The Mysterious, Disappearing Mayoral Candidacy Of Former Missoula Sheriff, T.J. McDermott, Solved!

by Travis Mateer

I’m confused and, looking back at the tweet, it’s totally my fault. I mixed up the campaign electronic reporting system for the system Missoula County maintains for candidate filing information. That’s on me. Here’s the tweet:

Luckily, when I went to the election office on Wyoming Street, the staff were available to set me straight. Previously my effort to understand a broken link, in person, wasn’t addressed because the staff were apparently giving awards to each other (source, Alison Franz, comms for the County).

What did I learn? I learned about important dates on calendars, like April 20th. This is NOT just a date to smoke massive amounts of weed. No, it’s ALSO the date when candidates can begin filing for municipal elections. The date for the CLOSE of candidate filing is June 19th.

Why is the electronic reporting system already showing results for 2023? Before answering that question, I went to the website just to confirm that T.J. McDermott is still an active candidate for Mayor. Here is the result:

When I contacted the Commissioner of Political Practices office I had a MUCH better experience than I did with the person in Missoula, and I ended my conversation with something called CLARITY instead of confusion. What was this clarity? Well, instead of making it sound like I found info I wasn’t privy to, the way the Missoula election guy did, I was told that YES, if a candidate is RAISING MONEY then they must go through a process with the State of Montana, and that process can be gleaned by using the Campaign Electronic Reporting System.

Now, separate from the nitty-gritty of election processes, the decision of WHEN to announce a candidacy is NOT constrained by calendar dates, as Mike Nugent and Jordan Hess’ candidacy announcements clearly indicate.

So, what is T.J. McDermott waiting for? Is he afraid of something? Because my impression from the people I talked to was that an announcement from McDermott was imminent, but then something changed. What changed? And does it have anything to do with the strange omission (end of post) from Sergeant Prather of the LifeGuard Group on a recent podcast episode about human trafficking, which is this group’s signature issue?

One of MY signature issues is how a Sheriff’s Office, acting as the coroner, can euthanize a black man BEFORE any members of his family can be notified, which is precisely what happened to Sean Stevenson on January 5th, 2020, a fact one of our City Council members didn’t want to hear, so she shut me down with a point-of-order.

Well, Stacie Anderson, maybe unplug those willfully ignorant ears of yours long enough to listen to my interview with Sean’s sisters. There it is, right below these words. All you have to do is hit the PLAY button!

One of the side-benefits of going into the elections office in person was the opportunity I had to educate the new guy about some interesting political dynamics in Missoula. It’s amazing how shocked people are when I explain to them, in just a few minutes, what happened to Sean Stevenson inside that hospital room.

As I was finishing up this post I went looking for an image of the particular Deputy/Coroner who pulled the plug on Sean, but instead what I found was an EARLIER appearance of Missoula County Deputies on a reality tv show, earlier than our County’s relationship with Live PD. This show was called Frontier Force, and the article was written by Gwen Florio, same reporter who congratulated herself and the Missoulian for noticing Sean’s death.

Here’s an excerpt from the first link:

It sounds so scary, and colorful, too, what with the subzero weather and the marauding bears and the occasional domestic terrorist.

Which is the whole point of “Frontier Force: Montana,” the latest entry in what might be called the adventure policing genre from National Geographic TV. For the last two years, the channel has brought viewers “Alaska State Troopers: Frontier Force.” This year, its focus turned south.

“Auto theft, drug overdoses and trespassing grizzly bears are all in a day’s work for the Montana police,” the tease for the show promises.

So are two frightened little girls. That’s what it came down on a cold night last March, when Missoula County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a tip that an East Missoula woman was moving a 90-pound meth shipment.

Since I was too busy working at a homeless shelter around this time, I wasn’t paying close attention to the antics of people like Bill Burt, the guy our then-Sheriff, Mike McMeekin, put in charge of being LEAD CLOWN for the cameras. My impression of Burt being the funniest candidate ever last year is not changed by his performance for the cameras in 2011. Here’s more from the article (emphasis mine):

PSG first approached the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office nearly two years ago, when it was looking for a follow-up to its Alaska State Troopers show. Then-Sheriff Mike McMeekin put Deputy William Burt in charge, and for about month, the PSG crew hung out with him, going on ride-alongs and collecting footage for the pitch they’d send National Geographic to persuade it to fund the new show, Burt said.

“We got to be pretty good friends,” Burt said of the crew. “But we got into arguments about keeping it accurate.” Sometimes the film crew folks wanted more dramatic action from the deputies – say, drawing a gun when they normally wouldn’t. But crew members backed down when the deputies refused, he said.

So, an image of Burt stalking through the woods, rifle at the ready, aiming watchful glances into the trees, actually was shot in Burt’s back yard rather than on the job. “In Montana,” a voice intones on the video, “the Wild West is still being fought.”

Shockingly, McMeekin didn’t pull the trigger on the show. That took the next Sheriff, Carl Ibsen, who Burt convinced to say YAY instead of NAY.

McMeekin took one look at the brief promo and deemed it “too police-y,” Burt said. Missoula County’s participation was a no-go.

Which was a problem. PSG had already snagged a new contract from National Geographic, based on its pitch. “So they ended up going all over the state” for episodes, Burt said.

Fast forward to November 2010 and the election of a new Missoula County Sheriff, Carl Ibsen.

Burt knew PSG was still shooting in Montana. “I went back through the chain of command” at the Sheriff’s Office with a plea that Missoula County be included. “I saw this as an opportunity or people to get to know who their law enforcement is,” he said.

So did Ibsen – especially after Burt told him about Arkansas’ experience with a similar show, after which the State Police there saw recruitment numbers “go through the roof.”

While some of this obviously predates McDermott’s tenure as Sheriff, I’m including it because I find it to be fascinating context nonetheless of a Sheriff’s office that just might produce Missoula’s next officially elected Mayor IF that candidacy is ever officially announced.

I’m EAGERLY waiting to see what the timing of that announcement might look like.

If you appreciate the Missoula County Sheriff histrionics, or how I resolve my own confusion, 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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