by William Skink
John Engen was reelected to his 3rd term as Mayor in 2013. Getting elected three times means that Engen has a lot of support in Missoula, so if someone else wants the job they better bring their A game.
Harlan Wells, elected to represent Ward 2 last year, is so excited to run for Mayor he has already filed to run. So far, if I were to ascribe a letter grade to his efforts, I’d give Wells a D, and that’s being generous.
Harlan Wells made his first mistake when he exposed his ignorance for all to see regarding council processes after failing to get a referendum on the ballot in November for Missoulians to vote on the city’s effort to acquire its water system through eminent domain:
City councilman Harlan Wells introduced a referendum to city council to put the buyout on November’s ballot for the public to vote on. The referendum was referred to the Committee of the Whole to review at their meeting Wednesday. However, the agenda item was never present. The city council said Wells never submitted the proper ballot language for the committee to vote on.
“The constitution and the statutes require that you must allow a reasonable opportunity for public participation before any decisions are made,” said Missoula City Attorney Jim Nugent.
Another problem that will face Wells as he tries to make his case for why he deserves to be Mayor of Missoula is the fact he’s already established the worst attendance record of any council member. Not showing up regularly for the job Wells was elected to do is bad enough, but making excuses like the one below only amplifies how apparently tone deaf Wells is. From the link:
“Showing up to argue for two hours over something I’m just going to argue about on Monday night is just redundant and painful,” Wells said.
Plus, going to meetings isn’t required, according to the city clerk. And it isn’t the only way in which councilors can be effective – ward representatives also present and steer legislation, respond to constituents’ concerns and shape the the city budget.
Instead of just showing up to argue, Wells may want to consider doing some listening first. Or he could look at how Adam Hertz conducted himself while on council, conduct even I felt compelled to commend him for 2 years ago for making a tough vote that probably saved Missoula from being sued by the ACLU.
What Harlan Wells has done is to immediately transform his council position into a platform for his bid to become Mayor. When KGVO first reported Wells’ intentions to run for Mayor, Wells was quoted saying this about his reasoning for announcing so early:
“It is an announcement of an announcement because there are some legal restrictions I have to follow for the next year, but yeah let’s just say I am 99.9% sure I will be running for mayor next year.”
Wells says he’s announcing his intentions early, so that people can watch the votes at city hall carefully with a contrast in mind. He hopes the impending election may change the voting habits of the other city council members.
“By announcing that I am probably going to run for mayor, they now have to realize every action they do is going to have an opposite and equal reaction with the voters,” said Wells. “My hope is that over the next 18 months, with this looming over them, they will be more measured in their direction.”
Harlan Wells doesn’t appear to be very politically savvy. Missoulians now have 18 months to watch him make a fool out of himself if he chooses to continue with the ill-informed shenanigans he’s already pulled.
I’ll be especially curious to see how Harlan Wells spins his day job as the property development coordinator for the Missoula Housing Authority, an odd job for a conservative so concerned about city budget issues. For those who don’t know what a housing authority is, here is the wikipedia description:
A housing authority or ministry of housing is generally a governmental body that governs some aspect of the territory’s housing, often providing low rent or free apartments to qualified residents. The existence of government agencies specifically concerned with ensuring that housing is available to people living in the country is a comparatively modern development, with the first such agencies being established in U.S. cities in the 1930s, the height of the Great Depression.
A conservative who gets a paycheck funneling Federal HUD dollars to subsidize low-income housing in Missoula? I’m sure that will play well.
All that said, I do think Mayor Engen is politically vulnerable if someone who isn’t a political joke decides to counter Engen’s vision of making Missoula unrecognizable in 10 years. While I commend the Mayor for digging in to get our water back from corporate raiders, I think the proposed development that will radically alter this town is reckless when we are already facing so many critical issues that needed to be addressed yesterday.
At least someone is trying. Engen is out of control, has been for some time.
