Why Is Mayor Engen Fast-Tracking The Riverfront Triangle Development And Why Doesn’t Local Media Care?

by William Skink

A City Council vote that could impact how a major river-front corridor is developed in Missoula was apparently fast-tracked by Mayor Engen, and to the surprise of the city clerk, who was out of town.

This incredible and un-reported aspect of yesterday’s City Council meeting came courtesy of Kevin Hunt, provided in written form as a comment on yesterday’s post.

I’ll include the entire comment after the jump at the bottom of the post, but for now read this:

Engen moved the vote on this back from its originally scheduled time, i.e., next Monday evening, the regular Monday evening council meeting, to yesterday, Wednesday, at 2:15 p.m., set up so that Checota’s dog and pony show would run up to 3 PM when another agency needed the chambers. If you were there, you would have heard me blast Engen for several minutes about this before turning to many of the issues you raise here. Before the meeting began, I asked two councilpersons why the meeting was suddenly set for a time when working class could not attend. They did not know. One of them didn’t even know it was a council meeting, she thought it was a committee meeting (all councilpersons sit on all committees, but that’s another scam fit for a later discussion). So, I asked the city clerk, who responded “I don’t know, he (the Mayor) did that while I was out of town.”

In his opening remarks, Engen said the reason for “the rush” was that “rumors begin and spread quickly in this town, and I thought we needed to get ahead of the rumors and get this underway” (near-verbatim, from my memory). In my citizen comment (of about five minutes length, the only one from a critic; two others simply told the council to “go for it”), I told Engen that his explanation about “getting ahead of rumors” was a euphemism for “we can’t let the ignorant unwashed public slow us down with their questions.”

As a proud member of the unwashed public who has observed the Engen regime up close, I agree with Hunt’s assessment. The Mayor didn’t want the public to have enough time to absorb the reality that the public will partially funding this private sector development scheme to the tune of 16.5 million dollars.

If the public was informed about what is happening they might start connecting some dots, and we wouldn’t want that now would we. They might start figuring out that the Mayor’s housing policies didn’t include inclusionary zoning because Engen doesn’t want projects like this to be required to include affordable housing into its plan. And when Lord Checota touts his local, deep-pocketed investors–saying LOCAL, LOCAL, LOCAL over and over–the public might start wondering just how local is this Wisconsin developer who swept in 7 years ago and now dominates the local music scene.

I wish the public in Missoula was more skeptical of the rhetoric that pours from the duplicitous mouth of the Mayor and his sycophants. They talk about being inclusive, but then do things that continually marginalizes the socio-economically disenfranchised. They talk about supporting small businesses, but then exclude some of those businesses as the engines of gentrification target new locales like the Hip Strip. They talk about transparency and public involvement in the civic process, then exclude meaningful public comment by changing the meeting time at the last minute to a mid-week, mid-day city council meeting.

For the period of time Engen has been in charge, the affordable housing crisis has exploded, University enrollment has collapsed, the homeless problem has worsened and the criminal justice system continues to be broken. Yet with all these problems, who gets the financial help from the city? The baseball stadium got a bailout, and the library project got a bailout, and the art park got a bailout. Those who are politically connected get the help, and the public gets the shaft.

I wish we had an informed public in Missoula, but without the Indy there is no critical voice with a big enough platform for the public to hear a different perspective. The Missoulian and the Missoula Current have both proven themselves to be cheerleaders for gentrification, and even when a member of the public asks important questions about this civic process to green light a 100 million dollar development project, his comment is disappeared by our local media.

I encourage readers to read Kevin Hunt’s full comment, which you can read after the jump. Have a nice weekend.

Thank you for this ACCURATE reporting and commentary! But you left out A VERY IMPORTANT POINT: Engen moved the vote on this back from its originally scheduled time, i.e., next Monday evening, the regular Monday evening council meeting, to yesterday, Wednesday, at 2:15 p.m., set up so that Checota’s dog and pony show would run up to 3 PM when another agency needed the chambers. If you were there, you would have heard me blast Engen for several minutes about this before turning to many of the issues you raise here. Before the meeting began, I asked two councilpersons why the meeting was suddenly set for a time when working class could not attend. They did not know. One of them didn’t even know it was a council meeting, she thought it was a committee meeting (all councilpersons sit on all committees, but that’s another scam fit for a later discussion). So, I asked the city clerk, who responded “I don’t know, he (the Mayor) did that while I was out of town.”

In his opening remarks, Engen said the reason for “the rush” was that “rumors begin and spread quickly in this town, and I thought we needed to get ahead of the rumors and get this underway” (near-verbatim, from my memory). In my citizen comment (of about five minutes length, the only one from a critic; two others simply told the council to “go for it”), I told Engen that his explanation about “getting ahead of rumors” was a euphemism for “we can’t let the ignorant unwashed public slow us down with their questions.”

Well, when something as outrageous as stifling public comment occurs, you can bet that it’s for a reason, one that the players don’t want us to know. In today’s Missoulian (the story which read like an Engen/Checota Public Relations Press Release), reporter Neuman quoted Engen has having said that he was just hanging out with Checota, and mentioned how nice it would be if Missoula had an events center, and by golly, Checota offered to help!

You bet.

The hipster-trendy-neo-liberal council members, as usual, spouted platitudes and asked simplistic questions. The pre-prepared motion to pass the resolution was read from the sheet given to the councilpersons via email. By the way, at the bottom of the resolution, the date of adoption was recited as “October 21, 2019” — four days from now. It was prepared by staff for the regular Monday evening meeting.

WHY did Engen suddenly move the meeting to yesterday at 2:15 pm? What “rumors” was he worried about? He certainly has generated more by that maneuver than he quelled.

Back to substance: Checota equated a wage of $10 per hour with a “living wage.” Asked how many permanent jobs this would create, he first said 200, then 100, then maybe a few less than 100, many of which would be part-time. Part-time at $10 per hour. The councilwoman who asked about living wage and number of jobs did not even follow up.

What about the TRIPLING of the number of automobiles the event center will produce twice each month? asked the councilwoman who chairs the Transportation Committee. Checota, with no evidence whatsoever, opined that it would have little impact because events would be held in the evening.

Checota and wife are being handed a 75-year family monopoly on the booking and ticketing of all major cultural events in Missoula, cornering the market with three large venues, becoming oligarchs who will wield immense influence over city government for decades. This TIF project and another to the East bookend the historic downtown. A city staffer had the audacity to say twice that “general taxes in the city will not be impacted.” Well, these “urban renewal” projects have already TRIPLED the property taxes of local, iconic homegrown businesses in the historic downtown district, resulting in their rents being drastically raised by the landlords of those buildings, and some say they will have to close shop. When they vacate,and no one can afford to move in, you can expect the owners to sell the buildings at a discount…to Checota or someone like him. The empty historic buildings will be declared “blight,” and Checota or someone like him will “save the day” by kindly offering to demolish them and build another metropolitan monstrosity with luxury condos on top, subsidized with TIF.

And Councilwoman Jones, Engen’s hand-picked successor who by then will have assumed the Throne, can pick up his mantra that she is going to “end homelessness in Missoula.” Probably at a party in one of the condos.

— Kevin Hunt

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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4 Responses to Why Is Mayor Engen Fast-Tracking The Riverfront Triangle Development And Why Doesn’t Local Media Care?

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