by William Skink
I have never been a fan of Dave Strohmaier. He earned his “nanny-state” nickname by being an ordinance-prone city council person. Strohmaier advocated for a “social host” ordinance to criminalize adults who allow house parties attended by minors, he worked to allocate money to the police department in order to increase enforcement of the fireworks ban, and he defended the anti-homeless ordinance that nearly got Missoula sued by the ACLU in 2014.
When I moved to the County in 2015 I thought I was done with being governed by a giddy nanny-stater, but I was wrong. Jean Curtiss, in a move I am sure she now regrets, endorsed Strohmaier to take out Stacy Rye because Curtis didn’t like working with her, saying:
“After working with Stacy, I don’t think her leadership style is the right fit for Missoula County,” Curtiss said.
Curtiss got what she wanted. Rye was voted out and Strohmaier became a County Commissioner. Then Curtiss lost a close race to Josh Slotnick, which means she is now watching from the sidelines as her hand-picked choice to replace Rye actively derails the County’s plan to replace the structurally deficient Maclay bridge with a new bridge at South Avenue.
There is a lot of noise around the bridge controversy, and some of that noise now includes accusations that Strohmaier has a conflict of interest. Here is why these claims are being made:
Strohmaier has worked closely with the Maclay Bridge supporters, routinely forwarding them emails from the South Avenue Bridge proponents. The bridge supporters claim Strohmaier was coached by MBA members and regularly posed their questions to the firm the county hired to perform engineering studies for the state and federal agencies.
In addition, the Bitterroot Bridges Coalition says Strohmaier repeatedly offered to meet with MBA co-founders privately, attend their meetings, and edit their newsletter.
Coalition members said they counted between 80 to 100 email messages between Strohmaier and MBA members on the bridge issues.
“No other citizens or interested parties have received the same or any similar treatment by Commissioner Strohmaier,” the coalition wrote. “There may be other ex parte communications between Commissioner (Strohmaier) and members of MBA that we are not yet aware of.”
I wrote a post touching on the bridge controversy, along with other Missoula growing pains, in July of 2016, just a few days after the mass-towing shit-show that occurred on the weekend of the 4th of July at the Kona bridge fishing access. A year after that dumb move (enabled by, you guessed it, a new ordinance) the County reimbursed 28 people over $6,000 dollars:
In March 2016, the county commissioners passed a resolution banning parking for 1,200 feet from the west end of the Kona Ranch Bridge and along Sandalwood Court, citing concerns from local residents and the sheriff’s office.
Munro said he and the other floaters were “shocked” when they arrived at the access point at the end of their day to find their cars gone. Munro said he had to borrow a phone from another floater to call and find out where his vehicle had been impounded, and that he was never issued a citation.
“The more I thought about that, I said, ‘Wait, this is preposterous,’” Munro said. “They simply grabbed people’s property, impounded it, locked it up and said, ‘You can’t have it until a company says how much you have to pay.’”
It’s been nearly 3 years since I wrote that July post, and it’s been 15 years since the South Avenue bridge was first recommended, in 1994. Two of my kids travel over the Maclay bridge every school day on a large, heavy school bus. Thanks to Dave Strohmaier and the self-interested property owners on South Avenue, my kids are going to continue going over a structurally deficient bridge not intended to handle the current traffic volume for the foreseeable future.
Needless to say I am not happy about the troubling claims that Strohmaier has a conflict of interest and is acting as a de facto member of the MBA. And I am not happy that two groups of self-interested property owners continue feuding and obstructing movement toward resolving this issue.
Doing nothing is not an option. The bridge at South Avenue needs to be built.