Archive for the ‘Missoula County Commissioners’ Category

by jhwygirl

BuzzFeed’s Katie J. M. Baker has published a damned fine and thorough assessment of Kirsten Pabst’s candidacy for Missoula County Attorney.

Ms. Baker puts together a pretty long list of issues that should make any Missoula resident rule Pabst out of the running for the next County Attorney – to replace the faultering and uncooperative Fred Van Valkenburg.

I especially love that Katie J.M Baker used Pabst’s blog posts. While Pabst has been critical of not only the media, but of anonymous bloggers like me, Pabst was so committed to her blog words that she’d delete them in two or three days. Apparently there are people out there who know that game. Who’d of thought of that???

And for those of you still fans of Mr. Van Valkenburg, consider his words on Pabst – who is openly criticizing Van Valkenburg’s leadership:

As chief criminal deputy, Pabst was free to establish any policy she thought she was appropriate in the criminal division, he said. “She was an integral part of the management of this office for over five years.”

Missoula’s once again in the national news over the University of Montana & Missoula’s rape scandal – this time via Kirstin Pabst’s candidacy.

If Missoula is wanting to put the rape scandal behind us, putting Pabst in as chief of the county attorney’s office is NOT the way to go about it.

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by jhwygirl

Lizard has had two posts now calling out local democrats – Thanks for Nothing, Democrats and Rape Culture, Missoula Democrats, and Criminalizing Poverty – on their lack of acting with principles most often associated with the Democratic Party.

Lizard points out in his first post that the overwhelmingly progressive city council (yeah, they run as nonpartisans but we all know they’re democrats) are working to criminalize homelessness. He points out that the Board of County Commissioners (all democrats) is suing the feds, saying they’ve no jurisdiction over our county attorney, the illustrious Fred Van Valkenburg, and then Liz points out that oVan Valkenburg – a democrat, himself – chose to not only ignore a county initiative that decriminalized marijuana, but that he actually notched up prosecutions of possession!

A comment from former Poverello Director and State Representative Ellie Hill (HD94 – Missoula) takes us to Lizard’s second post where he takes on former Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir’s recent editorial in support of Van Valkenburg and Missoula County’s lawsuit against the feds. Now, admittedly Muir’s politics are unknown since he wasn’t an elected official – but he is standing not only in support of the very Tea Partyesque lawsuit, he’s also referring to the USDOJ as “ultra-liberal.” Liz then continues on to call out Ms. Hill’s apparent change in positions on her advocacy for the homeless, citing quotes by Hill in Missoulian reporter Keila Szpaller’s blog, Missoula Red Tape.

For good measure, Lizard closes out his post with reference to former US Representative Pat Williams’ ‘knucklehead” comment about rapists at the University of Montana, finely documented by the truly lustrous architect of words, Patrick Duganz.

Yes, it’s hard to find what many might refer to as “true progressives” or “good democrats” here in Missoula these days. Wagons are circled, that’s for sure. That “speak no ill” rule certainly applies in state democrat politics.

A few days ago a friend pointed out to me that Ravalli County – a conservative Tea Party bastion – sure knows how to address incompetence, even when it involves what is an elected office. That person was right. With unproven allegations of malfeasance, Ravalli Board of County Commissioners had County Treasurer Valerie Stamey escorted from the building by the county sheriff. They then hired an outside audit firm, brought in a interim treasurer and also a retired judge to independently oversee the investigation. Stamey remains on paid leave as the investigation continues.

Compare that to Missoula County Board of County Commissioners. With serious allegations made by the USDOJ who have quite clearly said that County Attorney Van Valkenburg has “put women’s safety at risk,” Van Valkenenburg apparently still has access to his office! There are not only allegations of violations of state and federal law, there is significant documentation by the USDOJ that civil rights were violated – that’s the kind of stuff that exposes the county to millions of dollars in lawsuits.

Instead, the county steams forward not by addressing the allegations, but on the hope of a now disgraced county attorney who thinks that the feds don’t have jurisdiction over civil rights violations.

This situation is no longer about who has jurisdiction over who – it’s over who violated civil rights and who is going to continue to maintain the status quo.

With documented allegations of civil rights violations and the failure of the Board of County Commissioners to act, it’s not going to be just Fred Van Valkenburg and Missoula County’s name on the lawsuits that have an easy in to being filed. His enablers will also be on the hook, should they fail to act.

And – dare I suggest – that may include the State of Montana, since there are documented allegations of state law in that 20 page document also. I’ve only heard crickets out of Helena, so far.

Missoula was worried about the cost of implementing the USDOJ’s recommendations? They might start to think about those civil rights lawsuits. That stuff can be real real expensive.

Look – Van Valkenburg poked at the dragon. The dragon bit back in a big way. In doing so, the dragon shined a big light on civil rights violations. If anyone things things are going to get easier, they’re dreaming.

Not only that – Van Valkenburg can’t defend himself or the county from these allegations. Consider that. Van Valkenburg had to hire outside council to sue the feds…he and the county sure can’t defend themselves against the civil rights violations that are now on their way down the pike.

by jhwygirl

Because comments can get buried, and in full fairness to Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg, I want to make sure readers see Van Valkenburg’s response to my most recent post on the Department of Justice (DOJ) civil rights investigation of the University of Montana/City of Missoula Police and the Missoula County Attorney’s office.

Van Valkenburg had attempted to comment yesterday evening, but wordpress wasn’t cooperative. I thank him for taking the time to recreate the lost response…along with sending all of his correspondence with the DOJ civil rights division.

Here are the letters, in chronological order:

The first letter from the DOJ to the Missoula County Board of County Commissioners (undated, but referred to as May 1, 2012)

This second letter from the DOJ, dated May 4, 2012 appears to be a response to discussions held in person with Mr. Van Valkenburg upon the initial public announcement of the investigation.

The third letter is Van Valkenburg’s first written response to the DOJ request for information. Dated May 14, 2012.

This forth letter, from the DOJ to Van Valkenburg, is dated May 23, 2012. It responds to Van Valkenburg’s May 14th letter, but erroneously refers to it as the May 4, 2012 letter – that information from Van Valkenburg.

The fifth letter, dated May 25, 2012 is Van Valkenburg’s second response to the DOJ. Van Valkenburg challenges some of the DOJ’s basis’ for the investigation, including their search for information related to the county attorney’s office role as law enforcement officer.

On May 29, 2012, the DOJ reiterates its request for documents in this letter. It includes an attachment listing what they are requesting, and notifies Van Valkenburg that the DOJ will be in Missoula near the first of July to discuss the investigation.

This June 6, 2012 letter from the DOJ is in specific response to Van Valkenburg’s May 25th letter. The DOJ answers Van Valkenburg’s two challenges to their authority over the county prosecutor’s office, and states that they “will not repeat the position that we have articulated in prior correspondence and believe that it adequately advises you of the basis of our jurisdiction.”

In his third letter, dated June 25, 2012, Van Valkenburg responds, informing the DOJ once again that he is still unconvinced of their authority, but note that he and his office “will continue gathering the information you have asked for in previous letters in the event you change course and either provide me with sufficient legal authority for an investigation or you accept my offer to work together cooperatively in the absence of any threats of litigation, we will not be providing such information at this time to you, Ms. Mondino or anyone else in your office.”

by jhwygirl

On Monday at Bozeman’s City Commission meeting, Mayor Jeff Krauss put forth a resolution that formally supports equality rights for same sex couples in the State of Montana.

