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

Hush, money

Scot Meader, manager of Missoula County’s fair and fairgrounds resigned today. Hopefully, this will stem the tide of complaints being leveled against him: alleged drunken groping, unethical and deceptive behavior, and a lack of being honest, ethical and forthright.

But, while Meader is going to cease representing the fair he will continue to receive his salary for the next year. $71,776 seems like a lot of money in Missoula, moreso when you’re being paid not to continue doing bad things.

Seems like in bad economic times that the County Commissioners should stand up to the weasel. Commissioner Bill Carey said he doesn’t “know for sure how we got to this point”. Well here’s a clue – you didn’t nip this thing in the bud when the original sexual harassment claim was filed. Now, you’re making us all pay for your efforts at trying to sweep this under the rug.

Sorry, but I think Meader should pay the County if he wants us to keep quiet about his unprofessional behavior. If he wants a job anywhere near Missoula then wouldn’t it be in his best interests to not be dragged through the arena of public scrutiny?

What’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is mine too

I’m reminded every weekend that the Griz play at home – the University doesn’t provide nearly enough parking for all the Griz fans that drive to the game.

But, this last weekend something different happened to me as I parked on the streets in the University district. I found myself behind a vehicle that I recognized – from out on Kona Ranch Road. Yep, they’d driven in from their property (next to the river) where they post and enforce ‘No Parking’ signs. Somehow they feel that it is all right for them to park in front of someone else’s property when they clearly don’t think it is OK for someone else to park in front of theirs.

Of course, this is common. Other than on Griz gameday, you’re not allowed to park in the University District. Nor are you welcome to park in the Grant Creek area if you want to hike up one of the nearby peaks on Forest Service land. And you can completely forget parking along the Blackfoot River Recreation Corridor during the summer since the adjacent landowners have severely limited the number of legal spaces. Even the Costco parking lot seems to be full more times than not and there’s nowhere else to legally park!

If we’re not allowed to park on public streets or roads in so many situations, shouldn’t the attractions be responsible for providing parking? Not only would the University have to build enough parking for all 20,000+ people that drive to Griz games, but MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks would have to buy up land near the Fishing Access Sites and the Forest Service would build some parking near the trailheads.

Of course, if you’re going to do that then we would expect downtown business to equally provide parking for their customers, too. Right? None of this relying upon street parking – if my guests aren’t allowed to park outside of my property, then why should their guests be allowed to park outside their property? Perhaps the East Front Street Parking Structure is for that purpose?

But, wait, apparently asking Macy’s to pay a percentage of the operating &/or maintenance costs could be a deal breaker! Instead, Missoula County Commissioners have unanimously approved designating Missoula County an Economic Recovery Zone to enable private entities, the County, City, and other local governments to access federally subsidized financing. Apparently, the county is going to borrow $8 million dollars and give it to the City to build the structure. And, at the same time the Missoula Downtown Association wants to raise the downtown parking fines. Yep, we’ll be paying four times over for the privilege to park on our downtown streets.

Which begs the question – why do we pay for and build parking for some people in some locations, but not others? Oh, I know: economic development! Sadly, that word is rapidly becoming code – for subsidizing my business at your expense.

Attack!

They say a good defense is the best offense, or is it the other way around? Either way, Michael Moore was being quite defensive on the front page of today’s Missoulian. It seems that another genuine, hardworking citizen has been driven from public office and the paper of record must feel as though they contributed to the controversy.

Kelley Hirning has resigned as a member of the Missoula County school board. She has done so as a result of the complaint brought by partisan parent Mark Zuber. (He felt that videos shown to his child were done so in violation of the district’s academic freedom/controversial issues policy).

More importantly today (since the policy has been much discussed and updated) is Hiring’s claim that the Missoulian inaccurately reported the controversy and that the school district’s administration (i.e. Alex Apostle) failed to correct the inaccuracy. Zuber felt the story was accurate.

It is a great pity that the Missoulian didn’t today present more of the details of Hirning’s letter or follow up with her concerning the inaccuracy. Instead, reporter Moore quickly attempts to defend the Missoulian’s original coverage:

“We did not BAN the video … ,” Hirning said.

Although the Missoulian’s stories didn’t describe the board’s action as a “ban,” many critics of the board’s decision did.

While I don’t agree with Hirning on many topics, I know her to be honest, upfront and well meaning. She is the sort of civic-minded person we would want serving on one of our boards and commissions. Instead, she is, “Done with politics. I never wanted to be a politician anyway, I’m a mom that wanted to help.”

I can’t help but feel that another scalp (along with teacher Kathleen Kennedy) will be claimed by Zuber and like-minded activists who brought the original complaint. I just wish the Missoulian presented this issue as the political campaign that it has always been, instead of playing defense on their own coverage.

Pitching in

As in previous depressions, tent cities are springing up in many cities and towns as more people lose their jobs and homes. Where in Missoula will they live? The tell-tale smoke plumes along the Kim Williams trail all winter would tend to indicate some residents in the pines.

Maybe we will soon see Fort Missoula with temporary housing for the homeless, hopefully inside the buildings and not out in the weather. I don’t mean the refurbished buildings used for a range of non-profits, government agencies, and hospice. Rather, there are many old structures that are used for little other than storing equipment, archives, and old vehicles and while they wouldn’t make glamorous housing they would be out of the wind, sun, and rain. All it would take is a bit of forethought by our governing elders. After all, many of those buildings are owned by the Federal government, the State National Guard, the university, and various agricultural research agencies. In dire times wouldn’t the highest and best use be to take care of the most vulnerable, the homeless?

