches, protection of that area would provide not only protection for valuable wildlife habitat, but also one of the least impacted viewsheds in the County. The sea of lights, at night, that float out over the northern part of Ravalli have yet to migrate over into Missoula. It’d be nice to keep it that way.

So I ask: Do you have any favorite areas that you think are work some of your taxpayer dollar?

by jhwygirl

Ward 3’s councilman Bob Jaffe has criticized the city’s budget process in both an email and in an article in the Missoulian. Councilmen Haines, Hendrickson, Wilkins and Ballas have chimed in also in agreement, an odd alliance, really.

The gist of Jaffe’s complaint is that the budget is essentially ‘set’ when it gets to them – that the time with which the council has to review and approve it does not allow enough time to exert any influence. “There is no money for lots of stuff I think should get done, but plenty of stuff that seems like it could wait or is a bit extravagant. The standards for belt-tightening is no applied evenly,” Jaffe said.

The current budget process is driven by the Mayor and the City Administrator. Department heads meet with the Mayor and City Administrator, beginning as early as April (if not sooner), and they have ongoing discussions with their budget, and then it is essentially handed up to Council for approval. There are lots of meetings.

Missoula’s 2006 general fund budget was $36 million.

Haines has said that he believes the budget really should reflect the opinions of councilmembers. He’d like to see 10 new pistols budgeted for, in response to a police department request. They currently aren’t there. He’d also like to see a drug diversion officer.

Jaffe would like to see more cash for bike lanes and affordable housing. “Unless we are going to raise some kind of mutiny, we just tweak a couple thousand here and there. Otherwise, it is pretty much all worked out and the department heads are just parading it before us out of courtesy. I’m not sure exactly why, but I find the whole thing frustrating.”

I think I understand why, Bob.

I didn’t work to help elect Bob Jaffee only to have him cut out of the budget process except to the level of review as a courtesy. I’m sure people didn’t do the same for their candidate (whether it be Haines, Hendrickson, Wilkins, or any of the 6 council member.)

Maybe the solution is to involve the Committee of the Whole starting sometime in mid-May? Would that be asking too much?

by Pete Talbot

Here’s a brief update on Jay’s June 7 post about various Montana cities drafting resolutions to get us out of Iraq. His big question was: where the hell is Missoula on this?

Helena’s City Commission voted unanimously to put a referendum on the ballot this November. Butte is actually the first city in Montana to call for withdrawal from Iraq. The Butte Council of Commissioners voted 8-4 urging a “rapid and comprehensive withdrawal.”

It turns out that a few members of Missoula’s City Council are working on a resolution that could appear on November’s municipal election ballot. This effort is being advanced by Ward 3 Alderfolk Stacy Rye and Bob Jaffe. Council members now await Committee of the Whole Chairman Ed Childers, Ward 6, to schedule a hearing — perhaps as early as next week.

Once the language is agreed upon, the entire council will have to vote to put this on the ballot. This needs to be done 75 days before the November 6 election. Council members that I talked to seem to think a simple majority is all that’s needed to get it on the ballot but I’m waiting for a call back from the city clerk to confirm this.

Most of the language to date comes from Helena’s ‘Out of Iraq’ referendum. So far, here’s how Missoula’s resolution reads:

“On _________, 2007, the members of the City Council of Missoula voted to place the following referendum on the November 6, 2007 ballot for the approval or disapproval by the voters of the City of Missoula. This referendum is a non-binding statement of policy by the citizens of Missoula on the occupation of Iraq by the military of the United States of America. The intent of this referendum is to influence the United States Congress.

“The citizens of Missoula, Montana, hereby urge the Congress of the United States of America to authorize and fund an immediate and orderly withdrawal of the United States military from Iraq in a manner that is fully protective of U.S. soldiers.”

A referendum is what it’s called as it winds its way through city council and then gets placed on the ballot. If and when it is passed by the voters, it becomes a resolution. At least that’s my understanding on the difference between the two words.

I can hardly wait to see how the assorted members of council vote on this. Plus, as Jay suggests, Missoula should be taking a leadership role on this issue.

by jhwygirl

NARAL Pro-Choice Montana is collecting signatures for a full-page ad it plans to place in the Great Falls Tribune.

There’s great coverage of this story over at Left in the West (from Allyson, and another from Planned Parenthood of Montana) and MontanaNetroots (from Shane, who has apparently raised the ire of the anti-birth control, pro barefoot-and-pregnant-is-best crowd), in case you need more info. No need for me to rehash what has already been done well.

If you have a moment, go here to add your name to the list.

by jhwygirl

I had mentioned to Jay that I might do a semi-regular roundup of local news happenings across the state. Consider this a first edition.

