In hindsight, Missoula Mayor Mike Kadas says it might have been better for him to stay in town for last summer’s Hells Angels visit. But his vacation arrangements had been made months in advance, and he says his obligations to his family are as important as his responsibilities to his city. “I’m constantly balancing the two,” Kadas told the Independent in a recent interview. “What is my role in a situation like that? It certainly is not being on the ground making tactical decisions. Police chiefs are trained to do that. Mayors are particularly not trained to do that.”
Kadas says he’s satisfied with the way the Missoula Police Department responded to the suggestions made last December by the citizens’ review committee, which he had commissioned to look into the so-called “Hells Angels affair.” He says those changes have since worked their way into internal policy, but perhaps more importantly, they brought to the forefront the idea that a police force must be dynamic if it is to stay abreast of societal changes.
Despite the furor over last summer’s Hells Angels debacle, Kadas says the real business of running Missoula has less to do with managing a once-in-a-lifetime event and more to do with managing the city’s ever-growing suburbs. Twelve years ago Missoula was a city of 43,000 surrounded by 30,000 people living outside the city limits. Today, largely due to annexation, Missoula is a city of 58,000 surrounded by 20,000 to 25,000 people. Those folks who live just outside the city enjoy the benefits of semi-rural living with all the amenities the city has to offer. But it’s the city taxpayers who pay for many of those amenities, such as its parks, police and fire services.
“That’s where we spend most of our money,” says Kadas, adding that fully 25 percent of all Missoula police responses are to situations involving non-city residents. That, he says, represents a fairly large tax subsidy for folks living outside the city limits.
The challenge now, Kadas says, is managing the growing suburbs; about 700 new homes are built in the Missoula area every year. For Kadas that means convincing land developers, home buyers and builders to abandon the post-World War II Levittown model and embrace the mixed-use city ideal where growth is vertical, where parks and homes share space with businesses and restaurants, and where the car is not king. In other words, sort of like… well, Missoula. It’s that 19th century-type infrastructure—wide sidewalks, tall mixed-use buildings, narrow, traffic-slowing streets and short city blocks—that fosters community.
Encouraging such development won’t be easy since, as Kadas notes, “Two things people hate are sprawl and density.” But steering growth to a more sustainable model is vital for Missoula. “We can’t stop it,” he says. “It’s going to happen to us.” Challenger Jeff Jordan
Jeff Jordan is a newcomer to local politics, but certainly not to Missoula. He grew up on Officers’ Row at Fort Missoula (his father was in the Army) and attended Russell, Meadow Hill and Sentinel schools. After nearly a decade in the Army, including two tours of active duty in Korea, Jordan returned home in 1997. He was pursuing a teaching degree at the University of Montana when he put his studies on hold to run for mayor. He says he’s not happy with the current leadership, nor does he like the way tax money is being spent on Missoula’s infrastructure, notably its streets and sewer lines. But it was Mayor Mike Kadas’ absence during the Hells Angels visit that propelled Jordan into the mayoral race.
“I think what really got under my skin is what happened last summer with the Hells Angels,” says Jordan. “There are times when you need to put your personal issues aside and step up to the plate.” What added insult to injury, says Jordan, was that the police shouldered all the blame. Kadas, he says, “didn’t let the police department perform its own inquiries and investigation in conjunction with normal procedure.”
When Jordan made the decision to run for mayor last spring, he began attending City Council meetings to get up to speed on local issues. What he learned is that the city does not prioritize its projects. For instance, he says, the city frittered away nearly $30 million in federal grant money awarded to mitigate air pollution generated by idling cars at the Brooks-South-Russell intersection, commonly known as Malfunction Junction. Though some money remains, the bulk of it has been spent on other projects not related to Missoula’s most infamous and dysfunctional intersection. Nor, he says, has the city conducted an economic impact study for the businesses that will likely be affected by a redesign of Malfunction Junction.
Jordan also remains critical of the City Council for the way it annexes existing subdivisions.
“They’re using city services as justification for annexation,” Jordan says. “They’re running the sewer (line) out, and those areas aren’t annexed. Those people don’t have a say. The city should go to these people and say, ‘We want to annex you, and here’s the reason why.’ They don’t have any representation on the City Council.”
A better solution to Missoula’s growing pains is to grow up, not out, Jordan says. “Just like downtown. Why don’t we encourage more of that in the city?” he asks. Merchants and developers might be given tax breaks or incentives to build skyward.
On a broader scale, Jordan envisions a bike and pedestrian trail system ringing the city, and a similar greenway that parallels the river, not just for recreation, but as a viable means of transportation.
Challenger Kandi Matthew-Jenkins
To some, Kandi Matthew-Jenkins, a former Constitution Party candidate for a state legislative seat, might seem out-of-step with Missoula’s more liberal tendencies. She doesn’t think so, however. What she sees is a commonality with her fellow citizens who serve in government, just as the founding fathers intended.
This mayoral race is Matthew-Jenkins’ third go-around in the political arena. Aside from her race for the Legislature’s House District 66, she ran twice for a Missoula City Council seat in ward two. Both times she was defeated.
“With the City Council and the Legislature it was a learning experience,” says Matthew-Jenkins. “I wanted to help out within the community and it just seemed appropriate this time. I think accountability sums up what I’m running for. It’s accountability to the people.” Like mayoral challenger Jeff Jordan, Matthew-Jenkins faults Kadas for being out of town during the Hells Angels July 2000 visit, saying, “I thought it was inappropriate for him not to be here.”
Though she believes Kadas has not been accountable to the citizenry, her criticism of the current mayor is not what drives her to be Missoula’s next mayor. Rather, it’s other smaller but more significant annoyances, like the city’s policy of giving itself 10 days to produce documents requested by citizens. Anything can happen in that 10-day waiting period, she argues. Records can be misplaced, even removed. At best, the waiting period acts as a deterrent to citizens seeking information. At worst, it fosters distrust and suspicion of local government. “Information is suppressed in Missoula,” she says. “There’s no doubt about it.” Citizen complaints in the form of letters to the editor are ignored. Information is incomplete. Rationale for decisions is sketchy. “This is just saying to the public, ‘We don‘t really want you to know,’ For some of us citizens it leaves a void.”
If elected, Matthew-Jenkins promises complete openness and truthfulness. “I’m working on your dollar and it’s your right to know where that dollar goes. I should ask your permission first.”
Matthew-Jenkins insists that even as a former candidate of the right-leaning Constitution Party, she is not out of touch with her fellow citizens in liberal Missoula. “I’m not at odds with them. They’re not the ones causing the problem,” she says. “But there should be no agenda in City Hall. When you go to a public hearing, you should be heard.” Though Matthew-Jenkins admits that her challenge to a popular incumbent is a long shot, she remains upbeat, even feisty, and concedes nothing. “I would say if Mr. Kadas started visiting his community, he’d find he’s not as popular as he thinks he is,” she says. “I think Missoula is ready for a change.”