The resolution calls on the State of Montana and its Attorney General to support equality rights for gay and lesbian couples by supporting the couples which filed suit against the State of Montana back in July of this year for failing to offer legal protects to same sex couples as it does to other families in the state.

Bozeman’s Chronicle doesn’t put every story online – and the budget was certainly a big issue that caught the attention of the press, no doubt…but hopefully they’ll be covering this story soon.

And Bozeman’s City Commission? Good for them for seeking to speak in support of the same-sex couples of their community and the rest of the state.

Missoula City Council? Missoula Board of County Commissioners? Speak up – let Governor Schweitzer and Attorney General Steve Bullock know that they both need to speak up in support of equality rights for gay and lesbian couples in this state.

Bozeman leads on calling on Montana to do the right thing – let’s hope Missoula follows.

by jhwygirl

Last month Director had told the Legislature’s Revenue and Transportation Interim Committee that their review of Exxon/Imperial Oil’s environmental analysis (yep, the applicant submitted the ea) would be completed by August 15th….while later he backtracked and said that he didn’t expect to have it by the end of August.

Well, here we are, middle-of-September, and the bad news continues to pile on. Forest Supervisors of both the Lolo and the Clearwater National Forests oppose the plans to move the rigs up and over Lolo Pass…and Oregon’s U.S. Representative Pete Fazio is >calling for an investigation into Exxon/Imperial Oil’s plans to ship giant equipment through Idaho and western Montana to an energy project in Canada.

Apparently the Helena National Forest is OK with the plans to move the Korean-built bohemaths up and over Roger’s Pass – yep, no potential there for major disruption…

Not only does the bad news continue to pile on, but Lynch had promised the EA “by early September.”

One does have to ponder the Lolo National Forest Supervisor’s current position – given that they had to rescind their decision to bury powerlines (the request the result of Exxon/Imperial Oil’s transport plans) given that they failed to consult with the tribes – Lolo Pass the site of the ancient native Nez Pierce tribe’s Nimi’ipuu trail.

Wonder because while they are taking comment on the proposal to bury the powerlines through September 24th and the scoping period is exactly (and only) 30 days. Rather odd considering both the controversy surrounding the project and the fact that the scoping is the result of them having overlooked even scoping the thing in the first place, don’t you think?

You can read the notice here and check the map out on the specifics here.

Let’s note, too, that the scoping notice does not mention the application is the result of Exxon/Imperial Oil’s need to have the lines buried so they can move their oil modules. It does, in fact, state the purpose of the initiation of the request by Missoula Electrical Cooperative is to “improve long-term service to local residences and businesses.”

Really?

Still, too, one has to ponder if MEC should really be the applicant? Isn’t Exxon/Imperial Oil paying for this burial? Or is it the customers of MEC? It does lay open the question, doesn’t it? Given that the stated purpose on the scoping notice is to improve long-term service to its customers?

Shame on the Lolo for misrepresenting that line burial project. Check out that map…there’s quite a bit of that line burial that is immediately adjact to Lolo Creek, endangered bull trout habitat.

Are lines being buried on the Clearwater National Forest? What permits are needed from both of these forests? Why doesn’t the fact that these transport plans affect at least 3 National Forests this thing isn’t being analyzed under a full NEPA environmental impact statement?

Why doesn’t the fact that this entire transport plan crosses multiple state jurisdictions and multiple countries warrant a full NEPA EIS by the Feds? Is our security that lax? Is the concern that little?

Hopefully the hypocrisy of the Lolo’s public notice for the burial of these powerlines won’t go un-noticed.

The public and our County Commissioners and City Council should provide comment asking the Lolo National Forest to ensure that it re-notice the application to note the full purpose of the project…and analyze the full effect of the connected actions of this proposal – the effects both here and in Canada on the Athabasca tribal peoples.

by jhwygirl

In a ruling handed down in the 5th District, out of Dillon Montana, Judge Loren Tucker told Montana Department of Environmental Quality that its environmental review (EIS, environmental impact statement) must consult with local government. Both the Helena IR and Butte’s KXLF have the story.

Jefferson County had sued DEQ over placement of the MSTI utility line, saying that they had not been consulted and the public process left them with insufficient time to adequately review the proposal.

Does any of this sound familiar? The Kearl transport proposal to move oversized Korean-built tar sands oil infrastructure along the wild and scenic designated Lochsa River corridor and up and over the historic Lolo Pass, location of the ancient Nez Pierce Nimi’ipuu Trail and the he historic site of Lewis & Clark’s famous trip across the wild west.

Alll to take the stuff to Canada to poison the lands and the native peoples there.

Over at Left in the West, Turner has written two find posts on the MSTI project – one explaining the issue, asking for help and another pointing out the hypocrisy and lies being put forth by state officials (like Governor Schweitzer) on the true purpose and the true impacts and the real job creation of the project.

MDOT left little time for the public to comment on the environmental analysis (EA) that was completed by Exxon (yep – the applicant did the environmental analysis)….and during that short 30 days, the state’s ability to obtain comments via email failed. Many people – including the Missoula County Commissioners – requested that the comment period be lengthened to allow for full review of the proposal (a fully printed version of the document was over 3 inches thick).

At this point, MDOT is far overdue in releasing its decision on the permit (having promised it August 15th). Idaho residents have sued in court to stop the transport, and Missoula County Commissioners have hinted at the same.

Let’s hope some city and county officials have taken notice of this recent 5th District ruling and find out the specifics of the case to determine how it may impact their position on the proposal.

Will DEQ appeal? Doubtful. They’ll go back to attempt to work with the county and avoid an appeal at all costs. A further adverse ruling would require them to implement its findings state-wide, and clearly, you can bet DEQ doesn’t want to see that happen.

by jhwygirl

….in Idaho, it seems.

Idahoans don’t seem to have any love for Exxon/Imperial Oil’s Kearl module transport plan to move oversized loads over the historic and scenic highway 12 which runs adjacent to the Wild and Scenic designated Lochsa River and Lolo Creek.

There’s a group of Idahoans suing the state to halt the movement of the oversized loads, charging that Idaho did not follow its own rules to issue the permit. The cite concerns over could threaten public safety, harm tourism in an area that relies on it and pose a risk to the pristine river corridors:

“Whether Highway 12 will remain an outstanding tourist and recreation destination that provides jobs and revenues to the local community – or become a congested industrial ‘high and wide’ corridor for the conveniences of the oil industry … – are matters of great concern to the plaintiffs and many others in the area.”

Idaho residents have also called for a full Environmental Impact Statement from the Clearwater National Forest on the project, saying that the USFS has a responsibility to protect that corridor.

Now – this route passes through the Lolo National Forest, too. What has the Lolo done? They didn’t consult with the tribes (as they are required to do under NEPA and they categorically excluded the project from need of any additional environmental analysis.

Burying power lines on federal lands (as opposed to the overhead lines there currently) apparently doesn’t have any impacts, according to the Lolo.

Hard to believe.

NEPA, unlike the MEPA review that the Montana Department of Transportation is attempting (and truncated one – an “environmental analysis” – at that, requires an analysis of connected actions – connected actions such as the impact on air and water quality as a result of these big things being delivered to Canada for tar sands processing. The economic impact of having these things assembled in Korea, shipped here and transported whole to Canada.