The smell on the Northside
The police evidence room
South Avenue residents not being paid for sidewalks
Those are problems I profiled more than a year ago that are still sitting out there, being ignored. Now, on top of it, we have efforts to:
Hand the Merc off to developers
Hand the Riverfront triangle off to developers (for same purpose as Merc, a hotel/center)
Steal the tranquility from Mary Avenue residents
Let’s not even get into the water company debacle. Instead of scrapping most of the things on the ‘fun-list’ we’re plowing right ahead, asking taxpayers for half a billion this year.
Oh, and don’t forget that water company down the road.
Where oh where is Missoula going to get the money for this?
Engen is a monumental failure. I try to tell that to his face every time I visit the City Council, as I’m not afraid to look someone in the eye and tell them they can’t hack it. I love it, actually.
It’s long past time he’s shown the door. Good job, Harlan, for at least keeping his incompetence in the public eye.
When it comes to yours (attendance), however, you pretty much undid most of the good you may have done. Don’t forget that most City Councilors come and go, heading off to obscurity when they’re done.
So far you’re par for the course and lookin’ to join ’em.
So work harder and raise more hell. Those other puppets, er…idiots, er…people on the Council won’t.
getting back our water infrastructure would be a huge victory. you have heard of the Carlyle Group, haven’t you Greg? that would be a great legacy to leave on imo.
I haven’t much been swayed by the arguments presented. We have corporations at all levels of our lives. Why is this one so bad? Currently the water works fine. I’ve done the math as well. Most of the bonding we’ve done over the past year or two has been more than enough to get the water company.
I feel the water lawsuit is but a thin veneer masking a larger money grab by forces that are perhaps even more powerful than Carlyle. Or maybe they’re just a bunch of small fish that, when thrown together, appear large and menacing. Either way, we’re paying a lot of money for water that already works, and at a time when we don’t have the money. It doesn’t seem like anyone’s looking at the long-term, other than having water. Not much attention is paid to costs.
wow, then maybe you should educate yourself a bit more because it sounds like you can’t differentiate between a multi-national private equity firm heavily invested in the military industrial complex and the city of Missoula. let me help you a bit. one of these entities wants solely to enrich its shareholders while the other wants to reinvest the profit that would be sucked out of our community back into the decrepit water infrastructure.
so, Greg, do you think that after already investing millions of dollars and winning significant court decisions through eminent domain that Missoula should just give up now and walk away from owning our water system like every other municipality in Montana?
Yes, time to walk away.
Did you catch this story, Greg?
I’ve already used up my free 10 for the month.
There’s a ton of information out there about Carlyle and its deep state position. Basically, it is a tactical arm of the neocon empire that transcends nation-states. Here’s a quote from just one older article:
In other words, Carlyle is a neofascist transnational deep state entity. Allowing Carlyle to profit off of Missoulians means we are contributing to furthering the deep state that is oppressing us. Carlyle’s modus operandi is to buy low and sell high. As we have seen with the potential sale of Mountain Water to Liberty at huge profit, Mountain Water is now caught up in a cycle of merger/acquisitions that will artificially inflate the value and operating costs of the company that will eventually be passed on to Missoula’s consumers. Water rates under Carlyle and Liberty and whomever comes next will more than double in the next decade. We’ve already seen them thumb their noses at the PSC and state regulatory ability. What’s a couple of 50% water rate hikes once the hoo-haw over the condemnation is over if it fails?
Don’t be naive about what ownership under Carlyle and its successor private corporate ownership means to Missoula water consumers. It is anything but beneficent.
I feel that saving up our money for the next few years and then making an offer to Carlyle is a lot better than trying to steal their company with eminent domain laws. To me, there’s no honor in that approach and it smacks of the same attitude that got us into so much trouble with Sam Wheeler.
Carlyle might be the worst company on earth but I still don’t feel our current approach is the correct one.
Kill the browser cookie for Missoulian.com and you’ll get another 10 free.
And about the process of buying Mountain Water, maybe you’ve forgotten that the Mayor had a good faith agreement with Carlyle to have the first right of refusal. We saw where that went when he made an offer to them that was refused with no counter offer, as they were already negotiating with Liberty. Condemnation is the only way to deal with a corporation like Carlyle that is only in it to maximize profit and power. There’s no honor from Carlyle, why show them any?
