Montana’s Financial Pain and the Return of Identity Politics

by William Skink

I’m not sure it matters, now that Montana is financially screwed, what the Governor knew about the budget shortfall, and when.

During the campaign, Bullock framed himself as the responsible fiscal steward of the state of Montana, who had kept the state’s finance’s healthy and in the black. That, coupled with Gianforte’s misfortune of being born in New Jersey (and the stream access issue) ensured Bullock retained his office.

Now, with the election receding in the rear-view mirror, the grim reality of Montana’s fiscal situation is sinking in. Montana Republicans took a break from their vigorous and cruel slashing to point the finger at Bullock, claiming he knew about the looming budget shortfall, but did nothing to address it:

There are two primary measures for fiscal soundness. The first is structural balance, meaning that projected revenues must be higher than projected expenditures. Something every household and small business is familiar with. The second is ending fund balance, which should reflect the amount of money needed to meet the obligations of the state. It was clear to us by mid-2016 that the ending fund balance would be gone by the time the Legislature came to town January 2017.

Republicans warned the governor via a letter dated Sept. 4, 2016, that our state budget was heading into dangerous territory, and that he had time to take action to correct the budget and reduce spending. The warnings were ignored and the Republican-led Legislature is working to weather the current crisis and focused on a plan to get back in balance and ensure fiscal soundness in the long-term.

Of course Bullock didn’t do anything. The campaign was in full swing, so obviously Bullock wasn’t going to suddenly change his messaging about Montana’s rosy financial situation because duplicitous Republicans sent a letter.

Bullock’s assessment of Montana’s finance’s, and Republican posturing, is nothing but shameless political theatrics. While the people who are supposed to be representing us play their political games in Helena, there is real suffering happening already and substantial fear about the coming cuts.

This past week saw public defenders in Helena describing their impossible job of providing constitutionally required representation to clients who can’t afford to hire a lawyer. It was sobering testimony that should be raising serious alarms:

“My stress is through the roof.”

This is Alisha Backus, she’s a public defender in Kalispell. She’s been on the job for about a year and a half. During that time a statewide budget crunch has pushed the Public Defender Commission to outline cuts to offset an anticipated $3.5 million shortfall — that’s about 5 percent of the Office of the Public Defender biennium budget.

Some of those cost savings come in the form of hiring freezes, moving around discretionary funds, or proposed legislation that will free up attorneys’ time to work on other cases.

The Commission’s plan also limits the use of outside contractors to help with public defenders workloads.

“Part of this mitigation means that I take all cases; I take misdemeanors, I take felonies, I take every type of felony, I take involuntary commitments, adoption, dependency neglect cases, and also guardianship and juvenile cases,” Backus says. “In fact, I am assigned right now lead council to a deliberate homicide case, with a year and a half experience.”

In just the last two years, public defenders have seen child neglect and abuse cases double. A big factor is the alarming rise in meth use across the state. But there is virtually no chance CPS or the public defenders office will get the funding they need.

The crisis will only get worse. Here’s more from the article:

Hooks says public defenders have no control over the number cases they have to work on. Montana law requires that if someone can’t afford an attorney, the state will provide one.

And right now, caseloads are growing. Hooks says courts are especially seeing an increase in the number of criminal and child abuse and neglect cases. He says abuse and neglect cases have increased 50 percent the last two years:

That growth has some public defenders worried that they won’t be able to ethically continue doing their job.

“It’s a concern to everybody in OPD, because if the volume of work is too excessive, we fear that we are providing less than the level of ethical representation that is required.”

Hooks says, in some cases, if a court determines that public defenders didn’t do a good enough job, it could mean the whole trial has to be done over again.

While our state leaders have launched interim-committee studies, the harsh reality is these programs and departments need more money to do their job, and they are not going to get it.

Fucking over poor people in our criminal injustice system is just the tip of the iceberg. Senior citizens are also on the chopping block, according to this article:

Services for senior citizens and those who need long-term care were slashed as part of budget cuts made to the Department of Public Health and Human Services by a legislative budget committee Friday.

“It is a significant cut to nursing homes,” said Sen. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, who voted against the cut. “Nursing homes are an entitlement and they are a strong business in local communities. I think we are going to have a lot of problems with all of these different cuts in all of these different areas.”

Without program-level final numbers from the Legislature’s fiscal division, it was unclear Friday exactly how much the Health and Human Services Joint Appropriations Subcommittee trimmed the program’s budget, but advocates for senior citizens and those who work to care for them called the cuts severe.

This is an area I am learning more about every day with my new job, and I can tell you Montana’s aging population is already in a simmering crisis, especially here in Missoula. Every new bond and increase in housing costs puts more pressure on people with fixed incomes.

And don’t get me started on Medicaid.

The poor, the elderly, the abused. These are the victims of our broken political system.

