BONUS POST: What Does Missoula’s Snowy Sidewalk Drama Say About The Function Of Local Government?

by Travis Mateer

If you don’t think sidewalk policy has explosive potential in Missoula, that’s probably because you haven’t experienced the RAGE of a sidewalk advocate like Gwen Jones. I have, and it wasn’t pretty, nor was it an enjoyable experience for the HR person who had to protect the organization from being sued, since Gwen Jones raged at me in her official capacity as a board member.

Before getting to the specifics of sidewalk policy, allow me to opine on the larger dynamics I see at play here, and that’s the problem of applying abstract concepts to the messy reality of human behavior. I’ve warned about this disconnect when it comes to the push for RED FLAG laws in Montana because if you make a law, GUESS WHAT? You have to enforce it. Crazy, huh. Here is a portion of what I wrote 5 years ago about red flag laws (emphasis mine):

The “fairly simple process” described here is still a process only a court can enact, so if there are already problems with the criminal justice system in a given community, like there are in Missoula and Montana, then I would imagine the courts would need more resources in order to properly oversee implementing red flag laws. Where are those resources going to come from in a state that just voted to erase health coverage for 100,000 Montanans?

Cost is just one problem advocates for gun control will need to address in order to make their case. Another problem with this approach to gun control is the potential chilling effect this could have for someone suffering from depression. It’s difficult enough to get people, especially men, to talk about their struggles with mental health. If those men are also gun owners, and they know coming forward could mean their guns will be taken from them, how many people are going to decide NOT to reach out for help?

Yet another issue is how this reporting system could be abused. There are lots of dysfunctional families out there, made worse by our divisive political environment, and I can see heated arguments turning into attempts by disgruntled family members to get someone’s guns taken away as revenge/retribution. This will just add more work to already over-burdened courts.

Now, on to the sidewalk drama I anticipated years ago. Turns out, our city officials are getting pummeled by reports that don’t pan out, and verifying all this is becoming a REAL problem. From the link (emphasis mine):

City officials in Missoula say they’re seeing a spike in false reports of property owners not shoveling their sidewalks.

The city said it takes time for staff to write the violation, and it could lead to an unwarranted assessment on a property owner’s tax bill.

Officials are asking residents not to make complaints out of spite or as a joke.

Yep, that’s right, thanks to the lack of foresight from local government, this snow-clearing policy could provide a legal avenue for your crazy neighbor to screw with your property tax bill, which is already a fucking atrocity. This policy is made even MORE offensive by local officials acknowledging the undue and sometimes dangerous burden on those with physical impairments.

Owens clearly stated the snow removal ordinance and also referred to Missoula’s elderly residents who often need help in snow removal.

“So the ordinance is very clear, and it’s the same for both residential and for business owners’” she said. “After a significant snowfall, their sidewalks need to be cleared by 9:00 a.m. the following morning. It’s really hard on the elderly because it only takes one slip and fall out on snow while they’re shoveling to break a hip or receive another injury. For that reason, we really try to work with our elderly population to try to find somebody that will assist them and that goes as well for any individuals that are handicapped as well.”

One of the ways local government is able to NOT anticipate something is to NOT look at it. This powerful form of government denial was on display recently regarding the Higgins Bridge Beartracks Bridge scheme to reduce 4 lanes of traffic down to three, but actually just two, since no one in the public seems to understand what the middle lane on a bridge will be used for.

When asked about what this lane reduction will mean for events happening on campus, this was the response, according to the minutes from the meeting (emphasis mine):

Later today, after this article posts, I’ll be attending a mid-week Public Works meeting where the Higgins plan will be discussed. I assume the public will get one more chance to issue their impotent opinions before the reduction is approved, but you never know with this crew, led by a placeholder Mayor who was literally selected in a dark alley showdown at 2am.

I’d also like to take a moment to welcome back to civic life Jason Wiener, recently approved on a 9-0 vote for a board position that quickly places him at the top of my MULTI-MODAL all-star list. I remember Jason from back in the day, when he was a philosophy major. Now he’s a handpicked board member for the MULTI-MODAL radical who wants to keep playing at Mayor, Jordan Hess.

The last I heard of Jason Wiener, he was doing philosophical stuff by traipsing around the world. Here’s a synopsis from a Tell Us Something appearance from 2017:

Jason Weiner recounts his travels in a far-reaching corner of the world.

Jason Wiener is doing things more often than he is buying things and he is always looking for an excuse to go somewhere new. He recently returned from a walkabout and is still unpacking from that trip. He grew up in Concord, New Hampshire. He arrived in Missoula in 2003 to earn his Master’s in philosophy from the University of Montana. He’s worked at The Missoula Independent, served on the City Council and formed a computer consulting company called The Techxorcist. He’s a Ranger in Black Rock City every year at Burning Man.

Howdy Jason! I hope local media remembers how to spell and pronounce your last name correctly!

If you appreciate MY role within our local media landscape, please consider making a financial donation at my about page.

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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1 Response to BONUS POST: What Does Missoula’s Snowy Sidewalk Drama Say About The Function Of Local Government?

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