by William Skink
I think Tom Bensen and the organization he directs, Arts Missoula, need their own sensitivity training after asking (and then receiving) over $30,000 dollars for a global and cultural affairs director. From the link:
Arts Missoula will hire a director of global and cultural affairs to help the city become more welcoming to refugees who resettle here.
In a 9-2 vote Monday night, City Council members amended the city’s fiscal 2018 budget to provide $34,424 for the immediate hire. In fiscal 2019, the full-year budget implication will be $79,000.
As described by Arts Missoula executive director Tom Bensen, the new global and cultural affairs director will develop programs in sensitivity training for local schools, city and county employees, and other public or private groups.
Maybe Bensen doesn’t know that the budget cuts are just now starting to be felt by thousands of vulnerable Montanans. Maybe he doesn’t know Missoula County’s plan in the face of these cuts is to raise property taxes.
Maybe Bensen doesn’t know 40 families have vouchers for housing, but no willing landlords/property management companies willing to rent to them.
Maybe he doesn’t know that there is only one person working as a housing navigator to assist hundreds of homeless people trying to find housing, and that one person only works half time.
Maybe he doesn’t know dozens of people face imminent eviction from Skyview Trailer park.
If he doesn’t know, I’d be more than willing to help develop a sensitivity training program to help raise awareness. Hell, I’d even do it for free.
One particularly galling factor of this budget ask is that it’s apparently not even the appropriate time of year to be making new budget requests, a little fact I’m glad Councilperson Michelle Cares pointed out:
Two council members objected to the amendment on procedural grounds, saying the city should not add a position mid-stream, thereby setting up an expectation for the next budget cycle.
Debate over the merits of a new position should come in the context of all the other requests that come before City Council during its budget hearings, said Councilwoman Michelle Cares.
“I don’t think we should add staff outside of the normal budget process,” she said. “Every year, we make many difficult decisions during that process – and this request should be one of those we consider.”
If Tom Bensen was sensitive to the dire need that exists under the utopian facade of Missoula–a need made more desperate by the cruel budget cuts–and if he realized that lots of agencies would like more funding to make critical hires for their programs, maybe he would understand that this request is more than a little tone deaf.
I think there is a growing non-racist, non-xenophobic frustration in the social service sector about Missoula’s priorities. At least it seems that way to me from the conversations I’m having.
City Council voted 9-2 to amend the budget for this request, just like that. While jail diversion programs go unfunded and state cuts shift the cost of services onto property owners (who will pass them down to everyone else), it appears that if you say you’re helping refugees, you’ll get money, no problem.
Without my Sensitivity Program for Privileged White People (SPFPWP), I’m afraid privileged white people will keep doing things that will provide financially insecure Montanans further evidence that bringing refugees to Missoula is more important than mitigating the suffering of the poor and vulnerable already here.