Once upon a time these segments of our society had a political party that fought for them, but no longer. Obama saved Wall Street and spent the rest of his time in office yapping about a recovery that most Americans never experienced. And Governor Bullock made himself out to be the responsible fiscal champion of the state of Montana, but that turns out to be nothing more than hot air.

Democrats in Montana should be doing everything they can to represent the vulnerable in their state, but there’s a special election coming, so a lot of that needed energy will be diverted to try and win an election Democrats lost handily last November.

Already the Democratic identity squabbling is taking attention away from the cruel slashes that will hurt their constituents. Will it be the woman with the nose ring or the outsider musician? Does it matter?

Electing a woman is still a very big priority for those who feel their Queen was cheated from ascending to her throne. There is still a significant lack of introspection from Democrats about the consequences of prioritizing identity politics over nominating the best candidate most capable of winning.

To conclude this post, here’s a reminder from James Conner about the consequences of identity politics as it relates to the health of Americans facing the dismantling of Obamacare:

If he signs it, will Trump ultimately be the one to blame for gutting health care and condemning tens of thousands to ill health or death? No. Hillary Clinton, and the let’s-make-history-by-electing-a-female-President Democrats who subordinated the national interest to selfish and stupid identity politics, ran a blundering campaign, and thus lost a winnable election, will be the people with the most blood on their hands.

Well said, James.

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Hillary 2020?

by William Skink

I don’t want to take this seriously. Should I take it seriously? I don’t want to take it seriously. Hillary 2020 is a reality:

Forget about Democrats asking Bernie voters for forgiveness, or looking in the mirror to see why Trump won. They’ve learned nothing after cheating Bernie Sanders, the only populist candidate within the Democratic Party, in an election where voters yearned for a populist candidate. Furthermore, most Hillary voters would absolutely love Clinton to run again, especially since Russia stole the election and Comey’s letter helped Putin. Yes, Harry Reid accused the FBI’s James Comey of helping Vladimir Putin undermine democracy.

Many Democrats truly want a third Clinton campaign.

Now, I don’t like diagnosing people because I don’t have the credentials to make assessments on someone’s mental health status, but anyone who thinks a two-time loser should launch a third destined-to-fail campaign is certifiably insane.

Maybe you think that smug sociopath, Hillary Clinton, just keeps getting cheated out of her rightful place in the White House. Maybe you think her mocking Flynn with a pizzagate retweet is really clever. Maybe you have a glorious vision of Hillary taking it to Vlad and destroying Russia to establish the neolibercon wet dream of full spectrum dominance.

Whatever those Hillary supporters are thinking, hopefully reality never intrudes, because if it does the cognitive dissonance could make heads explode.

The more I watch this dangerous fiasco, the more I think America deserves Trump and we deserve to never again be taken seriously on the global stage. The delusional national rhetoric of being the shining city on the hill is dead. Long live the delusion!

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Intelligent Anti-Russia Propaganda

by William Skink

Intelligent Discontent–a Montana blog that focuses on state issues–proves again it should remain focused on state issues.

In a guest post titled Making Russia Great Again guest author Wade Sikorski regurgitates slanted, inaccurate portrayals of geopolitical maneuvers intended to exaggerate Russian behavior while minimizing American involvement:

After the Ukrainian people had overthrown a very corrupt government that Putin controlled, Putin invaded the Ukraine to take back his influence. Alarmed at Putin’s expansionism, the Obama administration imposed severe sanctions on Russia for interfering in the Ukraine, stopping a half trillion dollar deal Exxon was negotiating with Russia, which was perhaps the largest in human history, to develop Russia’s oilfields above the Arctic circle.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian economy collapsed with it, never fully recovering, and the only thing it had going for it was money from oil and gas. Russia’s economy is so dependent on oil now, John McCain has described it as a filling station masquerading as a country. So Putin needed the Exxon deal to make Russia great again, and he might do anything to get it, including buying a U.S. president.

What Wade isn’t telling the intelligent media consumers of Intelligent Discontent is that the coup in Ukraine was orchestrated by foreign actors, which was exposed in the infamous Victoria Nuland phone conversation.

Wade is doing that Nazi propaganda trick where enough repetitions of bullshit eventually makes that bullshit stick. Corporate media does it all the time.

I know, we’re only supposed to be talking about the Nazi Trump regime, not Nazi-supporting liberals like Obama and Hillary Clinton, but when I say Obama and Hillary supported Nazis, I’m not being hyperbolic. The coup in Ukraine literally unleashed Nazis ensuring Ukraine will remain in a state of bloody, chaotic civil war.

American foreign policy:  if we can’t have it, we’ll break it.

