by William Skink
After being ignored last week by local media, several people once again stood before City Council Monday night to provide public comment. The Missoulian continues to dutifully omit that this criticism is happening, choosing instead to go after those who were behind a PAC mailer criticizing status quo council members who enable Mayor Engen’s agenda.
The people who spoke at last night’s Council meeting are not conservative candidates running for council, and that’s important because there is an effort by local media to depict criticism of how the city uses Tax Increment Financing as a conservative issue and not what it is: A CLASS ISSUE.
The comments last night highlight this distinction in an incredibly powerful and moving way, like the story Missoula native Brian Miller shared:
Missoula native Brian Miller told council members that, for veterans, “all it takes is a push” to leave them destitute and considering or completing suicide.
As an example, Miller offered the story of a friend who took his own life, motivated at least in part by “economic desperation.”
The man had a newborn baby, then had his dramatically hours cut at work. He didn’t know where to turn.
“You know who he was working for at the time of his suicide?” Miller said. “Our beloved Wisconsin millionaire, Nick Checota.”
“Economic desperation contributes to rising suicide statistics and demonstrates how most of us are barely making it in this community,” he said. “All it takes is a push.”
Miller, who said he served eight years in the U.S. Army infantry, called the use of TIF to reimburse developers for public infrastructure a “giveaway.”
And here is some of the public comment from Brandon Bryant, a Veteran who helped blow the whistle on Obama’s drone program:
Brandon Bryant, who was a staff sergeant in the U.S. military, traces his Missoula roots to his grandparents. “My grandfather led the Hellgate High School wrestling team to its only championship,” he said.
Bryant called for an investigation into the ethical conduct of the City Council and the mayor “and anyone else promoting the TIF projects going on in this city.”
The use of tax increments, he said, are “in violation of the community trust and the legacy that my grandparents and my family put into this town.”
Bryant said he is “distraught by the corruption” and wonders if affordable housing is even possible in a capitalistic society.
And here is Brian West:
Brian West told council members that if they support tax increment financing, “you are declaring yourself an enemy of the people.”
“TIFs lie at the very heart of what Bernie Sanders means when he talks about privatized gains and socialized losses,” West said. “As we all know, if the only tool you have is hammer, then every problem tends to look like a nail. And the Missoula Redevelopment Agency continues to smash the community of Missoula apart with the overwhelming destructive power of tax increment financing.”
“Those of us from Missoula don’t think that it needs to be redeveloped,” West said.
Many Americans, he said, tolerate inequality – but that’s “only because they overestimate their odds of coming out on top. More and more of us are realizing the truth than ever before. The people you are screwing over are the people you depend on – the people who cook your meals, haul your trash, connect your calls, drive your ambulances, who guard you while you sleep.”
I think the shady deal between Herr Engen and Lord Checota is so problematic in how it’s been handled and reported that it could spark some unlikely alliances. I am hopeful something good could come from this, more hopeful than I’ve been in a long time.