That hand in your pocket is Alex Apostle’s

There’s been surprisingly little media coverage of the Missoula County Public Schools ballot. Voting ends 8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 4. Two issues are on the ballot – five school board seats up for election (although only 1 one-year term is being contested – by Ethan Heverly and Shelly Wills), as well as an Elementary (Grades K-8) Operation and Maintenance Levy for $195,962, or approximately 1.97 mills.

What of this levy? It will increase taxes on a home with an assessed value of $100,000 by approximately $3.36 per year, and on a home with an assessed value of $200,000 by approximately $6.72. It doesn’t sound like a lot of money, and gosh knows, the education system in the country needs all the help it can get.

But, take a look at what it will fund, according to the School District website:

* Educational programs – teachers, administrators, para-educators, support staff, music programs, art programs, athletics, assessment tools, counseling services, nursing services, cooks and various staff.
* Equipment and Supplies – textbooks, paper and printing, classroom supplies, library books and various equipment.
* Utilities and Facilities Maintenance – natural gas and electricity, grounds and field maintenance, custodians, painters, electricians, cleaning supplies.

Hmm, all good and solid education expenses. So good and solid I have to wonder why they are passing a new levy to cover them. Shouldn’t they be covered in the regular budget, which runs around $30 million for the General Fund. About $10 million of that comes from District Levies.

That’s what I find frustrating … Superintendent Apostle needs us to pony up this time for $200,000 … to fund basics like supplies, books and improved heating budgets. Just like last election. Just like what seems like every election. Why can’t he learn to live within his budget?

Or does he just like dipping into our wallet every time he can?
Alex Apostle

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This is so good, I’ll copy and paste it here.

It is from Ryan Morton, long-time contributor to city planning and politics, a letter sent to Mayor Engen concerning a proposed city ordinance that will ensure equal protection regardless of race, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. Currently, it is legal to fire a lesbian from her job, evict a gay man from his home, or refuse a transgender person service in a restaurant. An initial hearing on the anti-discrimination ordinance is currently scheduled April 12 in the City Council chambers.

Council Members and Mayor (and anyone else who ends up reading this):

I am queer, 31 year old male. I spent over a decade suffering from internalized homophobia because of overwhelming intolerance of homosexuality socially and in a religious context. After all those years of hating myself because of my sexuality, I finally came out to myself. Relief? Not exactly. I’ve spent nearly another decade recovering from low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety due to years of self-hatred and the homophobia from others. I am just one type of person your ordinance could protect, but my story is not unusual.

From birth, the ideas of sex, gender, and sexuality are pounded into people – regardless of whether any particular person fits the common, heterosexual model. So, most of us ‘queers’ first learn homophobia early on in life. At puberty, homophobia becomes internalized when youth don’t understand why they have same-sex urges. Coupled with social and religious ‘teachings,’ teenagers become prone to mental illness or worse barbaric ‘treatments’ to make them ‘not-gay.’ Gay teens are at some of the highest risks for suicide.

For others, their genital sex doesn’t seem to fit. I can’t imagine the confusion and struggle they go through growing up. I remember the story of Brandon Teena who was raped and killed by his friends – his friends – when they discovered he was female-to-male (FTM). I have been blessed to have several FTM friends in Missoula and have heard their stories of discrimination time and time again. What a wonderful group of people to bless the city of Missoula with their presence!

For intersexed children, their parents and doctors often sex the child at birth without any particular rhyme or reason. These people sometimes grow up discovering that their parents and doctors made the wrong choice and have to seek sex re-assignment.

Anyhow, if one is lucky enough to make it through school and enter the real world, they end up navigating relationships, careers, and, yes, decisions about bathrooms often in hiding not wanting to be recognized as different. This phenomenon is often referred to as ‘passing.’

Why do LGBTIQ people feel the need to ‘pass?’ The answer is simple: discrimination. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. God hates faggots.