The list goes on for this one.

Exxon/Imperial, for their part haven’t been very neighborly here in Montana – but it might be that they don’t have to: As JC pointed out, our carbon fuel-loving Governor supports all those flag-waving jobs the project will bring for Montanans.

Yeah! Go Korea!

MDOT, for its part, should be should be releasing its decision any day now

I know I wait with bated breath.

Got that right this time, I think.

I hope someone on this side of the pass is scrutinizing that “categorical exclusion” of the Lolo National Forest….and I guess we’ll all have to wait and see what comes out of MDOT in the next few days.

It is possible that MDOT has determined that there are significant enough impacts that a full EIS is needed. Both Missoula County Commissioners and Missoula City Council have requested an EIS – as did much of the public comment.

But of course, this is the same department that said that this was the only oversized load in the pipeline, which was an outright lie. Multiple loads line await on the docks in Lewistown.

Of course, they could be banking on the low median income of the people of the state and the financial stress on non-profits to sue ’em.

It’s wait and see…wait and see.

by jhwygirl

And why is the Board of County Commissioners signing a contract with them for the fair?

Got this sent to me just a few minutes ago, and while it might not be what it looks like, I can’t help but wonder if the BCC is spending taxpayer money for some sort of religious “thing” for the county fair.

As a not-so-aside, I can’t seem to find this on their website. The person that sent this to me explains that they put out daily agendas every afternoon of stuff they’re going to do every day. Every afternoon? Singing a contract sounds like spending taxpayer money to me. So does signing an employment contract. How in the world does that get done without proper public notice?

Again, I say – it’s 2010. Can’t the Missoula BCC at least enter the 1990’s with regards to technology and webpage use? In a county that holds nearly 100,00 people? 1/10th of the population of the entire state of Montana?

by jhwygirl

MDOT refused to extend the 30-day public comment deadline on the environmental assessment written by Exxon/Imperial Oil for transport of its oversized Korean-built Canadian tar sands equipment, despite a wealth of public comment requesting just that – some of which came directly from the City of Missoula City Council. And despite the fact that the state’s email system shut down from the overload of public comment being submitted.

Lovely.

I pondered in this post who was pulling the strings on this project, considering that MDT Director Jim Lynch testified last July before the legislature that (a) this project should undergo an Environmental Impact Statement scrutiny and (b) that this proposal was essentially a permanent high-and-wide corridor proposal.

Not only that – but the Exxon/Imperial Oil written environmental assessment said it would be a permanent corridor within its EA. It’s also fair to note that this EA was signed by MDT’s very own Dwayne Kailey.

Didn’t take much to figure out who was pulling the strings – Governor Brian Schweitzer, who said it was about ..jobs, jobs, jobs.” Maybe he doesn’t understand the funky math that got Exxon/Imperial Oil to that $68 million figure? Because I heard the president of Imperial Oil explain here in Missoula that they came to that number “through a complex economic calculation,” that “takes into account that dollars will be spent repeatedly throughout the community.”

Sounds like trickle down economic theory to me – and we all know how that works, don’t we? Kinda funny how we’ll sell ourselves for flag-waving jobs and no one will stand up (save for a bunch of citizens and a Canadian parliament member) for having these things brought here in pieces and contract assembled somewhere here in North America.

Yep – Montanan’s should aspire to waving the flags to clear the traffic for these Korean-built things to head on through the state.

I ruminated during the Otter Creek fiasco on how Montana could aspire to be like that teeming economic power state of coal-rich West Virginia. Now maybe what we’re hoping to be is the new inland version of Louisiana.

Maybe he doesn’t care. The Good Gov sure loves his fossil fuels, that’s for sure. So much so that he’s willing to repeat the same tired old misinformed fact over and over – that the proposal is “temporary.”

He did it in this Missoulian article weeks ago, and he did it again, recently, in supermontanareporter John S. Adams’ that was published this past Friday in the Great Falls Tribune.

Adams did a great in-depth look at the Exxon/Imperial Oil proposal to transport these oversized loads which includes a repeat (by both MDOT – who I noted signed the industry-written EA – and Schweitzer) that this is only a temporary proposal. He also gets to Imperial Oil spokesman Pius Rolheiser, who also repeats the lie that his very own consultants acknowledged in the environmental document they submitted.

I guess, like Bush or Cheney, if you repeat it enough, someone’ll start believing it as truth.

Different communities have different perspectives – and Adams talks to Teton County Commissioner Dellwo and Manager of the Port of Lewiston Idaho David Doeringsfeld, who is looking for between $1.8 to $2.8 million in upgrades to double the capacity to his ports.

Yeah – it’s about money, but who’s gonna benefit the most? Exxon/Imperial Oil with its one-time influx of flag-waving and turnout-building money? Lewistown with its trucking/motel industry and the multi-million dollar upgrades that will generate long-term jobs and expansion? Or Montana with it being on the receiving end of the one-time influx of Exxon/Imperial Oil money and a few motel rooms rented out along the way? Calculated by a “complex economic calculation”?

Who else has gotten into it, too? Ochenski asked, weeks ago, how long it would be before the Gulf disaster would be repeated in Montana – and truthout pressed forward this past Saturday with a lengthy article titled Trucking Toward Climate Change.

Nick Stocks, co-founder of the group Northern Rockies Rising Tide is interviewed for the article, as is Brett Haverstick with the group Friends of the Clearwater and Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss.

by jhwygirl

I shoulda’ checked my email first, before writing the post below.

This photo comes courtesy Missoula resident and transportation advocate John Wolverton:

by jhwygirl

The sheer disregard that this proposal has for what is one of the more scenic drives and accessible recreational and prime fishing corridors in western Montana blows my mind.

There are so many things wrong with this proposal as it is now – a weak environmental analysis, prepared by Exxon, without any scoping. You can count on hearing more about that as I attempt to delve into the nearly 200 page (plus 12 addendums) document….by May 14th!

That’s right – public comment, which opened April 8th – closes on May 14th on a proposal to establish a permanent “High and Wide Corridor” from Lewistown Idaho, over and across Lolo Pass and 300 miles of western Montana on to Canada and Exxon’s oil tar sands in Fort McMurray in Alberta.

You can access the full Kearl Module transportation Project here, from MDOT’s EIS and EA public notice page.

I think we got lucky last winter, but how many trucks and 18-wheelers end up in the drink down there on the Idaho side? Because that road is so narrow?

Are they going to have to blast some of those cliffs to widen the road? Along what is a pretty darn scenic corridor?

Two pieces of equipment are expected to move through Montana every day for a year. 24-feet wide, 30-feet high, 210-feet long, and weighing up to 334,568 pounds.

Do you recreate Lolo Pass? I do in the summer. Several times a week….and then with occasional weekends. Imagine the delays! They say 15 minutes? No frickin’ way – not with stuff as largw as what they’re proposing to move.

Of all choices, Lolo Pass was best? Well, guess what? We really don’t know – the environmental review done by Exxon included four alternatives: four Canandian highway routes and one US Interstate route. Those 4 alternatives? Dismissed in four paragraphs with no analysis of the so-called impassable barriers, while the Idaho/Montana route is extensive in the number of turnouts needing to be constructed, the number of small bridges needing crossed, and the extent of modifications needed to complete the route.

That was before Exxon tried to say that this project was “categorically excluded” from analysis.

