by William Skink
It appears Missoula’s Mayoral contest is getting downright litigious with Engen surrogate Rep. Ellie Hill doing the heavy legal lifting. We’ll get to Rep Hill in a second. First, let’s take a look at the column in the Missoulian that sparked this legal escalation in the mayoral race. Here is a sample of what Wes Spiker thinks about the Mayor and the town he lives in:
But I’m tired. I’m 63, and I’m very tired. I’m tired of being told that bicyclists have more rights than me on Missoula’s streets. Because of how rude most of them have become, I’m the one who gets flipped off when they are not following the traffic laws. I’m tired of seeing the transients who come to town year-round for free handouts − free food, free health care, free shelter. Being a good Missoula citizen means I’m supposed to spread the wealth to people who don’t have my work ethic and passion.
I’m tired of being told that my property taxes will go up every year, despite my living in Grant Creek (within the city limits) where I get little to no city services. I’m tired of my staff struggling to find suitable affordable housing. Good affordable housing is rare in this community and it’s either overpriced or junk. I’m tired of my clients telling me they are coming to Missoula to see our world-class facility, and then find out it costs a thousand bucks or more to fly here on short notice. So they ask when I will be visiting them next, because they are not coming to Missoula.
This rant is like a greatest hits of the now defunct comments section at the Missoulian, and it plays into the overly simplistic notion that the business community is aligned against Engen. They are not, at least not the ones benefiting from all the development, like WGM and the Farran Group.
The transient smear also won’t stick to Engen. Why? Because Engen was behind the effort to criminalize sitting on sidewalks, just not visibly so. He used a political proxy–Councilwoman Copple–to give the downtown business community what they were asking for at the time.
Since that failed effort the police have gotten more resources, which has helped push the problem to other parts of town, like Reserve Street and Bonner. The County Courthouse downtown has also been de-transiented with all the fencing and construction going on. Removing the trees that provided shade to homeless people in the summer time, and all the landscaping that hid them along the walls of the courthouse, will also keep the area from being heavily utilized by the chronic homeless individuals who are still over-burdening city services, the hospital and jail.
So downtown won’t revolt against Engen, and neither will the developers who are massively profiting from current and future development. Their “progressive” Mayor is making them plenty of money and he’s got plenty of cover from “progressive” politicians like Rep. Hill who is willing to litigate for him.
Let’s get back to that effort. Here’s a blip from the MC piece:
State Rep. Ellie Hill, D-Missoula, contends that Triepke is not in compliance with state finance disclosure laws in her bid to serve as the city’s mayor.
“Ms. Triepke has submitted insufficient reporting and sometimes completely omitted campaign expenditures in violation of Montana law,” Hill wrote in her complaint. “In a race for Missoula’s mayor, where the city budget seems to be a much-debated issue, it seems that nothing in the Triepke expenditures is property itemized nor labeled.”
Hill, who helped pass the Montana Disclose Act in 2015 to reform the state’s campaign finance laws and rid elections of dark money, believes Triepke is hiding more than $10,000 in a “pass-through” expenditure made to Spiker Communications.
I don’t think this will get much traction. Supporters of Triepke can point to a member of the Democrat clique, T.J. McDermott, engaging in similar political sliminess during his campaign. Spiker himself pointed to McDermott’s campaign to excuse his own lack of transparency:
Spiker says he’s doing nothing unorthodox, pointing to a mudslinging letter published in 2014 by then-sheriff candidate T.J. McDermott’s campaign manager, Jim Parker, that didn’t disclose Parker’s position. But Spiker’s role in the Triepke campaign is more ambiguous. He and the candidate have insisted the agency’s work is limited to graphic design and ad buys, despite evidence suggesting a central role.
Sheriff McDermott did fudge on his campaign disclosures and had to pay for it. This quote from Motl in a Missoulian article last spring is worth noting:
“The in-kind activity identified in this matter was part of an embedded and practiced political culture exercised by some Missoula area businesses,” Motl wrote in the settlement. “That culture, however, failed to recognize the accompanying duty to report and disclose campaign activity. The Commissioner accepts that (McDermott) was caught up in the culture, including its deficiencies.”
McDermott has gone on to do some more shady things without his political clique showing too much concern for the murky ethical issues involved, and that’s because they are hypocrites.
Now, I don’t know a lot of details about campaign laws in Montana, but I’m sure the courts will work out how culpable Triepke’s campaign is. Maybe Triepke’s campaign should bone-up on some of those campaign laws. For example, let’s say, hypothetically, an executive director of a nonprofit uses a cell phone the nonprofit pays the bills for to coordinate a political campaign. Is that a violation?