One way to curb discrimination is through the ordinance you are considering. People have the right to have discriminatory thoughts, but acting them out in a way that hurts people is unacceptable. Please pass this ordinance and state definitively that it is NOT ok to discriminate on the grounds of sex, gender, sexuality, or any other unprotected class of citizens.

As far as the potty crusaders are concerned, if this ordinance fails because of some argument about heterosexual pedophiles who think cross-dressing will permit them bathroom entry, I’m going to be one nasty, screaming queen. As someone who has shared a restroom and locker room with many a cross-dresser, drag queen, and FTM, I have NO concern about bathroom entry. Trolling for young children in bathrooms and locker rooms is a nasty stereotype that is so intolerable, I can’t think of anything else to do but laugh at people who think that way. So many LGBTIQ people are loving, caring parents, teachers, public safety officers, and more who constantly look out for the GOOD of children – not to prey on them. Some of my best years were spent teaching children English as a Second Language around the world – never a thought to sexually prey upon them. There simply is no link between being LGBTIQ and being a pedophile. It’s completely nonsensical. Oh, and as a former Boy Scout – I could have really used a queer mentor at that time in my life. Really.

The discrimination is real. The fear surrounding the ordinance is simply smoke and mirrors – a perspective held in deeply rooted beliefs that society should only be structured around a heterosexual reality. Look through the smoke and mirrors and pass the ordinance to make a real difference in Missoula. I had planned to testify at the hearing, but may not be able to make it.

Hope you are well.


Ryan Morton

Another place to cut costs?

In 2008-9, the State of Montana spent around 9% of its budget on Corrections, which is 22% higher than than the national average. Perhaps this is an area that Governor Schweitzer could examine for cost savings? About one in nine state government employees works in corrections.

Although I’m not an expert on corrections, I find it difficult to come up with a satisfactory explanation for why this area of the state budget is so much higher than most of the nation. Are our citizens more likely to break the law? I find this to be the least convincing argument. Indeed, the crime rate in Montana is about 18% lower than the national average rate.

Are our laws more stringent, such that more of us find ourselves on the wrong side of the law? Are our citizens more likely to get caught breaking the law? Are our courts more likely to lock us away? Maybe. And in each case, we could see some political leadership to help us re-consider those laws. It could save us all money.

According to the state Department of Corrections, the most frequent offenses for which offenders are sentenced are:

Among men, drug possession, felony drunken driving, theft, burglary and sale of drugs are the most common. Drug possession, theft, forgery, drug selling and issuing bad checks are the most common among women.

Indeed, a recent Pew Center on the States report suggests that the

current prison growth is not driven primarily by a parallel increase in crime, or a corresponding surge in the population at large. Rather, it flows principally from a wave of policy choices that are sending more lawbreakers to prison and, through popular “three-strikes” measures and other sentencing enhancements, keeping them there longer.

Indeed, prison sentences here have become “vastly harsher than in any other country to which the United States would ordinarily be compared.”

One in every 31 U.S. adults is currently in the corrections system, which includes jail, prison, probation and supervision, more than double the rate of a quarter century ago. In 2008, for the first time in the nation’s history, more than one in 100 American adults is behind bars. The. U.S. has 2.3 million criminals behind bars, more than any other nation. Per capita, we also have the highest rate of incarceration, joining such esteemed colleagues as the Russian Federation, Rwanda, and Cuba.

But, we might also ask if there is a more cost-efficient way to provide corrections. Nationally, direct expenditure for each of the major criminal justice functions (police, corrections, judicial) has been increasing:

National judicial costs
(source: Bureau of Justice Statistics)

Recently, some U.S. states have warmed to the idea that rehabilitation outside prison can be cheaper and more effective. That Wall Street Journal article quotes Adam Gelb, a public-safety specialist, as saying that while a day in prison costs $79 on average; a day on probation costs $3.42. “States can substantially beef up supervision in the community and do it at a fraction of the cost of a prison cell,” he says. “The economy is bringing a lot of states to the table,” Gelb said, “and the research has pointed to a path for them to more public safety at less cost.” These alternatives include shortened probations, intensive supervision, streamlined parole, and more drug and DWI courts that allow low-level offenders to avoid jail through treatment and intervention programs and random testing.