You must be referring to the handshake, or was it a verbal agreement?
It’s long past time we got rid of Engen’s incompetence.
Yeah, Engen needs a good opponent. Unfortunately, Wells doesn’t appear to be any better. But there’s a lot of time for one to pop up. The way Engen handles giving away city (taxpayer) money and property, and submerges the city in the bond market is really going to play against him next year. Particularly when most of the money spent (TIF and bonds) is going towards big buildings and yuppie perks that don’t really meet any of the needs of Missoula’s less well-to-do. I do view the Mountain Water acquisition as a top priority though, as it benefits all of Missoula’s residents.
I personally don’t think that Engen will run again. Who knows – anything could happen.
I agree on the bonding mess. I dunno how that mess will be cleaned up. It’ll take decades probably, and then only when we get off the spend-happy thrill ride we’re currently on. We might have a lot of people here but I don’t feel the jobs we have provide the level of taxes we need for all the things we’re “buying.”
Taxes aren’t going to pay for the revenue bond to purchase Mountain Water. Utility fee income will. As of a year ago, the income from the utility could cover a $102 million bond. This sort of bond structure is much more egalitarian than other bonds paid for with just property taxes.
So the deeper in we get, the worse off it is if we walk away from the condemnation/purchase or lose. If we win, there will be no hit to either taxpayers or water consumers, as the total of expenses and acquisition price has yet to hit $102 million.
Personally, I support public ownership of lots of things. However, I do get a little nervous when the government starts using ’eminent domain’ lawsuits to take over private property. Often time the government does this at the request of huge corporations, such as in the case of the Keystone XL pipeline where some folks in Texas have had their own property condemned through eminent domain to build the southern leg of KXL.
My recollection of the history here is that the PSC in 2011 likely would NOT have even approved the sale of Mountain Water to Carlyle if it wasn’t for the strong support and insistence to sell to Carlyle from Mayor Engen and the Clark Fork Coalition. I also seem to recall that the PSC vote was 3-2 in favor of the sale in 2011, and that it was the Dems who supported the sale and the GOP members of the PSC who opposed it. Ironic, eh? Heck, here’s a press release from Carlyle glowing about Mayor Engen’s support: http://bit.ly/1SquFnq
Notice how Carlyle said: “We are especially appreciative of the leadership shown by Mayor John Engen.”
All this time, I notice that except for a few months in the summer our household water bill for the past 10 years or so has always been between $25 and $30 a month. Seems like a bargain to me.
Again, I support public ownership of a water system and public ownership of lots of things. And I confess that I’m not entirely up-to-speed and ‘in the know’ about exactly how or what the City of Missoula is doing here, but then again, I don’t think many Missoula residents are in the know. Last year I spoke with one of my city council members about all this and they also didn’t really know everything that was going on either. Hopefully everything turns out OK in the end, but this ‘process’ – whatever that ‘process’ actually is – just seems to me to be a little haphazard over the course of the past 6 years.
Hey Matty, lots of good questions here.
First off, the issue of private eminent domain transfers — like the Keystone XL pipeline wouldn’t even had been possible until the SCOTUS decisions Kelo v. City of New London asserted a public use doctrine for the use of private eminent domain acquisitions in 2005. It was a horrible decision that has had a lot of negative use.
The other issue here is that Mountain Water is a private corporation using the public right-of-way (under public roads, e.g.) to deliver a public asset (water) to the public at large. And as such, it is a monopoly business, and should be regulated from beginning to end. The only other sort of competing business entity would be the power company, though it is not delivering a strictly public asset, but mostly public-owned assets (oil, coal, water, sun wind) that have been used to “manufacture” electricity.
While Mountain Water holds significant water rights below Missoula in the aquifer, and in the Rattlesnake Creek flow, under state law the citizens of Montana own the resource. The water right does not confer any special rights to the company or individual that holds them.
So the use of eminent domain here — in light of the transfers of corporate ownership and the nature of the corporations (transnational and international) and the thumbing of the nose by those corporations to both the City of Missoula and the PSC — seems to be an appropriate use of eminent domain.
