And you know what? Great! Fine with us! We at the Independent thrive on the ceaseless grousing, even at its most half-assed and ineffectual buncha-dudes-standing-around-the keg-talkin’-smack-’bout-the-guv’ment level. Heck, it’s why we’re here! We also think that if you’re not ticked off about something, you’re not paying attention, and finally, we also believe that community-building, civic betterment and the like are as much about the process of arriving as the arrival itself. So let’s get right down to it (“Why can’t you writers ever get to the point?”) and take a gander at our laundry list of Seven Things That Sucked About Missoula This Year—and what we can do about them.
Pledge allegiance…or else
“If you don’t stand up for America by saying the Pledge of Allegiance then you are a traitor.” –Susan Reneau
“A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither. –Thomas Jefferson
When Susan Reneau and her band of self-proclaimed patriots stormed City Hall on March 4, they probably thought that their message to the City Council—recite the Pledge of Allegiance or else—was the clear-cut, morally correct approach, but to many Missoulians the demand smacked of McCarthyism, loyalty oaths, and the suppression of hard-won freedoms.
It is an unfortunate fact that in times of crisis, people look to point the finger of blame. After Sept. 11, that finger was pointed at City Council when it voted to not require the pledge before its weekly proceedings. In response, Reneau’s group decried some council members as traitors to their country and called for their resignations.
Never mind that the council had been voluntarily reciting the pledge for more than a month following the Sept. 11 attacks, and that a number of its members had served in this country’s armed forces in times of war. According to Reneau’s group, the council’s decision made its members unfit to be elected officials.
Freedom of speech implies the freedom to disagree. The First Amendment provides specific protection against compulsory speech. By mandating what our elected officials may or may not say, we could quickly find ourselves a few short steps away from the kind of tyrannies that destroyed Europe in WWII.
In addition, let us not forget that the Pledge of Allegiance calls for “liberty and justice for all.” Webster’s Dictionary defines liberty as “The state of being free, the power to do as one pleases,” and justice as “The quality of being impartial and fair.” Logically, to require a person to recite the Pledge of Allegiance violate its very words and principles.
If a person wishes to defend this country, the answer isn’t less speech but more. People like Reneau must be allowed to speak their minds, but so must the people who disagree with her. It is admirable that Reneau and her colleagues had the courage to state their convictions, and made the effort to do so. It is the right and responsibility of all Americans to bring their grievances to their elected officials and make their voices heard. But in order to protect the speech that we love, we must also protect the speech that we hate. And sometimes free speech means saying nothing at all.
No justice for same-sex partners
Though clearly not an issue limited to the University of Montana, one of the worst aspects of Missoula is that a progressive university in a forward-thinking community still does not offer benefits to same-sex partners of employees comparable to those of heterosexual partners. Opponents of UM’s current benefits policy say that the resistance to offering those benefits comes not from President George Dennison (who has expressed his support for same-sex benefits) or even from the state Board of Regents, which made the decision not to provide same-sex benefits even though the University could afford to. Rather, critics of the University System policy say that the pressure comes directly from conservative state lawmakers.
Earlier this year, the Montana Board of Regents decided to nix a more inclusive benefits package proposed by Casey Charles and other UM faculty members. The lawsuit filed in response is pending in District Court in Helena.
Beth Brenneman, attorney for the Montana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, says that university faculty turned to litigation only after all other options were exhausted.
“They’ve been trying to resolve this without litigation and were unsuccessful,” Brenneman says. “So this is basically the last resort.” Montana courts have little precedent to work with. In fact, they have no in-state precedent. Lawyers representing the opposition to same-sex benefits may utilize a 1992 Wisconsin ruling in Phillips v. Wisconsin Personnel Commission. In that case, the state ruled that institutions did not have to provide benefits to same sex partners. Meanwhile, lawyers who support same-sex benefits may point to the 1998 Oregon appellate court decision in Tanner v. Oregon Health Sciences University. That decision compared same-sex benefits to interracial marriages, which were once considered illegal throughout the country.
Brenneman believes that the Oregon case may carry more weight because “Oregon’s constitution is not unlike ours. The Montana Supreme Court has before looked to the Oregon constitution to inform its own interpretation of the Montana constitution.”
The possibility is strong that the Montana case will be tangled up in court for some time. In the meantime, same-sex couples throughout the University System will continue to go without the benefits that even unmarried heterosexual couples enjoy.
