Which Political Party Is More Worthless When It Comes To Addressing Homelessness In Montana?

by Travis Mateer

When it comes to politics, I try to maintain equal disdain for BOTH parties and the games they play with our money and our lives.

Recently Montana’s Attorney General, Austin Knudsen, talked some shit regarding Missoula’s approach to homelessness. If only we elected different people, he said, then we wouldn’t have the problem in this town that we do.

Well, Missoula County Commissioner, Josh Slotnick, wasn’t having it, and recently hit back with the brilliant counter-argument of BUT BILLINGS!

Slotnick referenced a recent Talk Back interview with Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen who answered a listener’s question on how to alleviate the homeless situation in Missoula. He said ‘Missoula has to vote better’.

“Absolutely,” said Slotnick. “So reading into that, I’m just going to call it what it is; we’re talking Democrats and Republicans, right? We only have these two parties, so according to the Attorney General if only we had Republican leadership we wouldn’t have a homeless problem, so the truth for showing how wrong that is to visit Billings.”

Slotnick recalled a recent meeting he attended in Billings and his experience with that city’s homeless population.

“There are more homeless people out on the streets downtown Billings at nine o’clock on a Tuesday night than where there were non-homeless people, and Billings doesn’t provide anything in terms of services compared to what we do,” he said. “So there’s the proof. You can have Republican leadership that provides nothing and you still get homeless people. The difference is we have homeless people living in a place where they throw their garbage in the garbage can and go to the bathroom in the bathroom.”

I added the emphasis to the part that makes me want to tell Josh Slotnick to go fuck himself because TONS and TONS of garbage was literally removed from the Reserve Street despite this asshole’s failed leadership.

Does this mean that Slotnick’s claim that we have homeless people living in a place where they throw their garbage in the garbage can and go to the bathroom in the bathroom is total bullshit? Yes. Yes it does.

While these two men of inaction use their sad little words to slap each other from their bubbles of safety, the REAL work of cleaning up the Reserve Street encampments only happened because Kevin Davis and gutsy volunteers shamed our elected leaders into doing something.

So, if you’re wondering why I’m using more profanity than usual, it’s because the gall of a political eunuch like Farmer Josh is off the fucking charts. I mean, the whole point of Farmer Josh going on KGVO in the first place was to provide an update on the work at Reserve Street. Here’s the update:

“Right now to my to my knowledge, there’s no one living underneath the Reserve Street Bridge, which is a great victory,” said Commissioner Slotnick. “There’s been a bit of legal activity and I want to give you an update on that. So at the end of last week, the judge extended the temporary restraining order and basically made it into a preliminary injunction, which means that if anyone is camping down there, there is a court order and sheriff’s deputies can remove them.”

Yes, with that court order in place, NOW Sheriff deputies can remove them. I just hope those deputies involved in that terrifying incident of a homeless black man swinging a machete (necessitating his removal with a gunshot to the back while he ran away) can get back on the job to protect and serve our community in the selfless manner we have come to expect from them.

Thanks for reading!

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Pretend The Coat Hanger Is A Syringe

by Travis Mateer

I am not celebrating, nor am I protesting, the next iteration of national outrage priming the hate pumps for summer. Instead I’m offering the side that feels like it lost something an analogy to help quiet their loud theatrics because it’s really obnoxious, especially considering how claims of bodily autonomy against unwanted medical interventions were treated not that long ago.

I think we can all agree that we want the things we put into our bodies to be as safe as possible, be it fetus vacuum or vaccine, but that simple sentiment has been seemingly eclipsed by two warped modes of absolutist thinking regarding pregnancy and experimental drugs pushed by drug companies.

Bodily autonomy, like free speech, isn’t a light switch that can be turned on and off by the well-intentioned. At least it shouldn’t be. But that is what has happened, and the cognitive dissonance this produces harms us all.

Another thing I think we can all agree on is that politicians are disgusting creatures who will exploit anything for a vote.

On the abortion-sky-is-falling issue, Monica Tranel is out front getting some good media from it.

Tranel said, “Take action. Your vote is the most important thing you can do right now and this November offers a very, very stark choice.” She continued, “This isn’t about abortion because if it was about abortion we would be reducing unwanted pregnancies, and we are doing nothing to do that and doing nothing to support families. This isn’t about abortion. It’s about controlling women. And that’s wrong.”

