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The holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy and cheer, where neighbors gather to sing carols and the community comes together over candy canes and hot cider to watch trees light up the night. Okay, maybe that’s a little too Hallmark for you. But we can probably all agree that it’s most certainly not the time for errant Hitler references and borderline mid-meeting fisticuffs.

Don’t tell that to the feisty elves busy doing work in Missoula City Council chambers. The ongoing debate over accessory dwelling units, better known as ADUs or granny flats, has turned downright nasty. Missoula resident Carole Ulrigg played the role of Grinch by, first, vowing to yank her charitable donations to local nonprofits if the city moved forward on its proposed pro-ADU plan, and later evoking Adolf Hitler on Councilman Bob Jaffe’s listserv. Her convoluted rant compared the plight of single family-district homeowners to that of German Jews during the Holocaust. “Take away all that Jewish people had worked years for and put them into high density complexes—be it apartments or concentration camps,” Ulrigg wrote. “After all, it’s best for the people.”

Bad tidings turned worse when the hot-button topic came up at council’s regular meeting on Dec. 10. That’s when Jaffe accused Ward 4 Councilman Jon Wilkins of spreading misinformation stemming from, as Jaffe put it, “unbelievable ignorance” or “deception.” Wilkins didn’t take kindly to the accusation, especially since he wasn’t present at the time. “Don’t do that to me again,” Wilkins said. “You got it?”

“Are you threatening me, Jon?” Jaffe replied.

Thank goodness jolly ol’ Mayor Engen stepped in and steered the meeting back on track before things went too far. Council eventually approved sending the ADU proposal to the Planning Board, the next step toward making it law. Inevitably, though, the issue will end up right back in front of council and open to public comment before final passage.

Right now, unfortunately, the theatrics of this debate have outweighed the policy, and left many involved on the naughty list. We’re not expecting everyone to end up under a mistletoe, but we hope that in the spirit of the season cooler heads—and some common ground—prevail.

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