Yet, this controversy is not without its silver lining. Jim McGrath, city council member from Ward 2, says that the City of Missoula is moving slowly but surely toward offering benefits to all city-employed domestic partners, regardless of their sexual orientation.
“The whole issue for those of us who are supporting it [same-sex benefits] is one of fairness,” he says. “It’s only fair to extend benefits to both same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners. Why would we discriminate against one or the other?”
According to McGrath, the city’s employee benefits decision will not be affected by the court’s ruling.
“We’re not waiting for the court decision about the university,” McGrath says. “If the plaintiffs prevail, we’ll have to do this. If the University does, that doesn’t mean we can’t do this. So the outcome of our policy won’t change much as a result of the lawsuit.”
BDG and Aargh! Co.
Bruce Hall, executive director of the Bonner Development Group (BDG), is tired of reading the tag line “BDG, funded by ARCO…” Hall believes the phrase has become ubiquitous in the local press when speaking about the group that opposes removal of Milltown Dam.
“It’s used to denigrate us,” he says. “It’s never been an issue where the Clark Fork Coalition gets their money, so I don’t see why it’s an issue where we get part of our funding.”
The BDG funds itself through community development grants, county, state and federal government moneys as well as through corporate sponsorship and membership dues, says Hall.
Citizens don’t seem to take offense at grants and government funds, but the Atlantic Richfield Company’s (ARCO) corporate sponsorship of the BDG has made some people furious. Letters to the editor have been peppered with phrases describing BDG as “a special interest group funded by ARCO” and “ARCO with a nice sounding name.”
Hall is not forthcoming with the amount his group receives from ARCO, but former BDG member Gary Matson says it’s enough to pay Hall’s salary. When asked about the percentage of funding the group receives from ARCO, Hall replies, “Why is that so important? I don’t understand why people think that is so important?”
Matson believes it’s incredibly important.
“ARCO funds the BDG and the two are linked to each other in their involvement with the reservoir,” he says. “There is a conflict of interest and that is a major problem.”
The conflict of interest that Matson sees involves the two groups’ end goals.
BDG came into existence after the local mill downsized and a valuable tax base was lost. Citizens formed the group to work on development issues connected to filling the gap in the tax base and to regain a sense of “Bonner pride.”
“But the direction has changed since ARCO began supporting BDG,” says Matson.
They’re no longer a group concerned with the town’s best interests, he says. Instead, they’ve wrapped up ARCO’s best interests—avoiding the tens of millions of dollars in cleanup costs the company would incur by cleaning up the Milltown Reservoir. Hall maintains that the BDG speaks neither for ARCO nor the area’s population as a whole.
“We are not an elected group, so we have never said we speak for anyone,” he says. “I don’t think anyone here puts themselves in the position of representing anyone.”
So who does the BDG represent?
Peter Nielsen, environmental health supervisor at Missoula’s City-County Health Department, thinks the group represents a portion of the population but not those most affected by the toxins behind the dam.
“The people who are on that board of directors [of BDG],” says Nielsen. “None of them live in the area affected by the arsenic plume.”
In the murkiness of the Milltown dam debate, a first step toward clarity would be if the BDG were clearer about who it’s looking out for: a struggling town or a corporate leviathan?
Queers, limpwrists, perverts and sissies. Environmental terrorists, Green Nazis, eco-fascists and tree-huggers. Have you ever noticed that the further to the right a person’s political views, the more likely they are to resort to childish name-calling?
Witness John Haveman. If you are a regular at the Missoula Farmers’ Market, you have probably seen him, or members of his Open Door Baptist Church, sending out messages of hate and intolerance every Saturday morning. The church is feverishly anti-homosexual, and in interviews, Haveman has claimed that if a person is a homosexual, he or she is also likely to be a pedophile and a bestiophile.
Whatever happened to “Love thy neighbor,” and “Judge not lest ye be judged?”
Then there’s Flathead radio station owner John Stokes, who refers to environmentalists as the “Fourth Reich,” and who, when taken to task for his free use of the word “Nazi” by a Holocaust survivor said, “Too bad, so sad, get over it.”
The holocaust survivor lost 35 members of his family in Nazi concentration camps.