How about it, Brian? Will you stand up to the police unions, corrections industry, and ‘war on drugs’ campaigners?

Way to politicize charity

It happens occasionally, but none more so than by inviting a Presidential contender to speak on your behalf. Teen Challenge USA is bringingSarah Palin to Missoula on September 12. Tickets are $100 per person.

I don’t know much about Teen Challenge, but I don’t see publicizing and endorsing politicians in their mission statement:

To provide youth, adults and families with an effective and comprehensive Christian faith-based solution to life-controlling drug and alcohol problems in order to become productive members of society.

For the Missoula program, it costs $1500 a month per student to provide a residential drug-rehabilitation program for women. I’m not sure if that is the best way to help folks with their addictions, but it seems like an admirable alternative to incarceration.

It is hard to evaluate the effectiveness of any charity, but Charity Navigator gives one of the chapters of Teen Challenge their lowest rating. It seems that the Midlands group spends nearly 30% of their income on administration and a bit less than 20% on fundraising expenses, leaving only 54% for drug rehabilitation programs. Admittedly, other chapters do better but I have to wonder what sort of oversight the national office has on the hundred or more regional centers.

Skylar Browning at the Missoula Independent asks the same question – mulling over whether Teen Challenge PNW Missoula will even make a profit on the Palin talk. If Palin typically charges up to $100,000 per talk and there are other expenses involved like hiring security guards, booking the Hilton, providing food, etc., then you have to wonder how 1,600 tickets at $100 will cover the costs. Maybe other groups are helping, but it isn’t clear.

What is obvious is that this is a very successful marketing ploy by Teen Challenge. They’ve brought attention to themselves, perhaps raising awareness that Missoula is one of the “drug capitals” of the nation(that should be great for attracting economic development to our town).

But, by bringing such a polarizing political figure they are risking the political message dominating the event. For instance, Jan Henderson, director of the treatment center here in Missoula, expressed admiration for Palin’s strength in “standing” up to media scrutiny of her life and politics. A classic Republican line, blaming the ‘liberal’ media for all that is wrong with this country.

It makes you wonder about Faith-based partnerships, doesn’t it? Here is one charity plainly aligning themselves with one side of the political divide and not the other. Perhaps they all do. And, maybe your faith-based charity is better than mine, but if your political benefactor gets elected then I’m sure yours will fare better than mine.

The real losers of this politicization of charity are probably the beneficiaries of those charities. Because I know a number of people who will now question how much of their donation is going to support politicians, as compared to really helping those in need.

Clash of the Titans

I don’t remember folks paying much attention to Lou Ann Crowley’s decision to run for House District 94. That’s a shame, because I think this Democratic primary race will be quite telling as to the future of the party in Western Montana.

In the race to replace political consultant and potential poster boy for the revolving door of Montana politics, Dave McAlpin, Lou Ann is facing Ellie Hill. And the contrast couldn’t be greater.

Ellie is somewhat of a political newcomer, but has garnered the support of the liberal rump of Missoula politics. This is not surprising given her longstanding commitment to the town’s poor and homeless, and her engagement with a raft of progressive issues. The blogosphere’s jhwygirl blogged about Ellie here and here. Ellie’s a lawyer from Idaho, a part-time business woman (although I don’t know what company she owns), and downtown resident in the Wilma.

Lou Ann, on the other hand, has a long history of local politics. Most of us know her from ten years on City Council, where she earned respect for her patience, genuine care for her constituents, and her fair-mindedness. Look around Missoula and there’s many a community organization (from MUD to the farmers market to Garden City Harvest to Kiwanis to Adventure Cycling to Hospice) that Lou Ann has been a driving part of. She’s more independent than most and while her Democratic credentials are solid, she was occasionally a swing-vote on Council. That Jon Wilkins would endorse her speaks volumes, perhaps reflecting Lou Ann’s ability to listen to and represent the concerns and problems of neighbors of many stripes.