Or they could use some of the Federal Stimulus dollars for projects like the Garden District, a $6.6 million project of affordable homes off Russell Street, on the old Intermountain Lumber site. These rental units are targeted at:

people who earn less than 40 percent, 50 percent and 60 percent of the area median income. The Missoula Housing Authority’s Jim McGrath said a market study showed Missoula needs some 478 units in that range. “There’s a significant number of folks out there that are in that bracket,” McGrath said.

I suspect there are many more than that. Its going to take a concerted local effort to help those people and there’s no time like the present to get going on that project. What about it Mayor Engen, Governor Schweitzer and County Commissioners Carey, Curtiss, and Landquist? Do you want to be pro-active and get serious now about the homeless problem, or will you be reactive as the tent cities get more and more numerous? Will you help?

Growth, growth, everywhere growth and not a drop to drink

Why did 27,400 folks vote against the Emergency Operations Center here in Missoula County? I suggest it is because they don’t want to pay for someone else’s growth.

Somewhat overshadowed by the big-ticket races, there were a number of important financial decisions on the ballot this year. Voters here and across the state approved paying higher property taxes to support the University system, and they supported socialized health care through an expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. But, when it came time to cough up for the Sheriff’s Office, 9-1-1 Center, and other first response agencies in the city, county and region, a majority of folks voted ‘No’.

So, what happened? A good, solid center-right policy priority like Emergency Services should have been a shoe-in compared to those pinko programs like education and health, right? Maybe in times of economic belt-tightening our priorities change? Maybe right now we don’t need fancy new digs for our cops when kids can’t get health coverage and our best & brightest are leaving the state for their college education.

But, I think it all comes down to growth. I don’t think the Missoulian editorial writers quite got it right when they said, “we certainly want to be able to accommodate any growth in the demand for emergency services“. I don’t know about you, but my demand for emergency services hasn’t gone up … I’m not falling down stairs any more than I used to (Election night was an anomaly, I swear!), and I’m not committing more crimes than I used to. No, the only reason demand for emergency services is going up is that there are more people here in the County than there used to be. Growth.

So, why are you and I being asked to pay for all those new people to move into our little slice of paradise? It’s hard enough as it is to get a parking spot at Costco that perhaps we should think about rolling up the welcome mat in these economic foul weather times. Sure, I like seeing big crowds at Grizzly matches and it’s great that our merchants can move into bigger premises as their clientele base grows (Kettlehouse and La Petit Outre are two examples). But, who gains the benefits of growth and who pays the cost?

There’s going to be a limit to how fast and how far this community grows. I think the message of this ballot initiative is that we really can’t afford to keep growing. We can’t afford to pay for all the infrastructure that those new folks are going to insist we provide. I keep hearing that we can’t afford to protect our kids, our neighbors, and the little old ladies with properly constructed streets (curb, gutter, bike lane, and sidewalks on all existing city streets by 2020). So, how exactly is it, then, that we can afford to build new streets?

Maybe it is time for us to make the developers and growth advocates fully pay for their expansion plans. And I don’t just mean the obvious infrastructure needs, but also the costs that are otherwise borne by all of us – the cost of welcoming them into our community – such as the hidden costs of providing a clean and healthful environment for present and future generations, as our Montana constitution directs. Things like clean air, clean water and other environmental life support systems. Because those things are finite and there’s no way we can afford to buy them from someone else!

Grassroots politics

Congratulations to our new Missoula County Commissioner, Michele Landquist.    Today’s Missoulian has some nice quotes from Michele explaining the strengths of her campaign:

“I’m excited, but I guess I’m mostly excited that the people in Missoula proved that a person can still run a grass-roots campaign and make a difference,” she said. “I’ve said all along it shouldn’t be about how much money you raise. It’s about getting your message out there to the people, and I think I did that.”

I think she’s correct on this one. I’ve met Michele (we went to Campaign Academy together!) and she seems as straightforward, straight talking a person as you are likely to meet. She strikes me as the sort of person that Montanans like to trust. They can ask her a question and find out what she thinks. I don’t get the impression that Michele makes quick political calculations before explaining herself and her ideas. She’s a smart person, a person who cares about her community, and not someone who is always looking for an angle. No, I don’t agree with her on some issues. But, I sure appreciate her willingness to stand up and speak out. And, I appreciate her willingness to give over the next few years of her life to public service.

What I don’t understand is the title of the Missoulian’s article, Landquist surprises Anderson in county commission race. I guess that Anderson was surprised by his loss, but there is an ambiguity in the headline (as there often is) that suggests folks other than Anderson were surprised by the result. Pete over at 4&20 Blackbirds, for instance, called it an “improbable county commissioner outcome

What was improbable? That a GOP establishment candidate with the support of ‘notable’ Democrats, set up by the never-retiring Barbara Evans, crowned by the development crowd, endorsed by the railroad crew might actually lose? Shock! Horror! Scupper that thought! The voters might actually think differently! Particularly if it all appears to be a set up by all the same power brokers that usually think as though they might run the place.

No, what is surprising is their reaction. And, I suspect the lack of real, honest consideration of the stupid moves that led to Anderson’s demise. Perhaps the Democrats who supported the Republican candidate might get censored by their party? No, I doubt that will happen. Perhaps Barbara Evans will admit she miscalculated and instead of cueing up Anderson for success she set him up to fail? Nope, not likely. And I will forever hold out hope that the pro-growth-at-all-costs crowd will learn that the proud citizens who stand in opposition to their power plays aren’t evil. Those brave few are, in fact, representing the little guy and gal who don’t like being steamrolled.

So, I wish Michele well. She will provide a breath of fresh air into the somewhat stale air of the County boardroom. It may be a whiff of damp sheep that she brings, or maybe it is the wind of new ideas. Either way, it is the smell of grassroots politics, Missoula style!