In some circles, this is called a “pre-determined analysis of the preferred pre-chosen alternative.”

It’s bad enough when they don’t scope the thing to first see what types of alternatives come from the public…but when they don’t even bother to fully analyze the alternatives, well, folks, that’s just about bordering on violating some of our Montana Environmental Policy Act laws and rules.

ARM 18.2.251 requires a programmatic analysis “whenever the agency is contemplating a series of agency-initiated actions, programs, or policies which in part or in total may constitute a major state action significantly affecting the human environment,” and “whenever a series of actions under the jurisdiction of the agency warrant such an analysis as determined by the agency, or whenever prepared as a joint effort with a federal agency requiring a programmatic review.”

Did I mention that last July, MDOT Director Jim Lynch testified before the joint legislative Revenue and Transportation interim committee of the large impacts of this proposal? He said that the very nature of the project required an EIS..and yet, despite that testimony, MDOT chose to direct Exxon forward with an environmental review that didn’t even include scoping (a process in which initial outreach is made to the public for comments in an effort to determine alternatives and the scope and scale of analysis. Here is a link to Director Lynch’s presentation to the committee

You can watch the July committee hearing here. Lynch’s testimony starts about 18 minutes in. You can also review the minutes here.

What to do? Email MDOT public comment saying that the scope of this project requires a public scoping process to better assess alternatives; that all alternatives should be fully any thoroughly analyzed equally; that potential risk to important fisheries and other natural resources must be taken into consideration and weighed against other alternatives; that an assessment of risk to the public along what is a narrow secondary route used primarily for recreation should be considered; and that consideration of permanent impacts to scenic and historic corridors should be afforded the maximum protection necessary for future generations.

Just wait ’til I get to the economic impacts (or lack thereof) of having these things shipped nearly whole, after assembly in North Korea or China or wherever….

by jhwygirl

Well, boy – where to begin with this one (meaning I’m trying to quell the rant that lurks within)?

Nestled between what really was a big news week here in Missoula was The Indy’s Matthew Frank with an article exposing all the ugly details of DirecTV call center’s union busting activities.

And God bless Matt Frank – he actually does get to mentioning what I’m about to elaborate on below.

DirecTV is a tenant of Missoula County, leasing a building that was built for them by the county, using a combination of funding that included a low-cost 25-year loan from the state and a 20-year TIF district created by the county. Baucus also secured at least a half million more for the deal, for training.

DirecTV only has a 10-year lease. The package of incentives offered to them for 800 (anyone check and see if they’re actually employing that many) $9.50/hour jobs equaled an amount equivalent to $22,500 per year in tax subsidies for every $19,750/year job.

Looking back and re-reading those old Rob Struckman articles in the Missoulian – he was laying it all out there. Apparently, people were OK with this.

Unemployment at the time? 3.5% (considered healthy). Dick King, head of Missoula Area Economic Development – one of the many brokers of the deal (which included Schweitzer and Baucus) – said at the time “Our issue is not unemployment but underemployment. We need to get the right company to push up from the bottom. I think this is it.”

I wonder how much money DirecTV has sucked off in training subsidies ($4,000 per new employee)? Training subsidies that came via both federal and state dollars?

DirecTV is half-way through their 10-year lease…will they be recommitting? Or will taxpayers be left holding the bag on those loan repayments that stretch 10 and 15 years past their current lease?

I guess what I’m saying is don’t expect the county or MAEDC or the Governor or Baucus to be stepping up and speaking out against DirecTV’s anti-labor activities. Activities that are being done under a government tax dollar subsidized roof. They’re going to want that tenant around, otherwise, a whole bunch of taxpayers will be left holding the bag for a 34-acre facility.

On the other hand, with all the tech infrastructure that went into getting that building in there, perhaps its a good time to shop around for a new tenant and get someone lined up for when DirecTV’s lease expires. Frankly – with subsidy that is more than what an employee is actually costing them, I wouldn’t be banking on them sticking around – I’d be banking on them shopping around for another sweetheart tax-subsidy rich deal like the one they got here.

Talk about unsustainable!

DirecTV was a bad deal as it was. With low-wage jobs – and so many of ’em – they place more of a strain on our essential housing situation than they do to help it. If we’re going to give away subsidies, it should be for union-wage earning jobs or high tech jobs that allow people to live a little more than hand-to-mouth on $9.50/hour.

~~~~~
Addendum: Be sure to read the comments. DirecTV employees have a website – S.T.A.N.D., standing for Satellite Techs Allied for a New Direction. Another comment talks about how DirecTV is apparently going through employees. You mean despite (or is it because of) all that government subsidized $4,000/per new employee training, they’re having problems keeping good employees?

by jhwygirl

64 legislative filings in one day? That has got to be some sort of record.

No word yet on whether we’ve got ourselves a primary race for county commissioner.

It does look, though, that Republicans haven’t totally bailed on Missoula. Looks like a number of races now have a Republican challenger.

We’ve also gained another candidate for the Democratic congressional primary…and looks like Missoula Libertarian Mike Fellows is also taking a run against Rehberg.

So the congressional race is scoring out with 4 Democrats, 3 Republicans and one Libertarian.

Some points of interest as I read:
We’re rid of Ed Butcher? Really?

by jhwygirl

I can’t even follow it all as it’s played out over the last year or so – hell, you’d need a multi-post series – but the number of questionable things in this Missoulian story leave me with little comfort that things are going to get better.

Earlier this month, the Chicks-n-Chap’s breast cancer fundraiser rodeo clinic pulled itself from the Western Montana Fair after county commissioners failed to act on two allegations that oft-controversial manager Scott Meader had groped two females at a fair convention in Great Falls.

Note that in the story linked to above, Scott Meader is said to have “immediately reported” to county’s chief administrative officer Dale Bickell. Bickell is then quoted as saying “We had a very long conversation about it, to the point where I’m certain that Scot won’t have an incident like that again. That was his reprimand at that point.”

Aww, how warm and cozy. And apparently, whether Bickell ever really brought the matter to the county commissioners appears to be in question.

Who could follow all the flurry going on..but last Wednesday, as if anybody really cared, Meader announced he would be resigning the next day. I mean – a pre-announcement? Who does he think he is? Rod Blagojevich?

So Thursday we get his resignation.

Only – what kind of friggin’ resignation is it? He’s under contract, he resigns, and yet he gets a full year’s salary?

We’ll get back to that.

Then, the very next day, the Missoulian has a story that the Board of County Commissioners is “pulling back” on its Thursday afternoon meeting with someone who had thrown their hat in as interim manager.

Good Goddess. The fairgrounds are a mess and they were interviewing an interim manager less than 24 hours after ushering Meader out the door? After ushering a guy out the door that they’ve stood behind for the last two years after accusation after controversy swirled? I mean, it doesn’t seem to show that anyone knows what they want down there. What did they get? Instant clarity?

But let’s get back to that resignation – that is now called “the buyout” in the “pulling back” story.

Just exactly what is this Meader/County Fairgrounds Affair going to cost taxpayers?
Meader had a 3-year contract worth $69,000 a year.
Did that figure include healthcare? Retirement?
While he “resigned” on the 29th, he’ll be getting paid as usual through March 6th.
After that, Meader gets the $63,000 remaining on his contract that runs through Feb. 7, 2011.

Now – that the county is going to have to absorb the cost of Meader’s “resignation” is one thing that people should be questioning. Someone is at fault on the county’s side if they’re making a payout on a contracted employee resigning. Will we be finding out or is this all getting swept under the rug?

There is something suspect, too, with the length of time that he will be “getting paid as usual” and the fact that he’s getting a payout on the remaining length of his contract, which runs 11 months – less than one year – from his official last day of work (March 6th).

Isn’t there some milestone in the county retirement system with salaries that last a period of 3 years?

While the figure being thrown around for Scott Meader’s “resignation” is $71,776, me thinks he’s costing us a bit more. Taxpayers might want a clearer picture of that.