Recently, Lou Ann was up against John Engen in the race for Mayor of Missoula. While John had political consultants, poll-testing, media campaigns, endorsement by the current Mayor and a sizable war-chest, Lou Ann campaigned the hard way – knocking on doors, attending community forums, and taking phone calls directly on her own cell phone. Lou Ann campaigned on the public having open lines of communication with city government. She lost.

Perhaps Lou Ann is running up against the same political machine that defeated her last time? I suspect she will run an honest, somewhat naive campaign – relying on the folks she has gotten to know over the 30 years she have lived and worked in Missoula. I like Lou Ann, much as I respect Ellie. But, I think the battle is not between these two impressive folks. It is, rather, a battle between an independent, grassroots campaign and a little-too-well-organized insider.

Boots on the Ground

Did you catch the following graphic in today’s Wall Street Journal?

Makes you stop and think, doesn’t it?

The U.S. spends more on defense than the other top 6 countries combined. Makes you wonder who we are fighting.

Many Americans are scared of the rising tiger, China. But, this year they will spend only $78 billion on their armed forces, or about 1/10th of what we will.

The country with the biggest GDP, also spends the biggest percentage of their GDP on defense. Does this mean that not only do we have the most to guard, but we are the most inefficient in doing so?

So, why aren’t the deficit hawks paying closer scrutiny to our national defense spending? Oh, maybe there’s a military base or arms manufacturer located in their district?

Perhaps Kentucky Republican Senator Jim Bunning could keep his pay-as-you-go principles by suggesting a 15% cut in defense spending?

Cutting your nose to spite your face?

Calls,and kudos, for cutting the budget annoy the heck out of me. Rarely do government expenditures fall. Instead, a politically-well-calculated shift occurs – from salaries, wages, and benefits to grandiose plans and projects. The winners: the consultants, developers, and politicians who get to parse the wealth around. The losers: the government employess, the services they provide, and the taxpayers dependent on them.

Now, Missoula Mayor John Engen is getting in on the game. His State of the City address (Feb.2nd) has every department cutting, saving and reorganizing in order to match the declining revenues of city government. This is as a result of him asking for 6.5% reductions in budgets. But, 75% of the city budget is in salaries. So, that means you either fire staff or delay cost-of-living adjustments and watch some good people leave the area for better paying jobs. Either way, its bad.

How about the Mayor stop the hemorrhaging of money that is going into various civic projects? I know the out-of-town consultants and various planners will scream, but these are tough times and somethings got to give.

Let’s put some things on the chopping block:

A new Missoula County Fairgrounds.

We’ve spent over $60,000 on consultants (Crandall Arambula) to be told it will probably cost around $19 million.

The Front Street Parking Structure.

Kimley-Horn & Associates were the consultants here, and it looks like it will cost $8.2 million. I can’t seem to get a straight answer from the Missoula Parking Commission, the Missoula Downtown Association, or the city on who is going to pay the costs, but I’ll bet the taxpayers won’t be completely off the hook. After all, Crandall Arumbula got paid nearly half a million via a “public-private partnership” for the Downtown Master Plan that prescribes provision of more parking. I’m guessing that means the city is going to borrow millions to subsidize the downtown merchants.

The Missoula Events Center.

Don’t get me started on the problems with this one. jhwygirl does a nice job over here. Suffice to say that Hunden Strategic Partners got paid $50,000 for the first phase of their feasibility assessment. They’re asking for a similar amount for the second phase, when they’ll tell us how much it is going to cost and who should pay for it.

Oh and by the way, have you ever looked at who is behind the MEC? Yep, many of the same people behind the ball park, which took at least $2 million in city funding and still isn’t finished. How’s that working out for ya?

So, instead of cutting firefighters, parks & recreation, and police officers, Mr. Mayor, you should take a closer look at some the grandiose projects that all these consultants say is necessary for you to spend money researching and building. Heck, you could also borrow back the nearly $4 million that the Missoula Parking Commission has in the bank.