If you’ve got something you want covered, go ahead and send me what you got at jhwygirl at hotmaildotcom. Put ‘news roundup’, or something similar, in the subject field, otherwise I might delete it along with the fifty other spams I get daily on that account.

The Missoula’s City Council (more specifically, Jerry Ballas) resurfaces, again, with debate on the merits of traffic circles. Can I just say that going round and round about this is making me dizzy?!

The State Capitol has planted its annual MONTANA flower garden. This years design includes a bison skull, a tribute to the Montana State quarter. I don’t know if they are volunteers or state employees, but they do a wonderful job.

Fireworks are brewing over a new fireworks ordinance in Great Falls. And of course those fireworks stand owners are leading the cry of “foul!” Does the discussion always have to come down to a you-are-hurting-business whine? Meader, president of Liberty Fireworks, alleges the new ordinance is just the first step to banning fireworks in the city.

Final bids are in for the City of Bozeman’s proposed $9.2 million parking garage. Inflation and rising material costs have pushed this cost up nearly $1 million over initial estimates. Council is considering another 100 spaces, which will cost an estimated $1.2 million more.

Finally – hows this for (stupidity/lunacy/insanity)? A Missoula man was ticketed for DUI twice in once day. In the space of one local city policeman’s evening shift, nonetheless! Once at 5:30 p.m, then a second time at 10 p.m. Officer Cody Lanier, in his affidavit for the second arrest, wrote that he “recognized Lundgren as the man he had arrested earlier in his shift.” Do ya think? ….Wait, it goes further. In an affirmation of Lundren’s self-destructiveness, he showed up drunk for his arraignment, where he was finally remanded to jail.

by Jay Stevens

From a press release in my email inbox, via Jackie Corr:

Today the Butte-Silver Bow Council of Commissioners voted 8 – 4 to pass a resolution calling for a “rapid and comprehensive withdrawal” from Iraq. Butte is the first Montana city to call for the withdrawal of troops, and joins hundreds of cities and towns nationwide who have called for an end to the occupation of Iraq.

The resolution also calls on congress to fully fund mental, physical health, education, disability and rehabilitation benefits for veterans, and to pursue security and stability through diplomacy. The resolution was introduced to the council last April by a group of veterans and concerned citizens called the Butte Montanans Support our Troops and Withdrawal from Iraq Coalition.

This follows the Helena City Council’s move to put a referendum on the Iraq War on the ballot on November.

To many, this may seem like a futile gesture. It’s not. If enough cities, counties, and states vote on resolutions like this, it will slowly seep into the political consciousness of those living within the Beltway that we, the people, want out of Iraq.

My only question: where’s Missoula? Shouldn’t we be leading this effort?

by jhwygirl

Prequel: Matthew Koehler, of the Wild West Institute, presents a maddeningly insane picture of Lee Newspapers in a comment to my previous post on Stimson Lumber. As I read it I just wanted to jump and scream.

He and I take two different roads and come to an agreement on at least one thing – that something ain’t right – and the Missoulian and Lee Newspapers are clearing the path and dragging the buggy for Stimson. With knee boots on.

While both of us feel the Missoulian’s coverage is lacking, Matt Koehler is upset with the failure to discuss the cyclical nature of the timber industry, foreign competition and slumping markets – and instead paint a picture that not-so-silently points to environmentalists. Stimson is now blaming the lack of logs, and the Missoulian is obligingly regurgitating that corporate lie on the front pages of its newspaper.

I, on the other hand, thought the Missoulian was incompetent by failing to ask a few ‘who what why when where’ questions after interviewing Stimson. It illustrated a lacking of a better-that-basic knowledge of the subject. Either that, or it was intentional, I thought.

And with Matt’s emails, I’m beginning to think it was intentional. This is where I wanted to jump and scream:


Date: Tue, 8 May 2007 11:37:38 -0600
From: “John Vanstrydonck”
To: “Matthew Koehler”

Fact is, the owners say that they are closing the plant for a lack of supply of raw materials. The other economic factors may have weighed on their decision. The difficulty getting raw materials at competitive prices would tend to make it particularly difficult for a manufacturer when a competitive market puts pressure on margins.

The owners cite lack of supply of raw materials was the reason they decided to close the mill. I believe that we quoted them accurately. It may not fit your world view, but it is the reason they stated and it seems reasonable.

“Seems reasonable.”

Last week, the Missoulian did a three-day series on the reasons behind the recent lay-offs at Stimson Lumber (1, 2, 3), which repeated more than once that the problem was the lack of logs. I almost wonder who wrote it, given the above email above is from Vanstrydonck, Missoulian Publisher.