Monica Tranel is half right, this isn’t about abortion, but what she gets wrong is WHO is being controlled by this SCOTUS decision, and that’s THE WHOLE COUNTRY through the simple tactic of divide and conquer.

While the latest rally was happening yesterday to protest the loss of the supposed right to have an abortion, Harley and his thankfully obscured ass-crack were getting the Fire/EMT response across the street from Missoula County Courthouse.

The disgusting politician responding to THIS deplorable situation is Montana’s current Attorney General, Austin Knudsen, who had this to say recently (emphasis mine):

One caller asked the Attorney General what he can do to help alleviate what he termed the homeless epidemic in Missoula, to which Knudsen said ‘that’s a Missoula problem’.

“A big part of the problem you folks have got here in Missoula, and with all due respect, you folks need to vote better,” he said. “I mean, you’ve got leadership in this town that has turned Missoula into a haven, or a kind of a Mecca for the homeless. You’ve provided a level of services and a level of tolerance for certain types of behavior, and there’s not a lot of punishment going on over here for crimes and misdemeanors. At the end of the day, that comes down to your local elected leadership, whether it’s your city council and clear up to your prosecutors.”

While Knudsen talks shit on Missoula’s supposedly unique homeless problem, the Montana Free Press is reporting on a homeless camp controversy brewing in GREAT FALLS.

In recent months, amid increasing reports of crime in the area and a lawsuit filed by the city against the church, the encampment has become a source of controversy. It’s also indicative of a larger homelessness problem exacerbated by a scarcity of affordable housing and a lack of drug-prevention services.

How did Austin Knudsen miss this? I guess he was too busy pretending to stop human trafficking:

“I’ve seen the tragedy the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people has inflicted on Montana’s tribal communities, both as attorney general and a former prosecutor in Roosevelt County. At the Montana Department of Justice, we’ve taken important steps over the last year to address it, including working to eliminate human trafficking, a problem disproportionally affecting Native American women and girls. Our commitment to reducing the number of missing and murdered Indigenous people and bringing perpetrators to justice in Montana will not waiver.”

I think Austin Knudsen is doing a great job modeling how powerful pretending can be. If the abortion lovers take a few cues from him, I think everything will be just fine.

Thanks for reading!

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The Caretakers, The Reporter, And The Man Who Wants To Be Sheriff Of Mineral County

by Travis Mateer

UPDATE: this post has been edited by the author.

I was reminded recently in a conversation with Mineral County Deputy Attorney, Wally Congdon, that people who I don’t know sometimes know me. That’s basically what Wally said to me: “You don’t know that I know you, but I do.”

How does Wally know me? He was, once upon a time, a board member of the Poverello Center, a homeless shelter in Missoula where I worked from 2008-2016. Great, I said, then you are familiar with the work I used to do, and then I proceeded to tell Wally my latest concern, which is this:

Who is using my blog to impersonate people in the comment threads?

I was alerted a few days ago that a comment made by someone named “Tamera”–a person who exists in real life–made the comment herself, but I learned that was not accurate, so I removed it. Later I had to edit this post when I got more information about the potential impacts of this impersonation.

This underhanded move made me recall a similar example of impersonation, which occurred back in February when new commenter, “DB”, trolled a post I wrote about the Rebekah Barsotti “river accident” case. Could this be the same person, or group of people, attempting to muddy the waters before things like autopsies are released and new Sheriffs are elected?

Since I love sharing information with anyone who might have influence in a case like this, I texted Monte Turner my hot tip about this impersonation thing. I’ve been a little surprised that Monte has continued communicating with me, since this post about the hilarious candidacy of Bill Burt utilized texts from our brief exchanges over the past few months, so I wasn’t all that surprised to find out Sheriff wannabe, Ryan Funke, has been telling Monte about my Gonzo journalism.

Here’s Monte’s response to my tip and my subsequent response, which seemed to alleviate his concerns. That is until he hears about THIS post.

Isn’t it nice to see how damn considerate Sheriff Toth was? He only wanted EXPERIENCED searchers involved, like Deputy Funke, who couldn’t even find Rebekah’s gun in her abandoned car.

