On Taxes, Pilot Programs And The Untapped Millions Held By The Headwaters Foundation

by William Skink

Can you read his lips, Missoula? NO NEW TAXES! And there’s money, apparently, for MORE training for police, MORE facility build-out, and, and, and…:

Missoula Mayor John Engen proposed increased funding for law enforcement and affordable housing, as well as about $23 million in capital improvements without raising city property taxes in a preliminary 2021 fiscal year budget he presented Wednesday.

Engen told the Missoula City Council the his preliminary budget is “light on numbers and heavy on ideas” because of the “remarkably strange times in the world, nation, state and local government.”

A lot gets accomplished in these two paragraphs: appease police with more money, calm the concerns of property owners with no tax increase, set up the Mayoral election year (2021) with this fine example of fiscal balancing, then set up the pandemic as a potential scapegoat if/when the economy continues going to shit.

The real trick will be how Engen diffuses community calls for defunding the police, and he’s going to use the absolutely broken health care/criminal justice system to do it:

Despite calls for “defunding” law enforcement, Engen proposed investing more money in the Missoula Police Department for training, protective equipment, a place to change clothes and shower, and a “robust body-worn video system.”

First I have to note how amazing the word “robust” is. If you want to make your shitty idea sound STRONG, HEALTHY and VIGOROUS just slap ROBUST before whatever idea you are wanting to put on this linguistic form steroids and you will have a ROBUST BODY-WORN VIDEO SYSTEM!

Missoula police already get a lot of training, including Crisis Intervention Training. I would like to see CIT supported and expanded to include more community involvement for cross training WITH law enforcement. Instead some in our community are pushing for implicit bias training:

There is one area a few council members want changed — implicit bias training. That means learning how to respect, use active listening, the right tone of voice and neutrality with all races.

Missoula police spend about 800 hours total in orientation training, about four hours are dedicated to implicit bias training.

“Just to clarify that’s four hours out of the 800 hours that is for the implicit bias training,” said Missoula City Council member Heather Harp. “Correct,” White said.

“So that’s half of 1% of training roughly,” said Harp. “If that’s your math,” White said.

“To me that seems very inadequate for what we need with the challenges we are facing today,” Harp added.

Heather Harp and the rest of Council should know a thing or two about inadequacy, considering they have been presiding over a FAILED COMMUNITY RESPONSE to people suffering mental health problems and housing instability.

Since police didn’t create our mental health crisis, and should NOT be seen as the prime solvers of this crisis, how is our enlightened brain trust proposing to address this problem with non-police resource?

To appease those calling for shifting funding to a community response model for people suffering a mental health crisis, Engen proposes a paltry $75,000 dollars:

The preliminary budget also included $75,000 to match a grant supporting a behavioral-health mobile crisis unit, which would establish a 10-month pilot team of mental health professional who would provide first response to calls for residents experiencing behavioral health crises in an effort to reduce the need for law enforcement and first responder interactions.

To emphasize the offensiveness of this chump change, in the recent past Missoula has shelled out $800,000 for a stupid little bridge on West Broadway, hundreds of thousands to bail out the art park, and $27,000 for an ugly blue dog sculpture named Scratch.

If our elected leaders were actually serious about alleviating pressure on law enforcement’s responsibility to respond to mental health issues, they wouldn’t half-ass some pilot program, especially when the Homeless Outreach Program I created at the Poverello Center did exactly what they are proposing this mobile unit do.

$75,000 and some matching funds is not going to cut it. But times are tight, right? Where would millions come from to create better outcomes for people in mental health distress?

Every once in a while I like to remind readers that a BIG public asset called Community Medical Center was sold off at a value estimated, at the time, to be worth upwards of $70 million dollars:

The firm determined that the fair market value range of the business enterprise of Community Medical Center is between $67 million and $75 million, so the actual sale price will be right near the high end of what the firm estimated as the hospital’s worth.

Liquidate a public asset and there should be some public benefit, right? So what happened to all that money?

I spent some time this morning trying to find the name of the organization that was created to hold all that money from the sale of Community Medical Center. Most of the stories about the sale stop in 2015, after an aborted 10 million dollar gift to the University of Montana created some controversy.

Here’s an MTPR article from that time that explicitly states why the money from the sale should have a public benefit:

A Missoula Community Medical Center board member says the only issue left to resolve in the sale of the hospital is whether $10 million from the sale can go to the University of Montana Foundation. But Attorney General Tim Fox appears to be taking a broader view.

