by Travis Mateer
The “getting inspired by history” part of the title comes from the Engen update of the Mercantile Octopus flyer. With a reinvigorated sense of what history can show us about our present, I wanted to share something written in a 1960 Chamber of Commerce publication called The Montana Citizen. I found this newspaper ephemera at the Antique Mall, just one of many gems I’ve come across over the years.
If that last image is difficult to read, I’ll reproduce the text:
Tax revenues for schools can be expended most effectively and economically by local administration, free from regulation or direction of federal agencies, and when not hampered by federal domination nor subjected to federal pressures.
Now, on to the MALCONTENTS. Or, more specifically, Naomi, Carol, Marjorie and LaRue, who I hope is the one sitting down and just DARING you to fuck with her:
Not pictured is this part of the text, which reads as follows:
On election day, CI-27 failed with 56 percent of the voters opposed. But another measure, Initiative 105, did pass that year and froze property taxes at 1986 levels.
The common analysis was that although CI-27 was too radical, the passage of I-105 proved restricting government taxing power was a popular issue. I-105 passed with 54 percent of the vote, and variations of it restrain local government tax collections today.
Yes, those stern looking ladies had quite the impact on Montana politics and tax policy, but for a more recent iteration of malcontentedness toward local government, we will travel from book to blog.
Have you ever heard of the Local Government Study Commission? Until yesterday, neither had I, but that was before I talked to a kick-ass woman by the name of Jane Rectenwald. Now I understand that every ten years the Montana Constitution offers a local review of how local government is structured.
The local government review process was initiated by Article XI, Section 9 of the 1972 Constitution. Required every 10 years, the local government review election asks voters to decide if they want to review their local government.
In 2006, at 4&20 Blackbirds, this study commission got some attention from a local blogger calling himself “readbetween”. Whoever this dude is/was, he didn’t think too highly of Jane, calling her an uncivil poison pill:
The minority’s leader is Jane Rectenwald, a sort of passive-aggressive poison pill dead set on replacing the mayor with a city manager. Her main method of argument is faux-humble questioning meant to lead you right to her conclusion. She was a disagreeable presence at most meetings, ignoring responses to her points and continually trying to hijack the process by , for instance, hanging posters declaring the foregone sensibility of her opinion at every meeting, even when it was clear the majority of the LGSC had zero interest in a city manager, having examined the question at some length with outside experts.
Wow, this Jane sounds like a real pain-in-the-ass for Missoula Democrats. I wonder if she had any valid reason to be weary of the majority? Well, if you read through to the end of the blog post, it appears the person leading this commission, Sue Malek, was pretty terrible at steamrolling the political minority:
Chairwoman Sue Malek deserves the biggest part of the blame for that. Quite simply, Malek was a terrible choice to chair the LGSC; she does not know how to run a meeting in which competing views are aired. As the term of the LGSC wore on, her interactions with Rectenwald turned openly hostile; Malek often interrupted Rectenwald, it appeared, simply because Malek couldn’t stand the sound of Rectenwald’s voice. At one point, the LGSC had to hire a professional facilitator because Malek couldn’t even pretend to fairly chair an important meeting. As a result of her dismal leadership, the minority’s accusations that the majority was just there to railroad policy through took on an increasing appearance of veracity.
Malek’s most egregious offense took place after a group containing majority and minority members of the LGSC got together and wrote an information pamphlet that was mutually agreeable, no small feat considering how uncivil things had become by that point. Malek disbanded the pamphlet-writing committee, recreating it with only members from the majority, producing a document that did nothing but make the majority’s case. She showed contempt for debate, preferring to rig the information in her favor and appearing to fear that the majority’s proposals could not stand up to counter-arguments.
Great work Sue! I’m glad you went on to become a State Legislator. This intolerance for dissenting viewpoints is JUST WHAT DEMOCRATS NEED to maintain ideological purity.