But Deputy Funke DID come all the way to Missoula to interview a witness who claims David Barsotti told her he was there that day, on the banks of the river, and SAW HIS WIFE DROWN! When I told Wally Congdon about this witness, he said he had never heard about that at all. I suggested he chat with his colleague, Debra Jackson, if he wanted to be better informed.

My serious lack of faith in ALL the investigators on this case (even the PIs) comes partly from the direct information I have been able to gather myself. One example is a recorded phone call I had months ago with one of David’s caretakers, Brandy Walker. I haven’t released that conversation until today, but now I feel the timing is right, especially considering the geographical proximity of Brandy Walker’s residence to the trailer park where the email came from.

After listening to that conversation and marveling at all this amateur sleuthing and platforming of people getting their 15 minutes in (since no real investigation appears to be happening) I’d like to share a bizarre TikTok clip from “Sarge” and his TikTok account. Because why not?

If you want to see more amazing TikTok videos of dogs, and a weird one of a hand, have at it. There is also an entire online community looking at all this shit, not to mention a Dateline producer poking around.

I will leave it there for now, but coming soon: finding David Barsotti a Church! I’m thinking that vein will be so rich, an entire series may be required, so stay tuned!

And, as always, thanks for reading!

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A Well-Timed Affordable Housing Conversation Annoys Council President, Gwen Jones

by Travis Mateer

I continue to appreciate the actions of City Council member, Daniel Carlino, as he highlights the leverage bestowed on private developers by our elected leaders. The latest move from Carlino, which incensed Jones, was a simple little amendment to extend the fig leaf of affordable housing from 35 years to 70 years. That, according to Jones, was a TERRIBLE deviation from business as usual. Here’s some reporting from Missoula’s favorite propagandist, Gomer Kidston, laying the groundwork for this giveaway (emphasis mine):

Members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to vacate a sliver of road in the Midtown district to accommodate a residential and commercial project planned by an affordable housing developer.

The $30 million development, proposed by Casa Loma LLC, will include 132 units of housing at the corner of South and Stephens avenues. Given the city’s vacation of public right-of-way, 20% of the rental units within the project must be reserved as affordable housing for a period of 35 years.

“We didn’t want to restrict the entire project, even though our intent is to make this affordable and attainable,” said developer Nate Richmond. “We have to maintain some flexibility for the fluctuating construction market out there right now, materials and labor being the big unknown.”

I bolded the name of the developer because Nate Richmond is mostly known for his development work under name Blue Line. That’s the name of the company that wanted to develop Larchmont Golf Course and the name of the company building the Trinity Apartment complex by the jail. And you better believe Richmond knows how to ENRICH these deals with public financing. I assume this project is no different.

Where you at, Missoula Redevelopment Agency?

The project will also include a handful of for-sale units and 18,000 square feet of commercial space. The Missoula Redevelopment Agency is contributing to the project, which also includes a roundabout, a cycle track and new public infrastructure.

The emphasis is definitely mine because I want to ensure these schemes are properly identified. Now, let’s take a look at the conversation Gwen Jones didn’t want to have:

While the number of units weren’t an issue, Ward 3 council member Daniel Carlino sought to require the developer to subsidize the project’s 22 affordable units for a period of 70 years, not the 35 years requested by the city.

However, his proposed amendment failed on a 9-1 vote and received scrutiny from some peers. Fellow Ward 3 council member Gwen Jones said the city would be setting bad precedent if Carlino’s 11th hour amendment were to pass, potentially scuttling the entire project by altering its delicate financial model.

“It’s bad practice to try to steer a ship of this size in a completely new direction after so much work has gone into it – work that’s all based on solid policy that council has created over the years,” Jones said. “Frankly (Carlino’s amendment) is not based on any type of financial analysis related to the reality of this project. I’m concerned this sends an incredibly bad message to the development community that changes of this magnitude can be made at the last minute.”

I’m excited to see Gwen Jones mention FINANCIAL ANALYSIS because the entire premise of using MRA funding should be called into question, considering the ZOOM BOOM Missoula continues to experience. But that will never happen under the coming reign of Engen’s groomed replacement, the Ice Queen.