~~~~~~
County chief administrative officer Dale Bickell got off pretty luck in this whole affair, it seems. Remember above that I note that the Great Falls incident was “immediately reported”? Well, in the “pulling back” article, county HR director Steve Johnson says “Bickell took care of the issue with a verbal reprimand when Meader brought it to his attention several months later.”

This is where I really wish Shakespeare still ventured to his satire every once in a while. Picture the Bickell/Meader “confession”:

Meader: Man – did I get wasted again in Great Falls! Those chicks were there from that breast cancer thing? You should have seen what they were wearing!

Bickell: Yeah? Was that chick there from Glasgow that was there at the Chicks-n-Chaps last year?

Meader: I don’t know – all I know is that those gals have some hard asses. And they get pretty uptight when you slap ’em.

Bickell: You slapped someone on the ass? Scott – you probably shouldn’t do that. Did they really get mad?

Meader: Ah…yeah – I probably should have told you. Two of ’em.

Bickell: Scott, my man – don’t be slapping chick’s in chaps in the ass, OK? (har,har,har)

Meader: OK. (har,har,har. wink-wink)

Bickell: Good – now – what was she wearing?

by jhwygirl

Deadline for application is Thursday, January 14th for the following county commissioner appointed board positions:

Three Consolidated Planning Board seats
One Lolo Community Council seat
One Big Sky Park Stewardship committee seat

Three Consolidated Planning Board seats and one Lolo Community Council seat? The Lolo Community Council seat is interim until it can be filled by a special election in 2010 – but it’s fair to note that these are important positions, and will impact development county-wide, as well as in Lolo.

If you live in the county and are concerned about land development and land use issues, certainly now is the time to consider stepping up to a planning board position.

You can find more information at the county’s website.

by jhwygirl

Missoula County Commissioners will be meeting Wednesday at 10:30 a.m, in room 201 at the County Courthouse to further discuss the revisions to the polling closure and precinct consolidation proposal.

As some may recall, the Missoula Board of County Commission met December 16th to a packed hearing of people concerned about the proposal to not only consolidate precincts, but to consolidate and close polling stations. Quite a number of state legislators attended, as I recall – Michele Reinhardt, Ron Erickson, Carol Squires, Dick Barrett (to name a few), voicing their concerns along with about 80 others.

48 hours later there was a new plan. The main page at the County’s Election webpage has both proposals, and is indicating that it will take comment through January 7.

In all fairness, it’s been posted (as indicated) since the Friday before Christmas, so I’m sorry I missed this (holidays and all).

Missoula County Democrats have submitted public comment to the county’s proposal, calling for a more thoughful analysis of what to close by looking at things like the demographics and public transportation and ADA accessibility.

Makes sense to me.

December 28, 2009

Commissioners Carey, Curtiss and Landquist and Clerk and Recorder Zeier,

Voting is a fundamental democratic right and you are the custodians of that right. The importance of accessible and open elections requires a higher level of scrutiny for decisions that change voting procedures than for other changes in county policy. We appreciate your recognition of this with the public hearing scheduled in December and the plan revised in response to public comment. We have some remaining questions, relevant to both the consolidations proposed this year and to any future moves toward all mail-in ballots for federal elections.

Any plan to close polling places should evaluate whose polling places are being closed. Closures prompted by the amount of floor space available or the quality of ADA facilities may—quite apart from whatever prompted them—disproportionally affect segments of the electorate already at a disadvantage. Specifically, we request mapping the poll closures against income and age data from the census as well as the Urban Fringe Development Area’s transportation suitability map. If data is available on the distribution of households headed by a single parent, this is another factor that should be mapped against proposed closures.

We need to be sure changes in election procedures don’t make voting more difficult for people who already have it rough and that we don’t push services into areas of the county where fewer people will be able to access them. The only way to do that is to be thorough in our analysis, incorporating available demographic data in service of informed and deliberate decision-making.

Because the decision to close polling places is really a series of decisions to close a number of polling places, an itemized list of savings by closure should also be part of molding the proposals into a plan. The initial proposal considered at the public hearing, and the revised proposal since released, each suggest an overall savings figure. We request a spreadsheet detailing the cost of keeping open each one of the polling places slated for closure, allocating the additional expenses between judges, ballot printing and other requirements. How much we save for the access we’re giving up ought to be clear.

Administering elections is not just any administrative task. We ask you to perform your duty by diligently considering those whose ability to give consent to be governed might be diminished by changing the way elections are conducted. Only then can we know whether the monetary savings expected are worth the potential costs.

Respectfully,

Missoula County Democrats Executive Board

by jhwygirl

Missoula County Commissioners were on the defense again today with an editorial in the Missoulian, titled “Voter accessibility will still be better than ever in Montana”.

In it, they lay out much what has been written or discussed openly: The cost savings of reducing the number of judges and the costly automark machines they are going to have to buy because of a lawsuit and the difficulty it getting judges, training judges and keeping judges. The proposals they’ve put forward will save taxpayers $19,000 per election.

So the number of election judges is the problem…or the major part of the problem, other than what even they admit is the one-time only cost – that can’t be avoided – of buying those automark machines (which I assume is going to be the burden of all other communities around the state too).

Wherein I begin to wonder ‘Aw, shucks, what does the law say?’

Which is where I first find that the county does have to set precincts 100 days before a primary and they can have as many as is convenient.

But what polling places?

What I find out there is that the county can set polling places 30 days before a primary.

Guess what else I found out?

The building must be furnished at no charge as long as no structural changes are required in order to use the building as a polling place.

So no savings there, per se, in shutting polling places.

What about those expensive judges? How can we reduce the number of judges? What triggers that?

What I find there is that judges are appointed 30 days before an election by the county governing boy who shall appoint three or more election judges for each precinct.

Judges are based on precincts? Not polling places? Get what I’m getting at?

So when the county commissioners say “Missoula County is proposing to consolidate 60 precincts (from 102 to 42) and 13 polling places (from 37 to 24). These changes would reduce the minimum staffing requirements by 186 election judges,” they are incorrect.

Consolidating precincts saves money. That reduces the number of judges required.

Consolidating precincts and polling places – which is what they are saying above – does NOT “reduce the minimum staffing requirements by 186 judges.” Polling places have nothing to do with reducing the staffing requirements of election judges.

There is nothing in what the county commissioners have said or put out there – or even County Clerk Vicki Zeier has said – yet alone what the law says – that provides any basis for suggesting that a cost savings of $19,000 per election.

Consolidate the precincts, I don’t think anyone is upset with that. As for polling stations? Clearly, many aren’t very happy. Many. That being said – there is absolutely no rush to set the polling places. The current proposal makes absolutely no sense in a few ways that I can see – and yes, goddamnit, I am sentimentally attached to having voting at the courthouse, and that sentimentality is attached to logic.

