The cluck-ups

An off-kilter look at 2007’s most dubious accomplishments

Truth be told, we’re a few years late with this idea. The Cluck-ups would have fit perfectly with former U.S. Senator Conrad Burns, the man who stuck his foot in his mouth and his nose in the mud more than any Montanan in recent memory. He was, after all, the guy who insisted 14 months ago that President Bush had a master plan for winning the war in Iraq but just wasn’t telling anyone, landed at the forefront of the Jack Abramoff scandal, and surfaced regularly when it came time to scratch the backs of his buddies by slipping undercover earmarks into bills. Right about now we miss you just a little, Connie, because all we’re left to poke fun at in 2007 is … chickens.

For more than seven months, the most noteworthy, headline-grabbing topic bantered about by the Missoula City Council wasn’t zoning ordinances or public safety or transportation, but whether chickens should be given amnesty within city limits. The debate even got contentious, spurring verbal cock fights between those who believe the dirty, noisy varmints would slowly cluck-cluck-cluck our quality of life to bits, and those who needed the yellowest yolks and freshest omelets to stave off global warming. We’re not saying chickens don’t matter, but the amount of Council deliberation, newspaper ink, television news segments and blogger posts was bordering on fowl. So, rather than trying to wax sarcastic on the seriousness of Griz football, make sense of the meltdown in Sheriff Mike McMeekin’s office, or offer an honorary salute to former Sen. Burns, we’re anointing the chicken calamity our, shall we say, cluck-up of the year.

In that spirit, we offer this essential compendium of local notables who laid an egg this year.

Maybe the rent’s better
Seth Pogue, executive director of Missoula-based Live Earth Action Resource Network (LEARN), announced his plan for a Sustainable Interdependent Living Community, featuring a homeopathic medical facility, organic garden maintained by residents, solar heated water and 12 domes providing residential housing for interns and artists, encircling a separate two-story dome community center. LEARN currently operates out of Pogue's apartment.

73 is the new 20
Playwright Alan Goddard, 73, joined in the Montana Repertory Theatre’s midsummer writing workshop, the Colony, as an invited participant in the Young Writers Weekend.

But could the Honky Sausage reunion show still sell it out?
The remodeled space that once housed Missoula’s lovably grungy punk rock club, Jay’s Upstairs, reopened as The Loft, an exclusive, members-only, “country club without the golf.”

To protect and stalk
The Missoula County sheriff’s department fired Sgt. Ty Evenson after he allegedly used a county-owned computer to upload sexually explicit material to his MySpace page. “The documented pattern of activity more closely resembles that of a sexual predator than a deputy sheriff,” Sheriff Mike McMeekin wrote in a letter of termination.

At least he wasn’t trolling for dates on MySpace
Kalispell police arrested Brad Zimmerman in his home nearly eight months after he posted an anonymous, colorfully-worded, but ultimately distorted account on the Montana Craigslist “rants and raves” message board of a Kalispell arrest he witnessed. Zimmerman, who alluded to the police as “goose stepping, fag-Nazi cops,” got caught when Craigslist responded to a subpoena by Kalispell police seeking the source of the post. City officials charged Zimmerman with criminal defamation.

Maybe he just had the munchies
Citing a “gut feeling” that local voters didn’t understand what they were doing, County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg lobbied to change Initiative 2, which recommended that law enforcement officials treat adult marijuana crimes—including possession, growing and selling—as their lowest priority.

Slightly better than a truckload of frozen pizzas
Following Bitterrooter Charles Schwab’s 70th birthday party, celebrity chef and caterer Wolfgang Puck donated approximately $10,000 worth of leftover gourmet cheeses, steaks, breads, juices, jams, chips, fruits, vegetables, sausages and other decadent treats to Missoula’s Poverello Center.

This chicken thing made everyone look like turkeys
The aforementioned chicken debate beaked, er, peaked when Mike Jakupcak, dressed in a chicken costume, addressed City Council with an inspirational poem that included lines like, “Seek common ground between tastes of Colonel Sanders delicious/And sanitation freaks complaining our droppings are odoriferous.”

