Three months ago, Missoula City Council chambers was overflowing with citizens waiting to find out the fate of the controversial occupancy standards, which looked to limit the number of non-related people who could live together. After a five-hour meeting, City Council approved the standards, only to have Mayor Mike Kadas veto them, explaining that the standards weren’t needed because of the city’s ongoing efforts to combat the problems of discourteous neighbors and neighborhood degradation. Kadas cited a new form of police response to disturbances, roundabouts in the university area, and an upcoming, updated city guide to municipal codes. But since the heated September meeting, there hasn’t been much talk about the city’s solutions.
Three weeks ago, the city’s new “Citizen Guide to the Municipal Codes” arrived with a whimper, which was something the city administration anticipated.
“The new guide is not a sexy topic, but it’s useful,” says city communications officer Linda Hegg. From barking dogs to backyard bonfires, Hegg says people need to know what’s allowed, what’s not, and who to go to when illegal activities are underway.
So sexy or not, the city is doing its best—within the expected “fiscal restraints”—to promote the use of the guide as a way to make Missoulians more neighborly. Hegg has left stacks of the booklets outside city offices and encouraged departments to distribute them at public meetings.
Hegg and Kadas know that the 25-page pink booklet isn’t a panacea and that the city can’t afford to print and distribute them to every citizen. But Kadas is quick to remind citizens that the guide is just one tool in combating the problems, and that the administration, city departments and citizens all have a role to play.
“Certainly I think that this has an impact and that by and large that’s beneficial,” he says. “But it’s not an end-all and be-all. There are points of diminishing returns in what we’re able to do, and we also have to recognize that we live in a society and everyone doesn’t always behave in the way we would like them to.”
And just as he reminded those crowding council chambers three months ago, he wants to remind the public again that the city doesn’t offer the only option for solving neighborly disputes. The first option is the most obvious and most overlooked, says Kadas.
“The first option is going across the street and knocking on their door and saying in a polite and neighborly way that whatever the behavior is, the way they’re taking care of the place or where they’re parking, is creating a problem for you,” he says. “That’s the first thing we’d liked to encourage.”