Why Do Narrative Controllers Have So Much Disdain For The Public?

by Travis Mateer

It wasn’t easy sitting in the City Council chambers during the Public Works Committee discussion on Wednesday. Why? Because our elected leaders can’t hide their disdain for the public when the public shows up to criticize things, like the lane-reduction scheme that has already been effectively decided. And it shows.

One of the main, and confusing, points of contention is HOW LONG this plan has been known, and to whom. Has it been cooking for years in different committees, or is it a more recent push by the multi-modal zealots (MMZ) at the city-level? This matters to skeptical members of the public who have the impression the MMZs pulled a fast one on the Montana Department of Transportation, the entity responsible for the design and build of the FOUR lane Beartracks Bridge.

Leading the opposition to this lane reduction scheme is Scott Billadeau, co-owner of Liquid Planet and Pangea, a restaurant located on Higgins, north of the bridge. Here is how the Missoulian framed his opposition while lumping in people like ME, who also provided public comment. From the link (emphasis mine):

Scott Billadeau, co-owner of Pangea and Liquid Planet, said the Higgins conversion could potentially create “one of the worst mistakes in the entire history of Missoula.”

Billadeau and his ilk railed against the public engagement process, the congestion the conversion could engender, the parking reduction and other issues with the proposal. City staff noted they have received more feedback than usual on this particular project.

Did the reporter, Bret Anne Serbin, attempt to speak with me about my opposition, or use any direct quote from my public comment? Nope, because I’m apparently just a part of Billadeau’s ILK and not worthy of further engagement.

The point I started with (before the volume of my voice made some on Council uncomfortable) was that I sympathized with the defensiveness toward the framing of this local conflict as CAR vs. BIKE, so I offered an alternative framing to better describe where the tension seems to exist: PEOPLE vs. INFRASTRUCTURE/RULE-ENFORCEMENT

The smart, highly educated traffic engineers–who some on Council felt the need to prop up as if their hearts had been broken by the criticism–don’t seem to understand why the public skepticism is so deep-seated, so my hope was to explain that PEOPLE don’t always use infrastructure as intended, and the systemic problems with the criminal justice system means enforcement of ANY rule is pretty much a joke these days.

I got frustrated and had to cut my unscripted comment short, so I wasn’t able to connect the “messy human” problem to the recent local drama of chaos taking hold thanks to municipal snow-removal requirements. I think pre-writing my next public comment might help clarify some points I was trying to make. Not for Council, since it’s clear what the majority of THEM feel about public criticism of their plans, but for the public, who DO suffer from a lack of quality, critical local news coverage.

And why is that? Why did the Missoula Independent get shuttered on September 11th, 2018?

This harsh move against an effective platform of critical journalism was enabled by Matt Gibson. What’s Matt up to these days? I don’t know, I’m more interested in what his partner is up to, since she’s a BIG part of Missoula County getting more INTENTIONAL on using city-inspired financing schemes to drive development in the County. From the link (emphasis mine)

As economic activity grows in several development districts created by Missoula County in recent years, it’s now streamlining the authority board that oversees them.

On Tuesday, commissioners delegated wider oversight to the Development Authority, setting it up to serve in an advisory role to the county and its tax increment financing districts. The county has established several such districts to further economic development, including the Bonner West Log Yard and the Missoula Development Park near the airport.

Emily Brock, the county’s director of lands and economic development, said that while the Development Authority will now oversee each of the county’s TEDDs, its powers remain the same in other areas.

“We only addressed the tax increment piece,” she said. “We left all the existing powers of the port authority the same. It doesn’t take away the port authority’s existing powers. We want to explore those powers and see what we can do with them.”

While exploring power is definitely interesting–and something I share with Emily BROCK–I’m not sure we’re talking about the same powers here. Tracking the power I’m interested in, in a town the size of Missoula, means being aware of every possible angle of influence. I’ve been forced to think this way after sustaining nasty attacks behind the scenes, and seeing others get the same treatment.

Since the public is apparently incapable of fathoming the immense brain-work done by traffic engineers as they produce inspired traffic-calming road features, it really is unfortunate (and a touch ironic) that Matt Gibson helped Lee Enterprises kill the Indy.