At least they took care of the chickens
City Council signed off on a letter of intent from Mayor Engen to enter an agreement with Great Falls-based Electric City Power, a company that may get its juice from the hotly contested and as yet unbuilt Highwood coal power plant. Critics allege Highwood will produce dirty energy that doesn’t jibe with the City of Missoula’s stated intent to reduce greenhouse gases, and the plant may never be built anyway. “I take responsibility for not knowing enough,” said Engen before pulling the plug on the deal.

Better to be blasphemous than right
Montana Democratic Party Chairman Dennis McDonald issued a May 2 press release with “disturbing news for the people of Montana” that Randy Vogel, State Director for Rep. Denny Rehberg, had been summoned before a federal grand jury, demonstrating that “the Republican culture of corruption may still be with us.” Except, um, Vogel never actually got summoned.

Or perhaps better to just be timely
The same day McDonald issued his inaccurate press release about Vogel, the Federal Elections Commission fined the Democrats $15,000 for violating campaign reporting rules related to ads attacking former Sen. Conrad Burns.

Not even beer goggles help
Expressing concern for the name’s supposedly violent connotation, Bayern Brewing dropped its popular Trout Slayer in favor of a new name, Dancing Trout, and a new label depicting an angler intimately hugging a man-sized fish in a riverbed.

He’s never really been a serious threat
More than a dozen armed law enforcement personnel responded to Carroll College and confronted State Auditor and former senate candidate John Morrison during a presentation after someone mistakenly believed his Blackberry handheld device was a concealed handgun.

Your tax dollars hard at work, part one
Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester co-authored a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and released it to the media decrying the fact that a Thursday night game televised exclusively on the subscription-only NFL Network between the 6-7 Denver Broncos and 6-7 Houston Texans wasn’t available to “some of our constituents.”

We don’t get too excited for Chalupas, either
University of Montana assistant basketball coach Brian Marso was arrested on suspicion of DUI and booked at 4:18 a.m. after he passed out in the drive-thru lane at the Taco Bell on Brooks Street.

Apparently the streets of Missoula are already safe
The Missoula Police Department spent a portion of a $40,000 grant to purchase a new side-by-side four-wheel-drive vehicle, sometimes called a UTV, in hopes of building a more prominent presence on local trails and open space land.

He must have a Mondale/Ferraro sticker on his pickup
Grover Norquist, chairman of the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, issued a “Talk Radio Alert” after Gov. Brian Schweitzer refused to sign a proclamation marking Feb. 6 as “Ronald Reagan Day.”

Wonder what pet name she gave Jon Wilkins
In the fallout over City Council members exchanging private e-mail during meetings—a possible violation of open meeting laws—the city made all of the Council’s e-mails available to the public. Ward 6 representative Marilyn Marler, in one e-mail to her husband, who asked what her “idiot” colleagues were talking about, wrote, “Oh, schmoop, your emails are so vicious towards my colleagues.”

On your mark, get set…
The annual Frost Fever 5K run gets off to a false-start when Mayor John Engen’s gun doesn’t fire, and then ends suspiciously when the race leaders take a wrong turn near the finish, cutting the distance short.

These collars are different than ours
According to the Great Falls Tribune, Gov. Schweitzer built a 4,000-square-foot cedar-and-sandstone mansion at Georgetown Lake—on a 10-acre property that cost $2 million—because he thinks “it’s a blue-collar place.”

But this place is really blue collar
Timber and real estate billionaire Tim Blixseth announced he’s building “The Pinnacle,” a $155 million, 10-bedroom, 53,000-square-foot mega mansion featuring a private gondola to a ski hill, 30-car garage, 8,000-bottle wine cellar, three elevators and more, on an undisclosed slice of prime Montana land.

He should be riding his bike more, anyway
One month after the Missoula Parking Commission recommended upping the fine for parking tickets because of rampant abuse by people undeterred by the current $2 penalty, Mayor Engen’s Toyota Prius got shackled with a “boot” for $86 worth of unpaid parking tickets.

