by Travis Mateer
As I was looking through the agendas for Wednesday’s committee meetings, I got curious about Central Housing Strategies, a lobbying/advocacy company created in 2020 by SK Rossi (pictured below). Why was the city hiring this lobbyist for $107,500, I wondered? The more I looked, the more curious I got.
And here’s the screen-shot of the committee agenda item indicating approval of the contract will be on the agenda for the Public Safety, Health and Operations committee:
A quick search of SK Rossi’s work in Helena turned up an interesting article about the Central Housing Strategy’s work for the city of Bozeman during the last legislative session. From the link (emphasis mine):
A zoning reform bill that’s officially opposed by the city of Missoula and Mayor Jordan Hess was endorsed on Thursday at the Montana Legislature by two Missoula City Council members and a representative from a Missoula affordable housing nonprofit.
Senate Bill 245, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Zolnikov, R-Billings, would revise Montana’s zoning laws to allow multifamily housing and mixed-used development in urban areas zoned for office, retail and parking with existing sewer and water systems. It would only apply to towns and cities with a population over 7,000. The bill passed out of the Montana Senate on a 40-10 vote and had a hearing in the House local government committee on Thursday afternoon.
Missoula City Council member Daniel Carlino went to Helena to support the bill and said he’s a “struggling renter.”
“It’s much better to allow communities to build up and in rather than build out and cause sprawl,” Carlino said.
Missoula City Council member Sandra Vasecka was also there to support the bill.
Why would our placeholder Mayor, Jordan Hess, along with the city of Missoula, oppose this bill? I thought reforming zoning to increase density was something our local cabal WANTED?
Here’s Hess explaining his opposition, a position that aligns with the city of Bozeman, as articulated by SK Rossi (emphasis mine):
The city of Missoula and Mayor Jordan Hess have said they oppose the bill on the grounds that Missoula is undertaking a code reform process already and that local decisions should be made locally with local public input.
SK Rossi, a lobbyist for the city of Bozeman, said that municipality opposes the bill as well.
“All of these bills that are supposed to ‘fix’ the housing problem in Montana are one-sided,” Rossi said. “It’s all about deregulation and clearing the path to developers and the big broad solutions that actually invest dollars in building affordable housing are being left to the wayside.”
Instead of focusing on this aspect of the contract in my public comment, I decided to go with the speculative impression I got from some research that SK Rossi is raking in the lobbying contracts with an eye toward running for state government.
Could this be true?
If it WERE true, I wanted to make sure that our Council members knew that I knew of this rumor BEFORE our poor city spent $107,500 to put someone in Helena NO ONE outside of Missoula will listen to anyway.
Turns out, I wasn’t the only one curious about the selection of this new lobbying entity. Here is a comment from Mr. Larson, followed by my less-than-articulate response.
After I made my comment, Councilor Vasecka indicated her NON support of this expenditure as well (link to the full video here), explaining that individual Councilors and/or Mayors can go to Helena themselves and lobby directly if they feel strongly about certain legislation.
Councilor Carlino asked if the city’s interim legislative priorities would be posted on the city’s website, then he had the temerity to ask if Council members could have MORE say in those priorities. Do I feel a Gomer media slap-down coming? After the questions, Carlino referenced the housing disagreement I failed to mention in my public comment. In response, it was Bickell time, but I’m not going to waste MY time paraphrasing his response beyond saying Central Housing Strategies is going to be the little legislative lapdog of the Mayor’s office.
Did I get that right, Bickell?
Gwen Jones commented next, indicating that “foundations” for legislative bills really are built during the interim period between active legislative sessions.
So, did the motion pass? Yes, it passed on a 9-2 vote. Congratulations, SK Rossi!
Thanks for reading!