A few years later, in 2008, Jane was back pestering the liberal elites of Missoula, so hatchet-blogger Pete Talbot took the next shot with a post subtly titled Naughty Jane Rectenwald. What did Jane do to draw the ire of Talbot? Here’s how Pete introduces us to “naughty” Jane’s antics:
Since it’s the holidays and all, I thought I should play nice. But then, silly me, I surfed some conservative blog sites. They’re coming to the defense of poor Jane “let’s throw a wrench in the works” Rectenwald.
Ms. Rectenwald has been in the news lately, alleging that the Missoula Office of Planning and Grants Director Roger Millar, “upended democracy and threatened to throw her out of meetings.”
This came on the heels of a prepared speech she gave at a planning workshop – a workshop that wasn’t supposed to be a venue for prepared speeches. You can read her complaint and her speech here. The speech is so full of inaccuracies and venom that it boggles the mind.
Since the link in the quote is broken, you can’t go verify how many terrible inaccuracies and VENOM were involved in naughty Jane’s speech. But you do get elitist Pete’s take on it (emphasis mine):
Rectenwald is a spokeswoman for what I call the “dumb growthers.” You know, the folks that favor sprawl and are against infill and affordable housing. They get the most fired up when those pesky university students try to find places to live close to the university.
So, I guess that would make Pete Talbot a SMART GROWTHER. Is that why the Missoulian building (where his CIA daddy became the publisher) is going to become condo towers? Is that the kind of SMART GROWTH Pete and his SMART liberal pals have in mind for our UNAFFORDABLE Zoom Town?
Here is what the SMART GROWTHERS have accomplished in Missoula during the last few years: demolished the historic mercantile building for an Andy Hotel, demolished historic houses on 4th street for Bergquist condos, bulldozed Caras Park for some dumb scheme to include retail, brought in Florida consultants (Dover Kohl) to push density-driven masterplans, and using Tax Increment Financing like Tony Montana uses blow in Scarface.
As was often the case with those old 4&20 Blackbird posts, the comment section can contain some valuable insights, sometimes more so than the post itself (especially if Talbot is the author). Here is some background on the animosity from “Couch” who claims to be married to a senior OPG planner. Here’s a portion of the comment:
So how did the democratically elected office of mayor and the staff of OPG become so reviled? It really all goes back to Missoula government’s “third rail” – residential zoning – the locus of the current homeowner fury. In 1996, near the end of Dan Kemmis’ tenure as mayor, under threat of suit by the Montana Human Rights Network, Missoula City Council rescinded its Family Definition ordinance. That ordinance was designed to restrict the number of unrelated people who could live in a single family home and was the darling of the minority homeowner group. OPG earned the enmity of the minority block by also recommending the elimination of this ordinance because its inherent discriminatory overtones placed it in violation of Federal Fair Housing Act requirements. That local noncompliance could have jeopardized federal funds coming to Missoula for low and moderate-income housing development.
In 2001, not compelled by the potential loss of federal funding for housing for people less well off than themselves, the disgruntled homeowners brought back the rescinded “family definition” ordinance under the guise of “occupancy standards.” A new City Council, more sympathetic to the minority homeowners, passed this new discriminatory (as judged by the City Attorney) ordinance only to see in vetoed in September of 2002 by Mayor Mike Kadas. Adding to the wrath of the special interest group, Mayor Kadas and OPG had worked (as was their mandate) to implement housing tools enacted by the City Council of the late 1990’s – ones that included density bonuses and planned neighborhood cluster housing. These housing tools were deemed threatening to both the minority homeowners’ “quality of life” and property values, attributes not easily separable by them.
Now that we’ve had a generation of implementing the policies of Missoula’s liberal braintrust, how are things going in Zoom Town in 2021? Not so good when it comes to affordable housing, huh? Is that Jane’s fault? Or maybe we can keep on blaming COVID, or white racists or something.
No, the “success” of Missoula should be laid squarely at the feet of MAYOR Engen and ALL his liberal enablers snacking at his tasty policy trough for last 16 years.
And Jane? She is busy as ever, but will hopefully have time next month for a sit-down interview with me as I continue delving into the history of our fair town.
Thanks for reading!