Mad Mike doesn’t look anything like Mad Max
The star of the legislative session for all the wrong reasons, House Majority Leader Michael “Mad Mike” Lange, R-Billings, made national news for a videotaped tantrum in front of his own caucus, where he called Gov. Schweitzer “that S.O.B. on the second floor,” and said Schweitzer could “stick his bills up his ass.” Lange is now running for U.S. Senate against Max Baucus.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word
After announcing an elaborate lottery system that would “ensure fair and orderly ticket purchases” for Elton John’s concert at UM’s Adams Center, thousands of wristband-wearing fans complained when almost all the tickets get sold instantly online, leaving zero for those at the Adams Center box office, the University Center or Worden’s Market. Only one customer scored seats from the ticket outlet at Southgate Mall.

What if we did more than just imply?
When approached by a reporter from the student newspaper in the aftermath of the Elton John ticketing fiasco, Bob Duringer, UM’s vice president for administration and finance, asked the student to turn off the tape recorder and then snapped, “For you to imply that we’re doing something wrong is just bullshit.”

Mother Nature hates student journalists more than Duringer
After spending $15 million to build Don Anderson Hall, the University of Montana’s state-of-the-art journalism building which opened in May, school officials roped off several entrances due to the threat of gigantic falling icicles.

Nothing’s sacred
An hour after the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center’s Peacemaker of the Year ceremony ends at the Elk’s Club, a 20-year-old woman got shot in the chest in an unrelated incident in a parking lot across the street.

Good to know Montana Democrats don’t pander to Hollywood
Gov. Schweitzer cut out early from the final days of the fractious legislative session to fund-raise in California and appear on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

Or promote Montana stereotypes
At Gov. Schweitzer’s California fund-raising event, contributors could donate $100 to become a “cowboy/cowgirl” or $1,000 to earn the high title of “rodeo star.”

Your tax dollars at work, part two
Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester stood up for Montana and protested serving Japanese beef in the Senate dining room by writing a letter to the restaurant’s general manager claiming American beef, specifically Montana’s homegrown variety, tastes just as good as imported stuff.

Next we’ll get named Best Beach Town
Despite the city’s checkered history of high-profile attacks and the fact that sexual preference is not covered under the state’s hate crime statutes, leading LGBTI magazine The Advocate listed Missoula on its list of “Best Places for Gays and Lesbians to Live.”

At least one group’s not interested in ending the war
Washington Group International, once run by Missoula billionaire Dennis Washington, ranked third in a list of the top 100 private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan after receiving more than $1 billion in contracts between 2004 and 2006.

The last straw for all our unpublished writer friends
Gov. Schweitzer’s three-year-old border collie, Jag, hosted a book signing at Montana’s Festival of the Book for the release of his new book, First Dog.

Shocking news, indeed
The Forest Service, currently struggling with budget issues, spent $600,000 on 700 Tasers—enough to arm every agency law enforcement officer nationwide—because of increased violence on national forest lands. The Tasers, however, remain boxed pending development of Taser guidelines and training for Forest Service staff.

There is absolutely not an asbestos-laden pink elephant in this room
First the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initially denied the existence of a report by Cory Rumple, an investigator for the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), that showed the EPA had no way of knowing if the asbestos cleanup in Libby had accomplished anything. Then the OIG admitted there was a report, but refused to release it to the public. Under pressure from Libby residents and Sen. Max Baucus, the OIG eventually released a different report, which, according to EPA insiders, mostly mirrored the one Rumple originally produced. That second report received a prestigious Presidential Council on Integrity and Efficiency award, despite failing to acknowledge Rumple among its authors.

Definitely naughty
Santa Claus, making a seasonal appearance at Southgate Mall, took a pumpkin pie to the face courtesy of 22-year-old UM drama student Clint Westwood, who recorded the prank for a documentary film he’s making titled My Crazy Life.

White supremacy is, like, so yesterday
A British documentary titled Nazi Pop Twins follows Flathead Valley resident and self-professed “white nationalist” April Gaede and her twin daughters, Lamb and Lynx, of the infamous white-pride musical duo Prussian Blue. The film captures a rare moment when one of the girls, momentarily away from her mother, admits she regrets some of the band’s songs, with her sister adding, “I don’t even consider myself a white nationalist.”