I agree that eminent domain is a tool that should only be used sparsely, and only when absolutely needed. And never by one private entity over another. I doubt that Mountain Water’s rates would remain as affordable as they have been given Carlyle’s, and now Liberty’s desire to buy low and sell high — in effect artificially inflating the asset valuation of the company. At some point the current or future owners of the corporation would have the ability to either go to the PSC for a major series of rate increases to cover the profits that have to be paid for by customers, or just unilaterally impose them and force consumers and the PSC to reassert their regulatory authority to challenge the increases.
If you look at what happened when MT Power was deregulated, and its assets sold off, all the profits from the parceling out of the pieces eventually were wrapped back into utility prices, and resulted in huge increases in power bills down the road. This is what will eventually happen to Missoula water customers if the city doesn’t prevail. The fact that customers will pay for the revenue bonds to buy the company instead of taxpayers is a huge bonus here. Any profit that would have gone to Carlyle or Liberty through a chain of unregulated purchases can either stay in customer’s pockets, or reinvested in the publicly-owned utility. And once the revenue bonds are paid off, either rates can drop to just cover operating costs, or some portion can be reinvested to improve the system.
Thank you JC…Good stuff here! I always learn a bunch whenever I visit this blog.
So Engen was appointed to office and Carlyle praises his leadership abilities. Gee whiz, what a coincidence!
Engen has always been elected, never appointed, to office, Mark.
Oh, Petey, out in the open, unprotected, and confronting me?what gives? What courage!
I relied on Wikipedia. It is usually unreliable, so I am not surprised, but check it out: it says he was appointed to office in January 2006.
Oh, and … Boo! Now, clean your shorts.
Here’s another version of the mayor’s bio. Says he was elected in 2005. No mention of an appointment.
And, yeah, I’m shaking in my boots, Tokarski.
Oh, I know you so well Pete. You need never explain anything.
Anyway, I would bet, as you say, he was elected in 2005, but always remember the caveat of a business-run country: Selection precedes election.
The mayor and legal counsel update city councilors on Mountain Water every week at committee of the whole. So, unless the councilor you speak of wasn’t attending meetings, like Wells, there is no excuse for them not knowing what’s going on.
Hi Pete. Thanks. I get that. Of course, that’s the update that the mayor and legal counsel want to give, not really the full and complete update.
Anyway, here’s the context for what I wrote “Last year I spoke with one of my city council members about all this and they also didn’t really know everything that was going on either.”
I had called one of my city council reps following the Missoula City Club debate between city councilors regarding the purchase of Mountain Water. I had read newspaper reports of that debate and had numerous questions for my city council rep. Questions which he fully admitted he had himself and honestly didn’t know the answers to. Perhaps that’s changed since January 2015, perhaps not.
Anyway, here’s a decent article on that City Club debate: http://missoulanews.bigskypress.com/missoula/the-more-you-know/Content?oid=2112012
Here’s a snip that illustrates what I’m talking about Pete:
“He could not, however, answer one question:
Given the revenue advantages the city projects under municipal ownership of Mountain Water, at what point does the total cost of condemnation exceed the projected advantage to ratepayers over a 20-year bond? In other words, at what price does Mountain Water stop being a good deal?
This number definitely exists. Presumably, von Lossberg does not think we should buy Mountain Water for $100 billion. That would be a mistake. And Hertz would probably agree that we should buy it for $3.50. So where within these boundaries does a smart buy fall?
This question was put by a handsome devil in a sling, whose steely gaze might have commanded respect had he not worn a name tag. But he had already been wrong by name in a public forum before—first by saying we should buy Mountain Water and then by saying we shouldn’t, when it was clear both times that he didn’t know what he was talking about.
That’s why he was there—also because the City Club lets you serve yourself cheesecake, even after the lady at the cheesecake table starts to recognize you. But mostly it was to know the price at which we stop saving money by buying Mountain Water.
Von Lossberg did not know. Hertz also did not know. They did not provide estimates.