1) Having only one polling station in the Rattlesnake is nuts. Even nuttier is closing Prescott (at the bottom of the hill) and leaving the Rattlesnake School up the hill. Have everyone driving up the hill and back? From a transportation point of view it makes absolutely no sense. ALSO, though, let me say this – I worked the Rattlesnake School in ’06, for about 9 hours. That was the first big absentee mail-in ballot year. The lines there to vote on election day? Long. All day, practically – but they kept moving. Parking? Crazy. People were walking probably a 1/2 mile from where they parked to get to the school. Closing the lower polling place, which is denser with more voters, is nuts.

2) Closing the Franklin School makes no sense. That is in the middle of a dense single and multi-family zone that is heavily reliant upon using the bus lines. Franklin is right on the bus line. The proposal will close that and push those voters either across Reserve (again – bad bad transportation planning there) or across Russell (which is almost as bad.) Frankly – I don’t know how those precincts are drawn there, but I have to say that I live on the northern side of that neighborhood, yet I currently vote at Porter (which is probably 20 blocks from me where Franklin is about 4).

3) Continuing on #2 – and take a look at the map – they are proposing to whip out every polling place in the heart of the river road neighborhood (dense, multi-family) and Franklin-to-Fort. The are proposing to keep both the Senior Center and St. Josephs – and those two are just a few blocks, relatively speaking, away from each other.

Hell – the Senior Center, St. Josephs and Paxon are the the protected triumvirate there.

Finally (for me) Closing the UC makes no sense, especially when the excuse for closing it is to say that not enough kids are voting. How many kids are going to vote if you require them to go 1 mile down the road in early November when they’ve got no car?

The map really puts it out there pretty easy for anyone trying to make sense of it. And now that I know that the number of polling places has nothing to do with the number of election judges, which is the repeated and reiterated reason of why elections are costly, I got no support for closing polling stations.

Let me add – when conservatives and progressives are joining together in protest to the proposal, I’d say clearly this isn’t a bunch of people whining about nothing.

As for me, I’m already wondering who’s gonna run in those next elections that Ms. Zeier was elected to officiate.

by jhwygirl

Sounds like the county is on the defensive over its plan to consolidate precincts and close polling stations, with The Indy first on the story.

KPAX has covered it too, and The Missoulian has hit it twice, here and here.

For some time, the county has planned to consolidate precincts. That’s pretty uncontroversial – few even know their precinct. Announcing the consolidations, along with polling place closures has put more than a few people up in arms.

To understand the impact of what it is that the county is proposing to do, check out Forward Montana’s google map of the polling closures around the county, which is darn helpful to visualize the impact to voters.

Honestly, the whole thing has opened me questioning the efficiency of what we had in the first place. They’ve got one polling station there west of Russell and east of Reserve – a dense single and mulit-family saturated area. I live there – yet, I’m currently driving across Reserve to one of the two polling stations east of Reserve, and in what is really a significantly less dense neighborhood, instead of using the polling station about 4 blocks from my home.

How is that making sense? Closing one Franklin School and pushing the bulk of people over Reserve and over to C.S. Porter or Hawthorn? Because Frankly doesn’t seem to be used efficiently right now.

That ain’t planning.

So take a look, people – you too out there in the county. Because instead of talking to the neighborhood councils, at least – who might of been able to provide some cohesive transportation-on-the-ground-practicality to a plan, instead, we’ve got a bunch of colored lines on a spreadsheet that we’re supposed to make sense of.

So glad Forward Montana did that map.

If you are concerned about the closing of polling stations, and want the county to take time to get community input on putting together a plan that is workable, why not sign Forward Montana’s petition?

While you’re at it, think about sending off an email to the Board of County Commissioners. The county Elections Office is asking that public comment be submitted there – and here is a link to their information on the proposal.

Look. I don’t think there’s any evil conspiracy going on here, but I do see one thing that seems to reoccur periodically when it comes to county government business: There’s not a lot of public information put on there on what they’re doing. How many times have I blogged that? Noticing – if it occurs – is short. Stuff like staff reports or maps or attachments aren’t generally available online.

Plain and simple, it isn’t geared towards serving the 2009 citizen of Missoula.

And when there isn’t a lot of public information put out there, and people start asking the county what is going on, county officials sometime seem to get downright indignant, which appears to be the case now. Remember the time-out county administrator Ann Mary Dussault needed when pressed last year about the undefined plan to bring numerous bonds and levys before the voters?

Read that first Missoulian story. Numerous county officials seem to be taking it personally that there is (1) media inquiry into the matter, (2) public interest, and (3) interest groups on both sides of the aisle.

Goodness forbid people get uppity about where and how far they might have to go vote on election day.

Even Ann Mary, though, is in there defending the questions.

So just who is it that’s dug-in on this?

Of all the things government does – and it does a hell of a lot of stuff – everything they plan for is generally geared towards worst case scenarios. Buildings are built to certain earthquake and snow and wind loads….roads are built to roll certain weights. Our highways are built to roll military tanks. Police and sheriff departments train for any number of maxed events, and yet here is the county, closing polling stations based on off-year election traffic.

by jhwygirl

Please consider this an open thread.

I’m looking for craft shows around the area – and by area I mean Kalispell, Helena, Bozeman, Butte, Deerlodge, Billings, Great Falls. Know any? Let me know below. (Thanks.)

Goddess knows there are plenty of people upset about the County’s plan proposal to consolidate precincts and close polling stations. If you are concerned about the closing of polling stations, and want the county to take time to get community input on putting together a plan that is workable, why not sign Forward Montana’s petition?

Via Missoula’s Heavy Metal Hippy, we learn that Big Foot has been sighted. In Minnesota.

Cool.

Montana’s lone congressman, Representative Denny Rehberg voted against reforming Wall Street in a vote on the floor of the House yesterday.

We’re making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and who’s nice – congressional elections are coming, to town.

Missoula’s Poverello Center – like other homeless shelters across Montana – have been inundated this week due to sub-zero weather. The Pov has been overmaxed this week, sleeping over 100 on Thursday night. You can help by clicking that link above and dropping $5 or $15 or $50 bucks.

Sometimes you come across something on the intertubes that is unexpected and smart. This post did that for me, and it’s about the escalation of the war in Afghanistan. A superb arrangement of words which ignored all economy.

Couple of short interesting ones….

Out of Bozeman, a 140-year old Christmas cactus.

There’s a huge-ass iceburg floating off of Australia. Be sure to click through the pictures.

Global warming, schmobal warming, right?

In geekdome this week, I found a link on the state’s website for all the state’s online news sources.

I also found Google Scholar. This week it started offering federal and state opinions and patents….which is sure gonna hit up market sources like LexisNexis and Westlaw.

Still more – I am loving Google Scholar – here is a blog post which explains how to use the site. Which means I’ll be bookmarking that blog, too.

Out of Bozeman (again!), we’ve got gravel pits and zoning rising to the surface once again. Remember and the hullaboo about gravel pits about a year or so ago? Well, all that emergency zoning (in lots of places – we’ve the same emergency zoning that occurred here in Lolo) is coming due, placing pressure on local governments to get ‘er done.

Mainly because the legislature failed us, due to GOP amendment of what had been a darn good bill from Bozeman’s representative J.P. Pomnichowski.

