by William Skink
Yesterday I took time away from work to attend a Missoula City Council committee meeting. I had heard there was going to be an effort to replace Heather Harp as chair of the finance committee with Gwen Jones. The reason? Harp was apparently being too accommodating with the critics of how public money is being thrown around to developers through Tax Increment Financing.
With Lord Checota set to rake in 16.5 million in public money for his Big D(rift), we can’t have the pesky public asking questions like, what is the actual public benefit of giving all this money to a wealthy out-of-state developer?
Before getting to the commentary I provided to City Council, here’s how Jesse Ramos perceived the move yesterday to oust Heather Harp in favor of Gwen Jones:
Ramos said he was discouraged that Harp was ultimately voted out of the role, saying that he felt the decision was blatantly against the will of the people.
“It seems like the fact that she met with the TIF guys or that she’s willing to work with me is being held against her, and it’s just like, ‘Really?’” he said. “To hold this thing against Heather is sad and, honestly, Machiavellian because they want the narrative to be exactly the way they want it to be.”
Harp said that while she believed Gwen Jones would do a good job and she respected her wholeheartedly, she said it felt a little like people were falling in line with Bryan von Lossberg, council president, who nominated Jones.
I think Ramos is spot-on with this interpretation, which is why I decided to step up and speak about my experience with Gwen Jones. Here is the statement I read to the full council before they voted 7-5 to place Jones as chair:
My name is Travis Mateer and I’ve lived in Missoula for 20 years. I am here today as a private citizen to speak in support of Heather Harp and her effort to bring more transparency and public input regarding the use of public money through Tax Increment Financing.
I would hope all Council members see the benefit of bringing more transparency to the process of using public money to incentivize development in Missoula. Unfortunately my experience tells me otherwise.
In November of 2018 I wrote and submitted a poem to the Missoulian. The content referenced the sidewalk controversy that emerged after some Missoula property owners got letters from the City about how much they were going to owe for their share of replacing sidewalks. If you read it, the poem was quite critical of Missoula’s political leadership involved in that poorly thought out, economically distressing decision those homeowners faced.
The response I received from Gwen Jones to that poem was quite startling. She used her position as a board member at the non-profit where I currently work to take me away from my paid work duties so she could tell me “her side of the story”.
I won’t get into the details of what transpired out of respect for my current employer except to say I received a written apology from Gwen Jones and the board was informed how my 1st amendment right to free speech was very nearly violated.
Everyone has bad days now and then, but what I am starting to see with this particular public official is a pattern of disregard for the public, a public I might add who has every right to know about the processes and people directing public money, and a right to examine who ultimately benefits when millions and millions of public dollars are set to be directed to just one developer’s big drift.
Thank you for your time in considering my comment and my concern.
Making this comment was very difficult for me, especially during a week with violence at the Pov triggering my own past trauma. I was shaking as I read my comment, and after finishing I got up and walked out. The stress made me physically ill to the point I couldn’t finish my work day.
Despite the personal impact, I am glad I got up and told my story. It won’t be the last time, you can count on that. I will continue writing and speaking out because Gwen Jones is not an ethical councilperson who wants to allow the public more input on how public money is spent. Her behavior toward me and the trouble it caused the non-profit where I work is indicative of her disregard for any criticism the public may have over her actions as a councilperson.
Gwen Jones is a terrible human being. Thank you for speaking truth to power. All that said – Ms Jones exists within the same neo-liberal sphere as reflective of Mayor Engen. She got hers (she lives in a tidy bubble fully paid off within the Slant Streets) and now knows whats best for Missoula (her Missoula). She sucks!!!
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