Brilliant marketing
In an attempt to employ reverse psychology to deter the influx of out-of-town tourists flocking to Montana, Kalispell resident Tom Heatherington started marketing T-shirts that read, “Montana Sucks…Now go home and tell all your friends.”

Because when emergencies happen you don’t get three strikes
The Missoula Osprey baseball team took part in the Department of Homeland Security’s “Ready” campaign by handing out “Ready Kids” activity books that depict hummingbirds and a family of mountain lions preparing for emergencies.

Where it’s happy hour, every hour
Adam T. Lundgren, of Missoula, was cited twice for driving under the influence in less than five hours—first at 5:30 p.m., when officer Cody Lanier pulled him over, and again at 10 p.m. after he crashed his car into the Higgins Avenue bridge railing, fled, and Lanier eventually arrested him again. Lundgren was released on $700 bail the next morning, and then appeared at his afternoon arraignment intoxicated.

Polson waves the flag
The city of Polson declared the day before Memorial Day, May 27, “Freedom Day,” complete with red, white and blue-clad school children singing the locally-written “Freedom Day Song;” six military aircraft, including a Blackhawk helicopter, performing flyovers; skydivers; and a free concert with fireworks. Memorial Day featured a parade, another flyover by an F-16 jet and a closing address by retired Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, who works as a Fox News military analyst.

Apparently there were no babies to kiss
Seven Missoula City Council hopefuls submitted to performing the “Chicken Dance,” before being victimized by improvisational comedians, and finally admit to knowing somebody who used marijuana at some point in their life during the first-ever “Candidates Gone Wild” forum.

The kernels must have come in Thin Mint flavor
Boy Scouts sold $1.7 million dollars worth of popcorn to Montanans, including $15,600 by top earner Jaben Wood, of Kalispell, in the organization’s biggest annual fundraiser.

Worst Frisbee field ever
Developers of the Pleasant View Homes subdivision near Flynn Lane and West Broadway attempted to dodge city subdivision regs by characterizing 20-foot gaps separating the back yards of the houses as “greenways” and a drainage ditch as a “public park.”

A bad sign
Big Mountain Resort changed its named after 60 years to Whitefish Mountain Resort, much to the chagrin of nostalgic locals. At one point vindictive vandals used spray paint to amend the resort’s newly minted sign from “Welcome to Whitefish Mountain Resort on Big Mountain” to “Welcome to Whitefish Mountain Resort—Fuck Big Mountain.”

One of them mourned later by getting high and playing bongos in the nude
Hunky actor Matthew McConaughey and former governor Judy Martz joined the thousands who filled the Butte Civic Center to bid farewell to Robert Craig “Evel” Knievel.

And on the seventh day he rested his feet
Montana State Prison escapee Kelly A. Frank successfully eluded U.S. Forest Service personnel, who discovered him and fellow escapee William J. Walcott bathing at a Swan Valley campground, by taking off and walking throughout the night, barefoot and shirtless, more than 10 miles to the opposite side of the Mission Mountains. Frank then broke into an unoccupied cabin for refuge, but unbeknownst to him the cabin was located near a residence owned by relatives of Walcott, whom he ditched in the Swan Valley. Police had already called off a stakeout of the Walcott cabin, but Undersheriff Jay Doyle just happened to be in the area and heard the sound of broken glass at Frank’s hideout. Frank, who was arrested in 2005 for plotting to kidnap talk-show host David Letterman’s son and nanny, was captured shortly thereafter. Walcott, meanwhile, was found in the Swan a few hours later. Both men eluded authorities for six days before their capture, longer than any escapee in a decade.

The only criminal with worse luck than Kelly Frank
While stopping for gas at the Ole’s on Orange Street, Elizabeth Evangel happened to notice a parked El Camino with a pile of her family heirlooms, including a cast-iron floor fan, maple sheet music box, an antique Singer sewing machine and a plastic container full of her daughter’s clothes. The car’s owner, Dennis Sproul, the subject of multiple arrest warrants in Spokane, parked at the Ole’s when his car broke down; he was arrested for breaking into Evangel’s storage unit once he returned to his vehicle.

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