I do appreciate Carlino doing his best to expose these schemes, especially right now. Why? Because we have a VERY convenient article that shows what happens to these properties when developers don’t give a shit about them because poor people live in them. Here’s what a big apartment complex is going to need to stay affordable and NOT falling apart:

A nonprofit that builds and maintains affordable housing in Missoula plans to apply for state tax credits to rehabilitate Creekside Apartments, a facility that plays a central role in the city’s housing portfolio.

Heather McMillan, housing development director with Homeword, said the property is seeing a number of issues arise simultaneously, from failing roofing to deteriorating infrastructure.

She placed the estimated cost of repairs at around $9 million.

Yep, $9 million is now needed because this property is a total piece of shit and might go on the market if MORE MONEY isn’t found to keep the affordable scheme going. To accomplish this, some fancy bond called a CONDUIT bond was used, and more tax credits will be needed. From the link:

The project was built using Low Income Tax Credits in 1996 and the developer took steps toward efficiency in an effort to reduce costs. The period of affordability was set to expire in 2026 and the owner had considered placing the property on the open market at that point in time.

The proposition sent off alarm bells in the affordable housing community. The threat of displacing so many families and losing a key piece of the city’s housing inventory prompted Homeword and the city to secure a conduit bond to purchase the property, which it did in 2017 for roughly $12 million.

“We assessed the property then and it was at risk of going to market,” McMillan said. “We knew a lot of the building materials and building systems would be close to the end of their useful life. We knew we’d have to rehab. We were keenly aware this was going to be an issue.”

Now, McMillan said, the time for “wholesale” rehabilitation has come. Homeword hopes to secure a combination of both 4% and 9% tax credits to complete the work.

Yes, all this additional money will have to be used in order to keep from LOSING affordable housing stock. Fantastic. And this same scenario is being set up with Nate Richmond’s latest development project, which he describes in the first linked article:

Richmond said the industry standard of 35 years is generally tied to the amortization period of conventional financing. At that point time, a property of this size generally needs to be financially restructured to complete significant rehabilitation that generally includes new roofing and a new physical plant.

“In the affordable housing industry, that’s typically when you go back in and re-up the affordability period as well,” said Richmond.

Given the city’s housing needs, council member Mike Nugent said Missoula can’t rely on nonprofits alone to provide affordable housing. Private developers will be key if such housing is produced.

Yes, private developers will be key, but more importantly, YOU THE TAXPAYER will be ESSENTIAL in subsidizing the profits of the private sector because without your tax dollars, these developers wouldn’t dare wade into the affordability racket.

Thanks for reading!

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A Question Of Worth And Cost As It Relates To Selling Our Community Out To Costner’s Yellowstone

by Travis Mateer

How much is this picture worth, Missoula?

The question of what the man on the right (Kevin Costner) can do for our community is being discussed in Helena in preparation for pushing through a bigger tax credit next session. Here are some numbers from a well-timed Missoulian article that came out on the heels of the above photo-op.

An economic impact consultant gave a presentation showing how 195 different productions have filmed in Montana since the law was created, and they spent $192 million in the state. Film industry advocates strongly urged the committee to explore raising the cap to between $50 million and $150 million to allow Montana to compete with other states. They claim that’s necessary to encourage further growth of the industry, which they say supports Montana businesses, creates local jobs and doesn’t pollute the state’s treasured outdoor areas.

I did a little unintentional research over the past 48 hours during a brief getaway into the mountains. Before heading to the hills, I lunched in Hamilton and inquired how the feelings on the Yellowstone production were.

The response was positive regarding the impact on local business, but when I mentioned the cultural impact of bringing more people to Montana amidst the housing crisis, the servers all referenced family and friends who have moved away because they can’t afford to stay. I wonder if this reported tourism boom has anything to do about it (from Newsy at Missoula Current, emphasis mine):

report by the University of Montana’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research found “Yellowstone” brought more than $85 million in additional spending to Montana, with nearly $100,000 alone spent on parking.

The report, funded in part by Paramount, also found season four of the show meant a collective $25 million in income for some Montana residents. 

Tourism spending wasn’t included in the study, but economists say it’s big.  