I’m closing here with this one: I’ve not been over to Wulfgar!’s in a while, mainly because he’s been so sporadic and I end up getting out of pattern in my surfing. His beloved pooch Mara passed away more than a week ago, and I see he has a post up about her, which I am off to read. That kind of loss is so wrenching, so loyal or pets are. I still dream of my chessie Sadie, wonderful companion that she was.

by jhwygirl

I understand a taxpayer – any taxpayer, all taxpayers – having concerns with making sure they are getting the most for their tax bill, certainly. If you going pay taxes – and there isn’t any way to avoid them other than death, right? – then the government better not be throwing the cash away, right? Condon’s just wanting to make sure that its tax dollars are being spent to provide it its services its paying for, right?

Which is why I’m concerned about my taxpayer dollars being dedicated purely to the Condon area’s succession follies.

How much did it cost to hold that joint meeting up there last night? Gas, travel, lights,…staff, overtime.

How many staff hours have been spent on this? Are we keeping track? How much is that cost? What about all that paperwork?

If they get 50% of everyone’s signature on the petition for secession, most of the cost is on Missoula County. Missoula has said that they’re then going to do a financial study. How much is that going to cost? Then there’s a county-wide election. How much is that going to cost?

In all that studying, may be they should be studying that too.

Bet the leaders of this circus are a bunch of conservative small-government type, too.

by jhwygirl

The Rep. Gordon Hendrick’s promotion of secession talk for parts of Missoula County continues to bug me.

We’ve got a state representative here who represents an area that is more Missoula County than it is Mineral County (about 60%), promoting – or looking into – the secession of a region of Missoula County to Mineral County. He’s not been down to the local courthouse in Missoula to see what those county commissioners down there think about it, yet along inquire about the issues the so-called 70-80% of Petty Creek residents have that is precipitating such a drastic request. You kinda think he’d head down to that governmental body first and try and help things out there – since he’s such a helpful guy and all – instead of adding up the tax dollars a particular group of home down there pays.

He might try, too, knocking more than a handful of doors up Petty Creek. Apparently, Hendrick’s hasn’t really contacted a majority of residents there.

Beyond that, we’ve go a state legislator that is apparently very unaware of the Montana Constitution: Article IX of the Montana Constitution mandates that the boundaries of Montana’s counties remain as they are until approved by a majority of those voting on the question in each county affected.

I mean, really? From the time Hendrick caught wind of the issue – to talking to whomever he talked to – to figuring out the money – to scheduling the meeting with the county – and so on and so on – it didn’t dawn on him to look into the law surrounding the issue of changing a political boundary within the state?

Come to think about it – maybe it isn’t so shocking. We’ve got a bunch of laws out of this last legislative session alone that are “illegal” out of the hatch. Maybe there needs to be some sort of basic government 101 class for our elected people up there in Helena, because here’s how it is folks: In Montana, aside from that pesky U.S. Constitution that trumps all, at the top of the heap we’ve got the Montana Constitution. Our legislators – even if every single one of ’em agreed – can not write a law (Montana Code Annotated) that contradicts (violates) that Constitution. From there, we’ve got Administrative Rules….and those are implemented to uphold law (MCA)…and those, too, have to uphold everything above it.

Many legislators – and even some executives – in our government, it seems, forget that. We’ve got laws, for example, that are written to ignore the Montana Environmental Protection Act (Article IX of our Montana Constitution). I’ll take a lesser politically polarizing (polarizing nonetheless, but not in the R vs. D kind of way) example: Rep. Ed Butcher’s horse slaughter bill HB418. Out of the hatch, Butcher proposed a bill that exempted horse slaughter plans from MEPA review and and MEPA appeal to the courts to shut it down. That was illegal out the hatch. Shouldn’t of even gotten out of committee, but it did with some amendments. Eventually the thing made it through two committees, two floor votes – remaining essentially intact with buffers from MEPA challenges and impediments to making those challenges – and up to the Governor’s office. He offered an amendatory veto (being concerned about the Constitution and all), which was ignored…and then the Governor signed it into then the Governor left it for two weeks, allowing it to become law anyway.

MEPA, in fact, was a favorite target of laws which were introduced by both our legislators and our state agencies to circumvent that pesky Montana Constitution.

But getting back to Rep. Gordon Hendrick – who has announced that he will not be seeking re-election. Unless he’s willing to propose a constitutional amendment to then take it to the voters of both Mineral and Missoula counties, he might as well move on to his next biggest and latest project, whatever it may be.

But please – leave it within a county line, OK?

by jhwygirl

Most of you, by now, have probably heard a little about the Swan Valley & Condon secessionists? The group of Missoulians up on the furthest northern reaches of the county that would like to secede to Lake County?

I’ve not heard anything for some time, and while I was tempted to give a holla to the courthouse and ask around, I failed to catch any time today to do it.

Apparently, though, there are more Missoula County residents that think they’d be better off with another county: Petty Creek residents have bent the ear of state Representative Gordon Hendrick about seceding to Mineral County.

Hendrick is hot on their cause, which would bring $253,663.58 of 2009 tax assessment revenue from Missoula’s 19th precinct to Mineral County. He’s also got his eyes on the tax revenue from 50 homes in the 20th precinct also.

Missoula County’s pretty large. It’s bigger than Delaware and Rhode Island. It may, frankly, be better for both counties if either Condon or Petty Creek if they went to Mineral or Lake County. Government, any level of it, exists to serve citizens…so if either of this group feels it isn’t getting its money worth – and the cost of providing those services on these outer reaches of the county is better met by another county, well – can’t really complain about that, right? Should be about the citizens getting the best value for their tax dollar.

Missoula County might be better off to not be sprawled out so much either.

All that being said, one thing that stuck out to me was how ill-informed Rep. Hendrick was – The Clark Fork Chronicle references Hendrick as saying that Missoula County had set precedent in having portions of it secede, and then he apparently referenced the Swan/Condon group. I mean – I can see him being overeager to get at what will probably amount to close to a million in tax revenue, but jumping the gun and telling Mineral County Commissioners that Swan/Condon was now part of Lake County was a bit of an untruth.

There’s also talk about creating another county. All very interesting stuff.

by jhwygirl

Had to read this in the Clark Fork Journal, given that there is nary a mention of this on the Missoula County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) webpage, nor the Boards and Commissions page.

Two unexpired seats need filled immediately for the Lolo Community Council. These seats are all the more important given that the Lolo Regional Plan is in the updating stages (the current one was approved in 2002). The intent behind the update as I hear it is to impose zoning in the area once the plan is updated, much like the Seeley Lake Regional Plan, which is running several months behind schedule.

Application for appointment to either of the two seats – which would go to special election in 2010 and 2012, respectively – closes Friday, September 18th. You can download the application off of the website. For more information call 258-3432 or 258-4877.

Good planning and zoning is important for this fast-growing area of Missoula county. Citizens who are willing to openly look at the issues and seek well-written planning documents can help ensure that Missoula and the Lolo area grows responsibly.

If not you, think of others you know in the Lolo community that would be good for these important volunteer positions.

Let’s not forget the gravel pit issues of not too long ago. Or the sprawling new subdivisions – approved in the name of affordable housing (yeah, right) that are popping up like leafy spurge and spotted knapweed along the highway 12 corridor. This important watershed is being poked and punched with exempt wells, dropping water flows to Lolo Creek each and every year.

The emergency zoning to stop the gravel pit? That was extended into its second year this past May – which means that some sort of zoning regulation regarding gravel pits needs to be in place prior to its second year expiration.

