Opposition Stirring Against Missoula Ordinance Overreach

by lizard

I wasn’t sure what to expect at tonight’s city council meeting. I knew there were two competing versions of fixes for the aggressive solicitation/pedestrian interference ordinances in a reconsideration effort initiated by councilman Adam Hertz to avoid a lawsuit by the ACLU. Exhibit A was the Mayor’s version, and Exhibit B was Jason Wiener’s version.

I’m not informed enough to speak to the legal aspects of how the two versions differ, but one bone of contention seems to be whether to include silent solicitation with a sign as part of the prohibitive scope of the ordinances. Wiener’s version removed that part, the Mayor’s version did not. There is also the issue of criminalizing sitting/sleeping/lying on the sidewalk, which would be very problematic if enforced equitably, and a civil liberties issue if selectively enforced.

And then, public comment.

For context, remember these amendments were quickly rushed to a vote last December, so the holidays kept awareness—read: opposition—from poking up its inconvenient head.

Tonight, in addition to comments from MT ACLU’s Anna Conley, Olivia Riutta from the Montana Human Rights Network submitted comments in support of Wiener’s version, albeit with reservations.

Both Riutta’s comments and Sara Howell’s comments, from Montana Women Vote, took issue with how women’s safety has been used to justify the need for these restrictive and probably unconstitutional ordinance amendments. I can’t imagine it was easy to make those comments, considering Copple’s previous alignment with the groups now publicly expressing concerns.

Another notable comment came from Scott, a criminal defense attorney. I was pleasantly surprised someone who deals with the revolving door of disorderly conduct in the legal system spoke up. I also enjoyed the succinct reminder that assertiveness and pepper spray are legal tactics for the public to consider when dealing with threatening behavior (who was that guy?).

And let’s be clear, there absolutely is unsafe behavior happening nightly in downtown Missoula. This is perhaps my favorite part of the public comments.

Scott, the owner of the Badlander, decried the behavior of “solicitors”, like how they puked on his building. No, seriously, he complained about drunken behavior using the term “solicitors”. I’m guessing the preferred shorthand, “transients”, didn’t jive with the “it’s-not-about-homelessness” messaging coming from ban-sitting contingent.

Scott wasn’t the only bar owner who decided to back the mayor. Kevin Head, proprietor of the Rhino, also stepped to the microphone. He made it very clear the panhandlers are not his customers, that they “hit on” his customers.

Hearing that reminded me of a conversation  I had with a bartender at the Rhino a few months ago.  We were actually talking about these ordinances and she mentioned how a few patrons had put on Santa hats around Christmas and went to the streets, handing out pints of vodka.

Considering tonight’s comments from bar owners, I would appreciate a little criteria for the Missoula public regarding proper drunkenness to help guide us in differentiating respectable drunks from “solicitor” drunks.  I would also like a way of analyzing urine samples, to make sure people who drink at their establishments aren’t improperly depositing their fluids.

Ultimately the result tonight was a punt back to committee. And still no indication what the ACLU may do.

Stay tuned…


  1. d.g.

    Copple played the “orientation” card to get her part-time job with full insurance. Then she played the gender card to push through this reactionary overreaction. And the oft-absent attorney Cynthia Wolken will do anything (but assert herself) to stay entirely under the public radar. With Marilyn Marler (channeling Maryann from Gilligan’s Island) as president of the council (and a tremendous advocate of pesticides in parks), we may well harken back to the days when Lynn Hellegaard had the chutzpah to call John Engen’s pack of pusillanimous panderers exactly that.

  2. I think the Missoula bars contribute a lot more to the problems downtown than transients do.

    I lived above the Mo Club for 6 months back in 2003 and every Sunday morning nice citizens would come out and sweep up all the broken glass in the back alley around the Rhino.

    And jeez, I do believe about 5 years ago the Rhino was starting up that little outdoor table area there behind the Mo Club. Might that be against some rules? I mean, I got an open container back there before, but I guess that was in the dead of winter with a plastic Top Hat cup so it doesn’t count.

    Lots of hypocrisy silliness on that side of the bridge.

    • “I think the Missoula bars contribute a lot more to the problems downtown than transients do.”

      I’ll second that. If Missoula enforced its public drunkeness laws, very few would get out the door of either of those bars after 11 on any given night of the week, yet alone dozens more.

      On any given weekend, downtown looks like a 4th of July party, with kids walking anywhere and everywhere – meaning, the middle of the street. In any larger city, the gatherings of groups on the corners (on and off the sidewalks) would be called gangs for the behavior the drunks exhibit.

      Of course, drunken white kids walking in the middle of the street, puking wherever they see fit, and shouting and screaming at random are one thing….where a destitute veteran doing the same is an entirely different matter.

      Now we know what Mayor Engen and Councilman Jason Weiner mean by their Project to End Homelessness – outlawing it is easier.

      As one who has marched many times with a sign downtown, the Mayor’s lack of concern for the 1st Amendment is scary. Is Nugent falling asleep at meetings again? Once again I’m reminded of how glad I am that I’ve never voted for Engen. I certainly hope people are paying attention.

      Protect the bar owners facilitating public drunkeness and general anarchy among unruly white university students, but cite those homeless people who can’t afford the ticket in the first place.

      Yep, fascism is rising here in Missoula folks – it’s not just Washington DC anymore.

      • lizard19

        Jason’s position is not the Mayor’s position on these ordinances, and there are a lot of people working on the 10 year plan. Caitlin and Dave share culpability in pushing these ordinances through before the new city council was seated. The rest I whole heartedly agree with.




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