“It’s tangible, whether people like it or not,” said Patrick Barkey, with the Bureau of Business and Economic Research. “There’s a lot more people that know about Montana, at least from an imagery point of view, than did before this series really took off.”

On top of tourism, the University of Montana report found 233 people moved to Big Sky country to work on the show, but there’s more: Fans are also calling realtors

Getting back to the Missoulian article, here’s how two Republicans are thinking about subsidizing Kevin Costner and his buddies in these tough times:

Two Republican members of the committee, Sen. Greg Hertz and Sen. Mike Lang, both expressed support for the idea of at least maybe introducing a bill next session to raise the cap.

“This is a difficult industry,” Hertz said. “It’s got a lot of competition across the United States. It’s a good clean industry. It helps Montana, it helps a lot of rural communities. The question here is how do we continue to nurture this industry without getting too excessive and having a big impact on our treasury?”

To the people pushing tax breaks for film makers like Kevin Costner, people eager to say things like NO POLLUTION and IT’S A GOOD, CLEAN INDUSTRY, explain to me the benefit of employing private security dudes like this guy:

This dude approached me on June 1st on a public sidewalk after I wrapped up a brief segment of on-the-ground reporting. I asked him why he seemed to be trying to detain me on a sidewalk and he said I was being very loud, to which I asked him if he was a cop or private security. He wouldn’t answer that question, and because I noticed real cops crossing the street toward me, I decided to leave. I recorded a second brief segment as I was returning to my studio to capture the dark SUV lurking in the alley.

After that daytime interaction with this alleged private security dude, I saw him between Reds and the Bodega, so I took this pic of him, which he didn’t like and let me know by trying to physically intimidate me. I’d love to know which private security firm this joker works at.

Before getting to the footage I recorded on June 1st, I’d like to remind readers (especially new ones) that private security in Missoula has been a growing interest of mine and because of my tenacious interest the city has been doing damage control since March.

Now it’s June, and NBC Montana reported a few weeks ago about some well-deserved skepticism amongst a few members of City Council. From the link (emphasis mine):

In August, the city of Missoula will look at renewing its contract with Rogers International to patrol and provide security around the Poverello Center, Johnson Street shelter, and authorized campsite.

City Council received a presentation Wednesday on how the first contract is working out and areas that can be improved with the next contract.

Rogers began providing security about 10 months ago, and in that time there have been four use-of-force instances with tasers.

None of the incidents resulted in criminal charges against Rogers International.

If the measure of success for Rogers International is that their staff remain free of criminal charges after zapping homeless people who step out of line, well, RENEW THAT CONTRACT!

And how about those detractors? How much space did they get in the article? Was it a sad little tag at the bottom?

Some City Council members disagree with having armed security guards patrol these areas and would like to see changes going forward.

Yep, that little quote is at the end of the article, and it’s the beginning AND end of how Council criticism was depicted. Considering internal changes at NBC Montana, I’m not surprised.

Getting back to Yellowstone, I was returning yesterday from the wilderness and got a chance to see, near Darby, the spot where all the production staff are living. There was private security at the gate AND a Sheriff deputy across the street parked on the shoulder of Highway 93 like it’s his job. Maybe it is.

A Republican who seems to take his job seriously did offer a different perspective on the tax credit. From the Missoulian article:

Sen. Brian Hoven, also a Republican, said he is opposed to the tax credit because the amount of tax revenue generated to the state by only the film companies that utilized the tax credit was just $7.8 million. Therefore, in his view, the state is losing money because the tax credit cost the state $20.3 million.

“I think the film industry is very glamorous,” he said. “The film stars are here, they show up, they bring people to rural communities, there’s a lot of money. It’s exciting, it’s great. But unfortunately, it doesn’t bring money into the state treasury.”

Hoven said he’s read articles in the Wall Street Journal that provide evidence that film tax credits don’t pay for themselves. Hoven said the state’s director of the Department of Revenue under the administration of former Gov. Steve Bullock insisted on having a cap on the credit because he “knew it would be a drain on the treasury.”

I don’t know about a drain on the treasury, but on June 1st the whole charade provided a major drain on my patience, which you can see here.

Thanks for reading. And watching!

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