That strikes me as a problem. Here we had a debate between elected leaders with positions on whether the city should buy something, and neither could say what price would change his mind.”
I’d like to believe that after the MT Supremes hear the case next month, the litigation is going to stop. Maybe not, as the Carlyle Group is a pack of scum-sucking dogs (please refer to the Missoulian link in the sixth comment, above).
And I have to ask. Matthew, what price would you put on owning your water supply?
“the Carlyle Group is a pack of scum-sucking dogs”
Agreed, but wait, is that the same Carlyle Group that Mayor Engen supported to purchase Mountain Water Co in the first place?
Again, I support public ownership of lots of things. Hell, let’s sue via eminent domain to take back Abe Lincoln’s land grants to the railroad and timber barons (http://www.landgrant.org/history.html). Personally, with all the threats facing the world, and the problems in Missoula and Montana, I’ve never really felt that my ability to get clean water delivered to my tap for $25/month was under threat. This is especially true when one considers (and had to foresee) the tremendous cost that suing a “pack of scum-sucking dogs” the size of Carlyle entails.
Yes, I agree, hopefully there’s good news from the MT Supreme Court next month.
I always thought the mayor, council and Clark ForK Coalition were a bit naive in their dealings with Carlyle — but I don’t believe they had many other options.
And while I agree there are more pressing problems facing Missoula, and Montana and the world, Mountain Water is the issue before us now.
“I’ve never really felt that my ability to get clean water delivered to my tap for $25/month was under threat,” you say. You have multi-nationals trading the company like kids trade baseball cards and you’re not worried about the future of your water supply? Companies that also ignore our regulatory commission, the PSC? Plus, while $25/month (the very minimum anyone pays) isn’t extravagant, it’s more than most other municipally-owned water systems in Montana charge.
One of the reasons the price stays as low as it does is because Mountain Water’s lack of re-investment into infrastructure — one expert pegs the system’s water loss at 4.6 billion gallons a year. And I’m not a hydrologist but it seems like a relatively easy process tapping into Missoula’s water supply with the main aquifer just 30-60 ft. below the surface. (Rattlesnake Creek used to be our main source but with a giardia scare in 1983, Mountain Water started sinking wells — but I digress.)
I have to admit that I’m a bit taken back by your lack of concern about who owns our water supply. After the air we breath, it’s our most precious resource.
“I agree there are more pressing problems facing Missoula, and Montana and the world, Mountain Water is the issue before us now.”
It’s before us because it was needlessly brought before us. Why don’t we talk more about all those lawyers and consultants that we’re paying all those fees to, fees that Wells is complaining about…when he’s at City Council?
“You have multi-nationals trading the company like kids trade baseball cards and you’re not worried about the future of your water supply?”
He just said he wasn’t concerned about it. I personally don’t feel that your comment just now will make him more concerned about it.
We get the water now! Maybe if that supply was disrupted or tainted, but it’s not. And look at the state of our roads. I’m not sure the water company will see any infrastructure improvements regardless of who owns it.
It’s awfully hard to make a fuss about something that’s working, but that’s what Engen tried to do. It was a dumb move. I think we should swallow our losses, leave the table, and start looking at other, more immediate problems.
I listed many of them in the first comment on this post, in case you’ve forgotten.
“I have to admit that I’m a bit taken back by your lack of concern about who owns our water supply.”
Well, and I’m taken back by some of the things you profess and write about too, Pete. However, I did say, from the very beginning, “I support public ownership of a water system and public ownership of lots of things….but this ‘process’ – whatever that ‘process’ actually is – just seems to me to be a little haphazard over the course of the past 6 years.”
We seem to be in agreement about that, especially when you say “I always thought the mayor, council and Clark ForK Coalition were a bit naive in their dealings with Carlyle.”
Regarding “one expert pegs [who] the system’s water loss at 4.6 billion gallons a year.” Ok, assuming that’s that one expert’s number is correct – and fully understanding I’m not an engineer or water company expert – I wonder how ‘water loss’ of 4.6 billion gallons/year “losing’ itself back into the Missoula aquifer is a huge problem. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. I honestly don’t know. But I’m not sure that 4.6 billion gallons of water is being wasted. Is there a city-wide effort of mandate to reduce water consumption across the board? If there is, I certainly have never heard of one.