And let’s not forget Fred Phelps, another Baptist figure whose members of thºe Westboro Baptist Church occasionally visit the Missoula Valley. Phelps’ church celebrates each anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s “descent into hell,” keeping a day-by-day calendar, and his Web site, www.godhatesfags.com, features an animated picture of Shepard wreathed in flames. With the proper plug-ins, you can hear Shepard scream, “For God’s sake, listen to Phelps.”
Missoula is a fairly progressive town, so sometimes it’s easy to forget that we live in a staunchly conservative state. Naturally, Missoula becomes a target for ultra-conservatives with an ax to grind, a philosophical Mount Everest for close-minded people to challenge and overcome.
Unfortunately, infantile name-calling and reckless hate speech often inspires similar tactics in their opposition. Soon after a local lesbian couple’s house burned down earlier this year, pro-gay graffiti was scrawled on Open Door’s church. This was exactly the wrong thing to do. By breaking the law, the couple’s would-be defenders both mobilize the police against them and inspire the Church’s followers to retaliate in kind.
When six or seven of Phelps’ supporters came to town last October, they were greeted by more than 250 counter-protestors.
Unfortunately, this exceptional statement of solidarity may also cause more harm than good, as literally dozens of stories appeared about Phelps in the popular media the next day.
People like Stokes and Phelps are aware that they are in the minority. They say the things they do to inflame others to the point of stupidity, then capitalize on their opponents’ mistakes. They realize that any publicity they get, even negative publicity, will ultimately bring attention to their cause.
The KKK used to march every year in towns around the country. Some towns held counter-rallies, others ignored the group. The KKK still marches in the towns that pay attention to them, but like petulant 6-year-olds, no longer march in towns that ignore them. Perhaps the best way to deal with this kind of hate speech is to deny
it the attention it
A bridge too long
Seasonal annoyances in these parts are as inevitable as the seasons themselves, and they manifest themselves in various ways. In the veins-of-transportation department, winter’s got a nasty particulate problem and black ice on the roadways; summer brings melting blacktop and the neon morass of traffic construction cones.
Enduring said perturbations is one of the many units of emotional currency with which we purchase our charmed lives, so bitching about them runs the risk of coming off as petulant and whiny. That said, however, there are instances when the grains of gridlock feel as big as boulders under your skin, when the resulting exasperation mounts to a level that can push even the most temperate traveler to the brink of road rage.
The construction that has closed one lane of the two-lane bridge across the Blackfoot River six miles up Highway 200 has been a hotspot for flaring tempers in recent months, as pilgrims seeking the cool respite of the Blackfoot’s waters have been subjected to monstrous delays while a traffic light doles out tiny increments of mercy at a snail’s pace.
I was on the receiving end of an impressive series of one-finger salutes and angry honks on the Friday afternoon of a scorching, 100-plus degree weekend earlier this summer. With cars backed up for more than a mile and our destination the rope swing located just before the bridge, I sidled onto the shoulder and cruised up to the turnoff, passing a chain of bewildered, heat-addled recreationists cooking like sausages in a steel tater pig. And even though I stand behind the reasoning of my maneuver—suffering in solidarity has its time and place, and this didn’t seem like one of them—I could hardly begrudge my insulters their impolite gestures.
In a display of reasoning that shows construction isn’t all about brawn, though, the powers that be on this project have rectified the worst of this problem by stationing flagpersons to regulate traffic during peak times. That move has helped put road rage back on Montana’s endangered species list, where it belongs.
What goes around (or not)
For years New Jersey was the national butt of jokes. People laughed and maligned the state as a toxic wasteland, industrial cesspool, and the armpit of America. But maybe the joke’s on us. After all, the Garden State legislated mandatory recycling years ago while here in the Garden City and the Treasure State, our government doesn’t require, and in some cases doesn’t even encourage, recycling. If conscientious citizens want to recycle in Missoula, they have to buy costly blue plastic bags for their two-liter Coke bottles and tuna tins. And for those who want to recycle glass, well, it’s just not an option anymore.
Missoula’s on-again/off-again relationship with glass recycling has become permanently off-again. Earlier this summer, environmentally-minded people from all over the county flocked to recycling centers with bags and boxes full of jelly jars and beer bottles. But the collected glass had only a single use: as a 10 percent additive in city roadbeds. Because there are only so many roads being built, the city quickly found itself with a superabundance of glass. Without the ability to unload the glass on the city, BFI, Missoula’s waste management company, stopped accepting it.