One of the things that were driving me nuts was the repeated ascertainment by Stimson that they didn’t have any logs. There wasn’t any timber. Backus (Vanstrydonck?) does do a little ditty about the forest service timber sales, and how they’ve been outbid – he even subtly points that the disparity by the winning bid and Stimson’s was pretty wide.

But is the USFS the only source of timber? I mean, I stand at that mill and I am surrounded by forested land. There’s 100’s times more of land like that all around. How can Stimson say it doesn’t have any logs? Who owns all that timbered land?

Federal, State, Private and Stimson. But the stories don’t even mention any of those other sources for timber. And it doesn’t even bother to point out that Stimson owns forested land – but he does say, in explaining Stimsons options once the 1 billion board feet promised by Champion dried up: “Stimson had to look for timber on the open market.”

A search of the property information system over on the State website (you can search by owner and county) comes up with a whole bunch of Stimson owned land. Lewis & Clark County, Powell, Missoula, Mineral, Granite…did I miss any? Seems like a whole bunch of land – all in forest area.

And what about the State and Private as sources? Is Stimson sitting around waiting for someone to come knocking on their door? What do they do to pull private sales? What about the State? There’s a forestry office just down the road. Are they even trying?

The Missoulian’s series resigns itself too willingly to the closure of the mill – loosing the journalist’s mission of informing the public to the lure of a spoon-fed corporate message that “boo hoo, there ain’t no logs” is the problem. Why bother with the details, right?

They don’t dare delve. Don’t want to perhaps find out that closing the mill might be motivated by other factors – by a corporate need to send a message at the cost of jobs, and by a desire to ensure that the big guys maintain their fat checks.Don’t get me started on the painting of a utopic picture of opportunity out of a heavy equipment job on a EPA clean-up site. How many EPA sites do we have to have to sustain Stimson’s inevitable closing to maintain that ‘opportunity’?

 

by jhwygirl 

Darn good news out of Ravalli County this morning, folks. Darn good.

Ravalli County elected two new Democrats and one Independent (and throwing out one Republican) yesterday night in a special election held to fulfill the need to meet the citizen-initiated changes to the Board of County Commissioners (which changed the number from 3 members to 5).

Howard Lyons lost just-won-in-November seat to Carlotta Grandstaff (an Independent), while Jim Rokosh (Democrat) beat Dave Hurtt’s full-of-bull (he ran under a No Bull motto) campaign.

Kathleen Driscoll (Democrat) beat Carolyn Weisbecker also. Kathleen lost in a November try, but was successful last night.

This is great news for pro-zoning people down in Ravalli County. Also part of last November’s election was a county-wide zoning referendum, which had won. This election came down to the issue of whether that county-wide referendum was going to result in real zoning, or pseudo-regulations, without teeth, that would have catered to the rape-and-pillage developers of the valley.

You can read about it here.

by Pete Talbot

Writer John Adams has a side bar in the Missoula Independent (May 24-May 31 issue) on Missoula’s Republican Representative Bill Nooney. It paints him as a consensus building, moderate sort of fellow. If you look at his voting record, he definitely is not.

He voted lock step with the most radical elements of the Republican (and Constitution) Party – folks like Jore, Koopman and Sales. On the last day of the regular session, he voted against the Children’s Health Insurance Program and against a trust fund for Aging Services.

He voted against a bill that would have lessened Montana’s impact on global warming. He voted to recruit more conservative professors for Montana colleges. He voted not to go after tax cheats. He voted to strip money from mental health and at-risk student programs. And on and on and on…

Here’s another gem. The Independent article mentions Nooney as being one of the 13 Republicans invited to the famous “log cabin meeting,” held between the regular and special sessions, to meet with the governor’s staff and hammer out compromises. He went, he negotiated, then he voted against the compromise budget package (HB 2).

He basically voted the way the far right leadership told him to vote.

This is interesting because one of the reasons Nooney got to the legislature at all was because he was perceived as a moderate. John Balyeat was the incumbent legislator in Nooney’s district. John was a lot like his brother, Joe Balyeat, the Republican state senator out of Gallatin County – that is to say way, way to the right. Nooney handily beat John Balyeat in the 2006 Republican primary. He went on to defeat Democrat Marge Zaveta, by a smaller percentage, in the general election.

Before the election, folks I talked to in Missoula said Nooney was a reasonable guy. He’d represent business interests for sure, but wasn’t out in right field like his predecessor. I guess they were wrong. Missoula area legislators I’ve chatted with say the same thing. They went into the session thinking that Nooney was someone they might be able to work with. With a couple of minor exceptions, this just wasn’t the case.

In defense of Nooney, area legislators said he was civil and didn’t throw tantrums like others in his party.

“He wasn’t a jerk,” said one, “he just voted with the jerks.”

