The bar for venom and vitriol at Missoula City Council meetings was raised last year when members were attacked as traitors and cowards for refusing to agree to a weekly recitation of the pledge of allegiance. Last Monday that bar was almost raised again, as hand-written signs questioned Mayor Mike Kadas’ integrity and called for his removal from office.
The council voted 8-4 to approve the hotly controversial $6 million Rattlesnake sewer project, but it was civil disobedience, not the vote, that made the meeting so passionate. Disgruntled Rattlesnake residents came to protest what they consider an unsympathetic mayor and council (and what they consider a needless and expensive intrusion of city services) with placards ranging from the obvious (“Rattlesnake residents are voters”) to the merely amusing (“Follow the money to the sewer stink”). But Kadas wasn’t amused.
In a stern tone, he told the protestors to take the signs down or he would have the police do it for them.
“I’m afraid that won’t happen,” said protester Will Snodgrass as he shook his head and panned his video camera around the room, recording a back row filled with nearly a dozen signs.
Two police officers entered looking irresolute. Kadas told them he wanted the signs removed. As an officer towered over a meek but unyielding 40-something woman protester, Ward 1 Councilwoman Lois Herbig spoke up, asking the mayor to ignore the signs and carry on with the meeting. As she finished, a protester shouted “freedom of speech!”
It seemed things were about to get ugly, but Herbig’s plea to let the protesters keep their signs was echoed by other council members including Ward 2 Councilman Jim McGrath and Ward 6 Councilman Ed Childers. Kadas relented to the will of the council, the two officers shuffled out and the meeting continued.
“I kind of agree with Mike that, in the interest of decorum, that sort of thing really isn’t appropriate,” said Ward 3 Councilman John Torma after the meeting. “On the other hand I think that we would have made more of an issue out of it having the gendarmes remove the signs than just letting them be in there…I think what was more significant was what happened at the end of the meeting [with the vote], that we succeeded in protecting our river and our aquifer.”
To the chagrin of the protesters, Torma, Childers, McGrath, John Engen, Myrt Charney, Jerry Ballas, Jack Reidy and Scott Morgan voted for the project. Herbig, Lou Ann Crowley, Anne Marie Kazmierczak and Clayton Floyd voted against.