There’s lots of stuff in these pages regarding gravel pits.

Which makes the fact that the Seeley Lake Regional Plan is running behind schedule all the more important. May 2010 will be here so soon, we’ll all be wondering where 2009 went.

Lolo residents need to pay attention to these deadlines, and need to remain not only pro-active in this process, but pro-active with the BCC, ensuring that they don’t get caught with a too-old plan and no easy route towards zoning and land use planning of the area come May of next year.

The regional plan update is the first step in seeking resolution to the uncertainty of unzoned land.

by jhwygirl

I’ve mentioned this before in comments and it has been met with agreement, but it bears worthy of repeating: The self-insured nature of both the city and the county’s health care coverage is a huge huge disaster-in-waiting.

Missoula Red Tape’s post is what is prompting this, although I was tempted with this post from Ward 3’s Bob Jaffe’s listserve from back in May.

And so I’m clear, when I’m speaking about the city and the county being self-insured, I’m talking about the city and the county taking what they contribute towards each employee and putting into their own bank account, essentially, and then paying the bills as they come in. In this case – just so I’m clear – the city and the county’s ‘pool’ of money are separate. They are not merged together for that slightly larger pool of members….which is pretty ridiculous, in and off itself, but more on that below.

From Jaffe’s post, the city contributes about $680 per month per employee. From Missoula Red Tape’s post, the city gets $10 per month in employee contribution. Now – I don’t know the amount of insurance, specifically, that people are getting, but a direct cost of $680/person is pretty steep. Employees should be getting 4-diamond health care for that price, and more (dental, eye, life, enhanced disability, etc.,…. but I strongly suspect that isn’t the case (although I’m not insinuating that it is horrible insurance, either.)

The thing is, a city employee could take that kind of money and buy a considerable amount of insurance under a ‘normal’ policy for that kind of money. The self-insured nature of the city’s operation means that they need to bank that money, and then pay some agency to manage the policy as the city has written it. That agency reviews claims and pays them out as requested. T-r-o-u-b-l-e. What about a catastrophic accident where a St. Pat’s helicopter, life support and several surgeries are needed? Say two of those in one year? Big trouble.

And don’t think that hasn’t happened to either the city or the county – where they’ve had to adjust their policy, cutting coverage just to make ends meet – just to keep their own self-insured pool upright.

Self-insure is a self-perpetuating nightmare. It’s very hard to transition over to a ‘normal’ insurance pool (say Blue Cross/Blue Shield Montana or NewWest or Allegiance) because of the ‘pre-existing condition’ clause that would interface, likely, for a year. But failure to act might be far more costly than trying to continue to maintain this self-insured policy.

U.S. is talking health care. It doesn’t taken an Einstein to know that the more people in the pool, the less costly the insurance. I don’t know how many people the city insures, but it sure isn’t the number like those that are employed at the University or for the State of Montana – and why the city wouldn’t negotiate to join in with that pool of providers…well, I can’t see how it wouldn’t make sense.

A smart person (and a good negotiator) – instead of wanting $10 more a month from each employee – might find far greater savings in seeking to transition from self-insured to some larger insurance pool. Because any year can be that next bad year. Let’s just hope it isn’t FY2010.

Hell – I bet there’s a savings to be accomplished just joining together both the city and the county health insurance as one pool.

Now that’s some crazy talk, no?

by jhwygirl

Tomorrow’s regular Wednesday public hearing of the Missoula County Board of County Commissioners contains a few things that might be of interest to county citizens – but don’t look to the county webpage for information on what it is they’re doing.

For example – we’ve got a family-exempted subdivision for George Denman. Don’t know where – don’t know how many lots. Don’t know if he has legal access…don’t know if it’s on a hillside or in a wetland. And because of this lack of information, people won’t know 5 years from now whether that lot that sells down the street was part of what was supposed to be a lot created for a member of Denman’s family.

Maybe that’s the idea…everyone knows those family-exempted subdivisions are just away to evade regular subdivision laws. Ravalli and Powell and Flathead counties are all contemplating reeling these things in a bit…and maybe even more counties.

But we get a link for some pathway.

There’s a 2-lot subdivision on 2.4 acres somewhere in Orchard Homes on 7th Street, west of Clements. Anyone ever heard of a legal description up there? Is it zoned? Isn’t there a staff report for this?

How can they give us a link for some pathway, but they can’t seem to get out a staff report to the website 5 days (on Friday) before the hearing. Don’t tell me the County Commissioners don’t have it – and if they aren’t getting the staff report 5 days before the hearing, it isn’t just the administrative staff in the BCC that are slipping.

Seriously. Look at this weeks city council hearing – and compare that to the BCC public hearing. Rarely does the BCC have much more than 1 or 2 subdivisions and 1 or 2 family transfers….yet information (i.e., links to staff reports) are sooooo hard to do for the county. .

Even though they do seem to do them selectively.

Ridiculous.

by jhwygirl

Very little to be found on this on the web, people – but that should be of no surprise. I’ve ruminated numerous times on the lack of information readily available on county issues.

It’s 2009! Come on! You have the technology, and the staff. As it is now, it seems they’d rather spend time answering the phone and faxing and emailing truncated information around. Maps? They don’t fax well, nor do they email well for people on dial-up.

And now you can’t even read minutes – they only post the audio files. Can they make it any harder? We get agendas without links, and audio minutes. Unbelievable. I could go on about the many reasonable reasons why all BCC weekly agenda staff reports should be available for everything, but it really is as basic as wanting – wanting – to serve the public and provide them with information that is the same stuff available to the elected officials taking on public meeting actions.

No excuses. Spending money? Rubber-stamping family exemptions? Subdivisions? Those county departments aren’t getting that work done on slide rule and typewriters.

I see I’ve digressed…..

Missoula’s Board of County Commissioners takes up an extension of interim zoning for the area just south of Lolo, and west of Highway 93 as it relates to gravel and open cut mining and processing operations. About a year ago the county commissioners approved interim zoning in this area, but not without being dragged to their responsibilities.

That intertim zoning is about to expire, and per state law, they get to extend it just one more year. The weekly schedule sez it provides a link to the resolution, but in reality, it only provides a link to a public notice announcement on the interim zoning extension meeting. That document directs you to the resolution at www.co.missoula.mt.us/rural/, but a search of that page will leave you resolution-less.

So here’s what I know:
There’s a BCC meeting Wednesday, at 1:30, where a resolution will be considered to extend interim zoning for the area near Lolo, as it relates to open cut mining and processing operations.

It might be nice, too, if the county can give an update on this interim zoning. Surely one year later they’ve made some progress, no? Surely extending the interim zoning is reasonable because the county can reasonably expect to enact regular zoning there by May of 2010, right?

Otherwise, honestly, why bother? I say that, please note, as someone who has wholeheartedly supported county-wide zoning.

Interested citizens want to know these things.

by jhwygirl

Missoula County Commissioners are seating a new round of members for the Marijuana Initiative Oversight Committee.

In 2006, Missoula County voters approved a marijuana initiative which was supposed to make marijuana a low priority offense for law enforcement. It applied out in the county – county sheriff’s office – jurisdiction only.

Since that time there has been a 27 percent increase in marijuana enforcement in Missoula County

You can get an application here. January 30th is the deadline, and the applications can be faxed to 721-4043.




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