I’m also not sure that $25 is the minimum amount people pay for Mountain Water. Seems like they did away with the flat rate year’s ago. I looked more closely at that Missoulian article you highlighted and here are some things that pop out at me.
Of the 10 cities in Montana they looked at, it looks like 5 other cities have a higher “water fixed charge” than Missoula right now. That puts Missoula in the bottom half of those 10 cities for “water fixed charge.”
When it comes to “Water Volume Charge Based on 6000 gallons” it appears as if Missoula is clearly higher than 5 of the cities, and about equal to 2 cities. I’d be curious to know what the water consumption in Missoula is compared with those other cities, but I’m not sure any of the charts in the article show that.
Anyway, please don’t claim I have a “lack of concern about who owns our water supply.” I never said that. I do have concerns. Just like I have concerns with who owns and manages lots of things (including essential services) in Montana and this country.
Of course I support public ownership of a water system, but as I keep saying (and it appears like you may agree with to some extent) this who ‘process’ (largely unknown to many of us and certainly looking un-vetted in some ways) appears haphazard over the past few years. Thanks.
It should read “taken aback.” It’s weird how I never see my typos until after I’ve posted.
Anyhow, let me start with this: “Is there a city-wide effort of mandate to reduce water consumption across the board?” No, not that I’m aware of either. But don’t you think that the city would be more concerned and better positioned to mandate reduced water consumption than a private corporation? And it would seem the citizens would have more leverage with the city than with a Canadian utility conglomerate when it comes to water consumption decisions.
I’m surprised that you find it acceptable that 4.6 billion gallons a year are leaking from the system, even if the majority of the water makes it back to the aquifer. I can’t think of any entity that would allow that kind of malfeasance.
I put the onus of the massive lawsuit overruns on Carlyle. This, from a post I wrote weeks ago:
Mountain Water Co. has been spending big bucks on an advertising campaign vilifying Missoula’s efforts to purchase the city’s water supply.
Some not-so-subtle threats are included in the ads:
“As the owners of the system, we intend to exhaust every legal avenue to protect our property and rights.”
In other words, we’re going to string this out as long as possible to screw you, the citizens of Missoula. That will teach you to mess with multi-national utility companies and equity firms.
Hi Pete, Nothing is stopping the City of Missoula from taking in the lead in a campaign to reduce water consumption in Missoula, just like nothing has stopped the city from taking the lead on a zero waste campaign or a campaign to be carbon neutral by 2025 (by the way, how’s that one going?). And the city of Missoula certainly doesn’t own our own power company (I’d be in support of a publicly-owned utility in Missoula, by the way, but I just don’t think we should sue to take over Northwestern Energy) or our own waste management company.
Also, once again, please also stop putting words in my mouth. If you read above I never said it was “acceptable” that 4.6 billion gallons (the estimate of one expert, maybe not even the real number) of water a year leaks back into the Missoula aquifer.
Yes, of course when you sue to take over the assets of a multi-national utility companies and/or equity firm (i.e. “a pack of scum-sucking dogs”) they are going to do everything possible to drag it out and screw people over. That’s why it surprises me that some people apparently didn’t foresee the tremendous cost that suing a “pack of scum-sucking dogs” the size of Carlyle entails.
Honestly, Pete, I bet that you and I are in lots of agreement about many aspects of the Mountain Water situation and (haphazard) process that has unfolded over the past few years, so let’s please just leave it at that. Thanks.
Unless there’s some massive scandal, and Strandberg’s complaints certainly don’t rise to that level, Engen could be mayor for life.
Anyway, here’s a New Yorker article about Carlyle and it’s co-founder David Rubinstein. But more so, it’s about the skanky loopholes hedge funds and private equity firms like Carlyle use to avoid paying taxes.
Hope y’all can open this: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/03/14/david-rubenstein-and-the-carried-interest-dilemma