“Our call for the city would be to look for more creative solutions,” says David Ponder, executive director of the Montana Public Interest Research Group (MontPIRG). Ponder and others believe the city has given up too easily. “They’re just not taking the problem seriously.”
Last year, City Council and Mayor Mike Kadas signed a pledge committing the city to the recycling effort but have yet to come up with long-term solutions.
Rep. Tom Facey (D–Missoula) and MontPIRG planned to convince the city, county or state to purchase a few small, portable crushers capable of pulverizing glass so fine it’s safe enough for use in children’s sandboxes. In this form, it could be used in concrete, asphalt, and other construction projects. Facey also hoped to use glass not just in city, but state roadbeds. But the state’s current fiscal crisis has led to budget cuts and a reprioritizing of funds. Recycling, never one of the state’s higher priorities even in the best of times, has been bumped further down the list, so it’s unsure how long it will take for Facey’s ideas to come to fruition.
But there is some cause for hope.
For a while it looked like fans of both Mother Earth and quality beer had a dilemma on their hands. Either enjoy good local beer and toss the bottles in the landfill or switch to cans and crappy brew.
Thankfully, Missoula Valley Recycling owner Tom Ernest came up with an obvious solution: growlers.
Each time a person opts to fill up a growler at a local bar or brewery, 5.3 glass bottles are eliminated from the waste stream headed toward the Missoula landfill, says Ernst.
For non-beer drinkers with glass to dispose of, the Good Food Store also offers an alternative. The store accepts glass jars with openings of two inches or wider, says lead cashier Chris Elliott. They can be dropped off clean any day of the week.
Sadly, drinkers of Boon’s Farm and Carlo Rossi will have to wait for a permanent solution. The best bet at creating one is to call, write or e-mail your city, county and state officials. With enough constituent applied pressure perhaps glass recycling will show up in next year’s “Best of Missoula” issue instead.
Where the fender meets the spokes
Simply griping is never very helpful, so with the counsel of Missoula’s sustainable transportation “guru,” Bob Giordano, founder of MIST (the Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation), we present the winners of the worst places to bicycle in Missoula—in terms of what can be done to improve these areas.
First place goes to the infamous “93 Strip” on the southern end of Brooks Street. Bicycling on Brooks Street from the intersection at Mount Avenue to where the road widens again just beyond Southgate Mall, there is no shoulder on the road and cyclists often find themselves in competition for lane space with impatient motorists.
Cyclists attempting to stay off the road find themselves battling a chaotic jumble of obstacles like utility poles, guy wires, banked pavements, parking blocks, high curbs, dead-end parking lots, and right-turning traffic. With the large number of driveways on this road, Giordano recommends a serious remodeling of the area, taking the needs of both cyclists and pedestrians into account. This would include both cycle tracks and pedestrian walkways set back from the road.
Second place goes to the southbound lanes crossing the Madison Street Bridge . The speed limit on the bridge is 35 mph with two lanes, turning right onto the one-way South 5th Street and a lane bearing left only from the left side of the road. Cyclists who want to go left into the University District at the south end of the bridge often cross two lanes of high-speed traffic. Cyclists who want to turn right onto South 5th Street risk being hit or, alternately, run off the road by large trucks in the right lane. Giordano points out that the right curb leading into the turn is blackened with tire tracks from the many trucks that cut the corner short. Giordano recommends making South 5th Street into a two-way street, adding bike lanes on the bridge, and roundabouts at both the Broadway and Madison intersection and at the south end of the bridge. The roundabouts would both calm traffic and allow for smooth traffic flow.
Third place goes to downtown Missoula’s North Higgins. This road earns its standing by virtue of having a high turnover of parked cars on both sides of the road and a nearly continuous flow of automobile traffic across all four lanes. Cyclists must choose between conflicting riding options, making it nearly impossible to stay out of harm’s way. Riding in the middle of the right lane causes motorized traffic to pile up in the cyclist’s wake, but allowing room for the cars to pass by riding on the far right side of the lane puts cyclists at risk of hitting a suddenly opened car door. With the high turnover of parked cars along this route, the chances of being “doored” are very high. Giordano recommends slimming the road down from four lanes to three, with turning lanes in the center and bicycle lanes or cycle tracks on either side of the street.