Reptile Dysfunction Celebrates 1,000 Posts While The Missoula Redevelopment Agency Bemoans Their Failure To Communicate

by William Skink

What we’ve got here is failure to communicate…
–Cool Hand Luke

Today’s post is number 1,000 here at Reptile Dysfunction, so I thought writing about the topic of communication would be appropriate.

The quote that opens this piece is from the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke, with Paul Newman. The reason I am familiar with the quote is because Guns and Roses used the movie clip at the beginning of their epic song, Civil War.

While it’s easy to take communication for granted, since we do it all the time, there is a very wide range of techniques one can use when it comes to effective forms of communication.

How does one glean whether or not one’s communication has been effective? one definition of being effective is when you are successful in producing a desired or intended result. With that definition in mind, let’s examine this blog’s critical communication regarding how Missoula uses Tax Increment Financing to incentivize growth in our little valley.

My intent in writing about Tax Increment Financing is to raise awareness about how this complicated financial mechanism diverts tax revenue away from the general fund to the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, where unelected board members decide how to disperse millions in public funds.

Have I been successful?

I know from direct conversations that my posts about TIF helped inform the backlash that emerged when Mayor Engen announced Nick Checota’s intent to save the Convention Center project (at the Riverfront Triangle site) from collapsing. As part of that deal, 16.5 million in TIF funds were earmarked to purchase the parking garage portion of the build-out.

The real impetus for the outrage over this massive pledge of public money to a private developer, though, was NOT my blog posts, but the sky-rocketing cost of housing in Missoula. With a service-sector/tourist economy exploiting the willingness of people with Master degrees to froth rich people’s espresso drinks, 16.5 million for a parking garage was the straw that broke the Paddlehead’s back.

A lot has happened since then, with a pandemic and lockdowns and people losing their shit over masks, but thanks to Mayor Engen’s disingenuous claim of Covid-19 as the reason for using TIF money to buy a bed-bug infested motel (in a Trump opportunity zone), the concern over TIF abuse is not going away.

Perhaps the best evidence of this blog’s effectiveness in communicating the problems with how Missoula’s brain trust uses TIF is a recent email sent out by the director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, Ellen Buchanan. The subject line of the email reads as follows: MRA Communication Plan – Request to Recommend a Communications Firm and a Proposal for Professional Services

I’m going to paste the entire content of the email below. The bold parts are my emphasis. I can only hope the terrible communicators at MRA find the right communication consultants to help them more effectively brainwash us into going along with their TIF skim-and-give gentrification schemes.


SUBJECT: MRA Communication Plan – Request to Recommend a Communications Firm and a Proposal for Professional Services

As the Board is aware, the City issued a Request for Qualifications with the intention of creating a pool of communications consultants with varying skill sets that could be accessed by the various City departments on an as needed basis. As a result of that solicitation, the City Communications Office has provided the departments with a list of ten firms with a variety of strengths that they can bring to a specific need. The purpose of this was to create group of pre-qualified firms that departments could engage without going through separate RFQs for each endeavor. This is similar to the City’s historic use of pre-qualified design firms for engineering services.

The MRA staff has many strengths particularly as relates to the execution of important development projects which bring the city much needed benefits. The MRA staff specializes in the execution of projects that generally involve infrastructure in the form of sidewalks, trails, streets, alleys, utilities and landscaping; buildings, both public and private; and planning studies that lead to economic development, growth and appropriate urban design. Communicating what we do and why we do it has never been a staff strong point nor a skill set that has been sought when bringing on new staff members coupled with the fact that our time is fully consumed with project origination, management and execution.

It has become apparent that the need to better explain the whats and whys of the use of TIF financing to the public is increasingly important. A significant portion of the population does not understand the tool that we call TIF, how we use the tool and how the public benefits from those investments. There is a long list of projects that have been made possible or made better through the investment of TIF dollars and most of our citizens may know of the projects and how they benefit from them but have no way of knowing that TIF financing played a significant role in their existence. Staff and the Board need the ability to communicate these things to a broad audience.

Staff would like to engage one of the communications firms that has been identified as part of the City’s pre-qualified pool. We think that we know what needs to be communicated, but we lack the skills to do this in the most effective manner. The Agency has worked with some of these firms on various projects and we believe that the skills that we need are available from one or more of these pre-qualified communications firms. This request is that the Board authorize the staff to select the most qualified firm to create the tools and messaging that MRA needs and bring a proposal back to the Board at a future meeting for selection, scope and funding approval.

Recommendation: Staff requests that the Board direct staff to select the best communications firm in the City’s pre-qualified pool to work with staff and the Board to develop the tools necessary to effectively present what MRA does, how MRA functions, the importance of Tax Increment Financing and how TIF is used to benefit the community and bring a recommended selection and a proposal for professional services to the Board at a subsequent meeting.

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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8 Responses to Reptile Dysfunction Celebrates 1,000 Posts While The Missoula Redevelopment Agency Bemoans Their Failure To Communicate

  1. Big Swede says:

    Congrats on your 1K achievement and to think you did it without any fat checks from George Soros like Don and Pete get.

  2. Sandy says:

    It’s so fucking absurd to spend taxpayer dollars to sell us an idea.

    • the refrain from our braintrust has consistently been we are too stupid to understand how TIF works. as people got more informed about how TIF works, they shifted to blaming “misinformation”. now, as you point out, they want to spend taxpayer dollars to repackage their messaging, and while it may seem absurd, if people aren’t paying attention, it will work.

      so thank you for paying attention.

  3. Nick Checota used to be a somebody. Now he’s a nobody. Interesint how things can change so quickly. I think we’re in for a lot more changes in the coming months. Something tells me these changes aren’t going to be benefiting the Checota’s of the world. Missoula is lucky. Businessman Checota was taken out very, very quickly. I wonder how long before the other ‘power players’ in this town are taken out.

    All because they couldn’t stand the Donald.

    • what do you really think about the Donald?

      I’m opting out of choosing between political cartels again this cycle because voting just encourages the monsters running both parties.

      imagine a voter turnout of less than 20%. that would be my dream because it would greatly de-legitimize these bastards who think “D” or “R” mean a goddamn thing to the majority of Americans, who the non-voters.

  4. JC says:

    I remembered a juicy tidbit from the Missoulian a while back and went and dug this up:

    “What the MRA and Tax Increment Financing provides is the opportunity for the community to be at the table to have our culture and our values honored as we try to redevelop areas of blight in our community,” — Natasha Prinzing Jones, MRA Board. I Like to Win.

    Gee, didn’t know that TIF purpose was to honor our culture and values. I wonder just whose culture and values they’re honoring?

  5. Pingback: William Skink Ain’t No Defeatist And That’s Because Of One Thing: You | Reptile Dysfunction

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