Bill Nooney did not serve his constituency well. In 2008, let’s hope voters in House District 100 do to Nooney what they did to John Balyeat in 2006. In the words of the Who, “we won’t get fooled again.”

By jhwygirl

In an upcoming post (or posts) I will have some thoughts on the Stimson Lumber mill situation. I’ll also have some thoughts on what I believe are the failures of the local Missoula media in reporting the issue. I felt a need to explain why it matters – and thus the following post.

(Note: Other posts on Stimson can be found here and here.)

Stimson Lumber has been on a long slow downhill path since at least 2005 – a steady stream of lay-offs, with excuses offered up by mill representatives that have been accepted de facto by the local media, without any apparent follow-up (or Journalism 101) questions. I see many unanswered questions, I see even more questions that haven’t even been asked, and I can’t understand how it isn’t getting done.

Stimson currently employs about 200 people now – it used to employ 500 after the take-over from Champion was complete. Since 2005 it’s laid off more than half of its original employ. It is still one of the larger, better employers in Missoula County, providing both a decent living wage along with benefits. Many a family in this community has relied on that mill for its livelihood – both directly and indirectly.

Employing that many people is a microcosm of an economy in and of itself – not only does Stimson directly employ its current 200 people here in Missoula, its wage earners support grocery and retail stores, gas and convenience stores, restaurants, mechanics, car dealerships, bakeries, doctors, dentists, loggers, truck drivers,…I think you know where I’m going. There’s a lot at stake.

I feel I am watching an institution die – of some unknown illness, with everyone standing by just letting it happen. Needlessly. Perhaps. As I said – there are statements that have been made and questions that have not been asked (yet alone answered) – and that is to come – but I ponder the illness, the mystery of Stimson’s current situation, wondering if we, the community, aren’t just sitting here letting it all happen.

I ponder this in balance with the Direct TV call center. In 2005 we had Max Baucus and the County Commissioners falling all over themselves for the right to build a $12 million dollar building and offer tax breaks to Direct TV for a call center that brought us $9.50/hour jobs (with benefits, of course </snark>) and yet I have yet to hear that anyone has knocked on Stimson’s door to ask if there is anything that can be done to help. Is there anything that can be done to keep those $15+/hour jobs here in the valley?

I never understood the Direct TV call center deal. This community had a lack of affordable housing as it was (and is), with a median income that is increasing further and further removed from the ability to purchase a market rate home – and yet elected officials not only got all lathered up to bring 800 – $9/hour jobs to town, but they did so at the expense of its own taxpayers by not only constructing the building, but by giving Direct TV tax incentives to get here. If both people in a household worked at that call center, full time, their combined income ($19,760 each, $39,250 combined) would not be enough to mortgage a home of median price – $209,000. The standard quick-and-easy way to calculate what an income can afford for a mortgage is to take the salary and multiply it by 3 – so a household made up of two Direct TV call center employees making that great taxpayer incentivized wage could afford a mortgage of approximately $119,000.

Tell me what you could buy in Missoula for $119,000?

So I ponder not only the illness of Stimson Lumber, but also the lack of any type of proactive mediation by the elected officials. I ponder what I believe is a failure by the Missoula media to bring to light the real truth behind what is looking to be the eventual shutdown of one of the largest employers in Missoula County.

Is it self-induced by corporate interests? Are we running out of timber (as Stimson alleges)? Is raw timber too expensive? Is Canada the problem?

Just some thoughts.

By jhwygirl

A late breaking AP story is reporting that Governor Schweitzer met with Mike Kadas and other representatives of Montana Public Power, Inc., and has agreed to see what assistance, if any, his staff can offer towards helping MPPI purchase Northwestern Energy.

MPPI includes 5 cities – Bozeman, Butte-Silverbow, Great Falls, Helena and Missoula – who have committed to a publicly owned utility, similar to a co-op, once it has successfully acquired Northwestern. Kadas heads the group, and is former mayor of the City of Missoula who was also a representative in the Montana Legislature for 14 years.

Last July, Northwestern’s board of directors rejected MPPI’s bid of $2 billion + an assumption of more than $800 million in debt, saying it wasn’t in the best interests of its shareholders or its customers. They later accepted an offer of $2.97 million from Babcock & Brown, of Australia – an offer which was blocked by all five members of the Montana Public Service Commission a little over a week ago.

Citigroup had previously agreed to finance the deal. That’s a pretty serious offer – Citigroup closed at $54.51 today, while Northwestern Energy closed at $32.97.

Count me in as one Montanan that hopes that this is the first step in a successful bid by MPPI to acquire Northwestern and provide public ownership of Montana’s largest energy provider. Let’s hope the Governor can pull through on this one.





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