Now it’s up to locals like me to attend and report on the transportation infrastructure being created because Council members like Heidi West used to get scared biking to work with her young kids in a bike trailer down Higgins. No wonder I’m having 2013 flashbacks of justifying the sitting on sidewalks ban because of stuff like this:

Copple also said Councilwoman Wolken, who went home before the vote to care for her newborn, wanted to let people know she had been chased by a drunk person outside the Oxford when she was seven months pregnant. Wolken worried about what might have happened if her partner hadn’t been waiting nearby with his car.

“I just am not OK with having our downtown be a scary place for a lot of the people who are working down there, who want to use it, who are visiting our town,” Copple said.

The public comments I made at the COUNTY COMMISSIONER meeting yesterday were not nearly as tonally antagonistic, even though the situation being presented to the public was similar. What do I mean? I mean the $750,000 dollars being made available for housing assistance has ALREADY been earmarked for programming. I am deducing this from how many times Josh Slotnick excitedly claimed details would be forthcoming.

My comments about the housing fund were about the general need to gain public trust by vetting recipients of any assistance doled out, and to be aware of housing policies that fuel revolving doors of need, like the Missoula Housing Authority imposing limits on overnight stays for guests, something that I know often leads to people losing housing when they can’t, or won’t, kick out a guest who has overstayed their welcome, for whatever reason.

Maybe that’s why narrative controllers disdain the public: not all of us are the reactionary yokels who make it easy for our elected braintrust to dismiss, and sometimes we even have valid points!

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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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4 Responses to Why Do Narrative Controllers Have So Much Disdain For The Public?

  1. webdoodle says:

    It’s clearly a road diet, intended to restrict access to downtown, not to make bike traffic safer. I ride my bike a lot in the warm months, and refuse to go downtown, because it’s not safe at all on a bike IMHO. I prefer to ride where automobiles don’t drive at all, sticking to dedicated bike/pedestrian paths as much as possible. It’s safer for my health, because I likely won’t get crushed by a 1 ton car, but also I don’t have to breath the noxious fumes, or pop a tire on the detritus that they leave in there wake. When automobiles and bikes collide, the biker ALWAYS loses, regardless of the number of lanes.

    I’ve been asking the Shitty council and there bike consultants to add another under bridge near Orange and/or Higgins, similar to the Madison bridge for over 15 years, but it has fallen on tone deaf, out of touch ears. Why? Because none of them ride there bike more than 5 miles a year. I’ve not seen a single Missoula Shitty Council member, Mayor or County Conditioners ride there bike for anything other than publicity stunts. When I ride, I ride 40 miles a day, 5 days a week, so I would say I have a much better idea of what is wrong with our current biking infrastructure, or should I say, lack thereof.

    • John Kevin Hunt says:

      Fred Rice rides his bike everywhere, and I mean everywhere; he considers a day using an internal combustion engine to be a failure. Sure would be interesting if he’d been appointed interim mayor.

  2. John Kevin Hunt says:

    NEVER before have I seen a reporter for an allegedly mainstream newspaper refer to a person presenting testimony to a public body, as being of a certain “ilk.” I am gobsmacked…it’s too bizarre and obviously inappropriate — too disgustingly outragrous — to accept. One would think that the Council majority supported by Lee Enterprises would want a bit more camoflauge on its press assets.

    Thanks for your attendamce and testimony. I had to take a break..Am now on the Upper Rattkesnake Neigjborhood Council and Rattlesnake Transportation Committee, so my break is over.

    The sensitivity of Jones, et al re citizen expression really makes them look like spoiled,.entitled powetlr trippers. Eventually, they will get a slap from the Montana.Supreme Court — if the legislature doesn’t somehow straitjacket the Court first.

  3. P.S. — BINGO! “PEOPLE vs. INFRASTRUCTURE/RULE-ENFORCEMENT” is EXACTLY where the “tension” is coming from. The DEGROWTH movement is growing, as is increasing citizen resentment of an arrogant and patronizing City government.

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