Fox approved the sale late Monday. He has jurisdiction because Community is a non-profit hospital, and is being sold to a for-profit partnership between Billings Clinic and RegionalCare Hospital Partners. State law says the purchase price has to be put back into a charitable organization with a similar purpose to the hospital.

Fox approved the sale for approximately $75 million, but hasn’t yet decided on the plan Community Medical Center, or CMC, sent him for how to distribute the money.

“Our office didn’t get a proposal from CMC until I believe December 15, and in keeping with our feeling that these types of decisions should be made in a transparent way, and that the public should be allowed to weigh in, and that we should have the time as an agency to properly review the decisions that they expect to make, we decided that we would approve the transaction, but not the plan for distribution until we’ve had such time to properly review it, and also allow the public to review it and comment.”

There was no news about this money for years. Then, in 2018, an article caught my eye, so I had to go back to my blog post to get the name I had been looking for: The Headwaters Foundation.

Let’s take a look at the nauseating language in this foundation’s ABOUT page that suspiciously omits any reference to the fact this money is OUR MONEY from the sale of a PUBLIC ASSET:

Headwaters Foundation was born from community. A community invested in Western Montana. With more than $100 million in assets, our mission is to work side-by-side Western Montanans to improve the health of our communities. Our vision is a Western Montana where all people, especially the most vulnerable among us, are healthy and thriving.

We believe in and commit to these values.

No, you were “born” from selling a non-profit hospital to for-profit healthcare parasites, and now a few people have nice salaried jobs dribbling out crumbs to non-profit panhandlers. Here’s more:

Trust Community Expertise

We always start by listening, because we trust that our communities have the answers. That trust has allowed us to reshape the traditional dynamic in philanthropy and put the power back into the hands of those who know our communities best.

Yeah, you had to listen to AG Fox and take back that 10 million “gift” to UM because of conflicts of interest. Then you went underground and came up with an innocuous name that doesn’t connect this foundation to the sale of Community Medical Center. I guess this had to be done in order to RESHAPE THE TRADITIONAL DYNAMIC IN PHILANTHROPY, which I interpret to mean divorce the money from the history of where it came from, and what it’s supposed to be used for. But we’re not done yet deconstructing this manipulative foundation:

Better Together

Montana is a state where everyone pitches in, rolls up their sleeves, and does the hard work. Headwaters Foundation is not just a funder, but a true partner. We are committed to finding solutions to Montana’s deepest problems. We are scrappy, resourceful and stronger together.

Ok, then FULLY FUND a mobile crisis team, you committed and scrappy institution sitting on our public money. Let’s start with a million dollars.

Value Every Voice

We know that each Montanan has a unique story, but we must earn the right to hear it. We lead with love and humility, inclusivity, and a commitment to meet our fellow residents where they are. We foster justice in our work and start with an open heart and open mind. Not all Montanans think alike, vote alike, or have had the same life experiences. But by building empathy and trust, we are able to come to agreements about what best serves our communities.

This saccharin language makes me want to projectile vomit. And one has to wonder, with all this nice sounding rhetoric, why isn’t the Headwaters Foundation transparent with where this money originated from? Here is how the ABOUT page concludes:

Be direct

We are not afraid to have tough conversations. We ask for what we need to be successful. We get to the point, instead of sidestepping the real issues. We speak our minds. We neither dance around the issues nor waiver behind the fear of being honest.

Ok, Headwaters, let’s be direct: where are the results? You somehow turned 70 million dollars into 100 million dollars, meanwhile the mobile crisis unit pilot program is getting literal chump change to slap another band-aid on the systemic inequities and systemic crises resulting from Missoula’s inability to address problems people like me have been shouting about for years and years.

Are you tired of being placated yet, Missoula? Or is your capacity for taking this bullshit unlimited?

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 On Taxes, Pilot Programs And The Untapped Millions Held By The Headwaters Foundation

  1. Sandy says:

    Excellent post.

  2. James Conner says:

    “First I have to note how amazing the word “robust” is. If you want to make your shitty idea sound STRONG, HEALTHY and VIGOROUS just slap ROBUST before whatever idea you are wanting to put on this linguistic form steroids and you will have a ROBUST BODY-WORN VIDEO SYSTEM!”

    One of the most robust paragraphs I’ve read.

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