The Missoula City Council Budget Amendment Battle That Ended Last Night At 3am

by Travis Mateer

I’d like to thank Missoula’s best-dressed private security firm, Rogers International, for what happened at City Council last night, because without them dressing like Mexican revolutionaries, Daniel Carlino wouldn’t have had the same rhetorical opportunity to turn the budget process into a marathon conversation about our community’s priorities.

One of the big takeaways for me was the admission, from an audibly rattled Eran Pehan, that Rogers International (RI) was given their city contract to secure homeless sites across the city in a rushed, no-bid process. Because pandemic. Also, Pehan said RI was given notice of their contract violation after deviating from their contractual dress code, and will now face a competitive process once the city contract is up on October 31st.

I don’t blame Pehan for being rattled because she got absolutely grilled last night on the RI contract, including an insightful comment from Council person, Kristen Jordan, about the survey Pehan referenced depicting RI in a not-so-awful light. The survey, Jordan explained, featured questions that ensured a certain result. Jordan then backed up her assertion with her education credentials. Impressive.

Another set of public comments that I hope made Eran Pehan squirm, considering her history overseeing homeless service providers at the Poverello Center for many years, came from paid staff from the Johnson Street shelter, which is only open during Missoula’s cold months. Those staff said they weren’t properly trained to handle difficult cases, like April Schmidt, who allegedly died when she jumped in front of a car. I spoke briefly with April before she died about her treatment inside the Missoula County Detention Facility, so I made sure those ill-prepared shelter staff members got my business card before I left Council chambers in disgust.

I only partially tracked the ensuing budget amendment battle because I did something our Council members denied themselves: sleep.

I didn’t sleep long, however, after coming to and realizing my phone was missing. If it wasn’t for my budget battle viewing partner convincing me (and driving me) to Council chambers (after shocking me with evidence that the meeting was still happening) then we wouldn’t have been able to commend Daniel Carlino and Kristen Jordan in person for doing a fantastic job spurring this marathon conversation, and I wouldn’t have gotten my phone back from one of TWO city police officers who were present to maintain order.

If you don’t think the threat of disorder is real, then you didn’t hear the very threatening CLAPPING that happened at one point, something Gwen Jones shut down immediately. I think Jones may have been slightly triggered by the recollection of a previous citizenry uprising that I helped document here.

Last night’s amendment battle was a microcosm of that previous skirmish, which lasted months and took a pandemic to stop. At one point during the argument about whether or not to utilize surplus ARPA funds, Gwen Jones appealed to Dale Bickell, asking him if the funds were earmarked for Operation Shelter. Dale’s response was to say the word earmarked was “a bit strong”. Thanks Dale!

Before doing accounting for the City, Bickell was with the County. Here’s a little more about The Bick:

Bickell served as Chief Financial Officer for Missoula County from 2000 to 2008. He worked for a local accounting firm for five years while he was also a partner in the then-startup Big Dipper IceCream. He serves on several boards, including United Way of Missoula County. He is a Missoula native who grew up in Helena. His wife, Lisa Bickell, is education director at the Montana Natural History Center. They and their two young children live in the heart of Missoula in Dale’s grandmother’s house, which has been in the family since the 1950s. “The public service aspect of working in local government and doing good things for my community are really important to me,” he said. “This is an opportunity to continue that.” Bickell’s recruitment is part of a larger transition plan as Mayor Engen and City Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Bender prepare for Bender’s eventual retirement over the course of the next few years. Mayor Engen expects Bickell’s presence on the City management team to benefit both local governments. “We’ve enjoyed a great relationship with the County,” he said, “and we expect that Dale’s work here will only serve to strengthen that relationship.”

Yep, that transition from the County to the City is a big red flag for me, as is the board position on United Way.

In summary, it was GREAT to be back in the sausage-making center of municipal power, getting a nice glare from Ellen Buchanan, listening to the painful cadence of Jordan Hess, and appreciating the cold gaze of the Ice Queen herself, Gwen Jones.

It’s also nice to know the public will get another chance to provide commentary on the wisdom of continuing paying ANY private security firm money to provide their brand of order in the concentration camps Authorized Camping Site.

Thanks for reading!

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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3 Responses to The Missoula City Council Budget Amendment Battle That Ended Last Night At 3am

  1. webdooodle says:

    Any talk about the old Sleepy Inn? I noticed yesterday it’s still surrounded by fences and has condemned signs on parts of the building. Did the big grab for COVID hush money come through, or is the county tax payer on the hook for buying that shithole for twice what it was worth?

    • Oh yeah, there was definitely questions about the timeline of development, which got the audience a rare viewing of the Ellen Buchanan show. I think the dirty look she gave me later probably had something to do with my comments on Blueline development.

  2. Pingback: Watching The Wheels Fall Off In Real Time | Zoom Chron Blog

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