Another glaring omission is Wade’s reference to the collapse of the Soviet Union without acknowledging how the western world watched and cheered its collapse. For something that doesn’t stink of Wade’s jingoistic treatment of the demise of the Soviet Union, I suggest consulting Stephen Cohen. Here is an example of a more inclusive reading of that time period:

For most western commentators the Soviet breakup was an unambiguously positive turning point in Russian and world history. As it quickly became the defining moment in a new American triumphalist narrative, the hope that Mikhail Gorbachev’s pro-Soviet democratic and market reforms of 1985-91 would succeed was forgotten. Soviet history was now presented as “Russia’s seven decades as a rigid and ruthless police state”. American academics reacted similarly, most reverting to pre-Gorbachev axioms that the system had always been unreformable and doomed. The opposing view that there had been other possibilities in Soviet history, “roads not taken”, was dismissed as a “dubious”, if not disloyal, notion. Gorbachev’s reforms, despite having so remarkably dismantled the Communist party dictatorship, had been “a chimera”, and the Soviet Union therefore died from a “lack of alternatives”.

Most specialists no longer asked, even in the light of the human tragedies that followed in the 1990s, if a reforming Soviet Union might have been the best hope for the post-communist future of Russia. Nor have mainstream commentators asked if its survival would have been better for world affairs. On the contrary, they concluded that everything Soviet had to be discarded by “the razing of the entire edifice of political and economic relations”. Such certitudes are now, of course, the only politically correct ones in US (and most European) policy, media and academic circles.

Cohen goes on to do something I rarely see supposedly inclusive liberals do: consider how the actual human beings we call Russians who live in Russia feel about the collapse. I guess if you’re not a part of Pussy Riot, you’re perspective doesn’t matter.

Thankfully, Cohen doesn’t adhere to western propaganda themes like Wade emulating corporate media does:

A large majority of Russians, on the other hand, as they have regularly made clear in opinion surveys, regret the end of the Soviet Union, not because they pine for “communism” but because they lost a secure way of life. They do not share the nearly unanimous western view that the Soviet Union’s “collapse” was “inevitable” because of inherent fatal defects. They believe instead, and for good reason, that three “subjective” factors broke it up: the way Gorbachev carried out his political and economic reforms; a power struggle in which Yeltsin overthrew the Soviet state in order to get rid of its president, Gorbachev; and property-seizing Soviet bureaucratic elites, the nomenklatura, who were more interested in “privatising” the state’s enormous wealth in 1991 than in defending it. Most Russians, including even the imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, therefore still see December 1991 as a “tragedy”.

This blindspot is telling. The same inability to consider why many Russians see the collapse of the Soviet Union as a tragedy is at work in the inability of liberals to understand why 8 years of Obama’s PR recovery campaign resulted in Trump.

It really is the economy, stupid.

If the resistance thinks every vote for Trump was a racist, sexist validation of white supremacy and misogyny, it will fail.

And if liberals keep up the demonization campaign against Russia, believing and promoting the propaganda put out by the professional liars in America’s intelligence community, what will be the result?

I’m afraid of the answer to that question.

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The Gelded Resistance

by William Skink

Well-paid artists continue making their political statements during award ceremonies because now they have so much to resist.

This didn’t happen under Obama because Obama was a significantly more skilled deceiver when it came to extending America’s bloody imperialism across the globe.

Here is the 30th installment of my Chapel video series. Welcome to the gelded resistance!

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Artistic License Under Trump: Revoked?

by William Skink

The political cartoonist Ted Rall is watching the new regime closely for signs that it’s time to leave. His duel citizenship could be a life saver.

In my latest video piece, I punch Trump in the face. How long will us creative types be allowed artistic license to free expression?

The steps Obama took to chill dissent weren’t met with howling outrage. Now that Trump has seized power people are beginning to panic as the threat of consolidated executive power becomes apparent.

You were warned. You ignored the warnings. Now we will all reap the consequences.

Have a nice weekend.

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How Noble Is Our Killing?

by William Skink

SCENE I

But “Putin’s a killer,” O’Reilly said.

“You got a lot of killers,” Trump shot back. “What, you think our country’s so innocent?”

SCENE II

“Turns out I’m really good at killing people,” Obama said quietly, “Didn’t know that was gonna be a strong suit of mine.”

SCENE III

“We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”

I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.

SCENE IV

Asked about the strike that killed him, a senior adviser to the president’s campaign suggests he should’ve “had a more responsible father.”

Cornered by reporters with video cameras, former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, a senior adviser to President Obama’s reelection campaign, attempted to defend the kill list that the Obama Administration uses to determine whose body should next be blown apart.

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Will a Bill Regulating Warm Springs Discharges Make Things Worse?

by William Skink

One might think, having worked at a homeless shelter for 7 years, that I would be excited to see a bill prohibiting Warm Springs from discharging people to the streets and homeless shelters.

But I’m not because the bill is significantly flawed, which makes sense considering who sponsored it. From the link:

Rep. Ellie Hill Smith, D-Missoula, said her bill would end the practice of dumping homeless patients, and force health officials to include housing arrangements in their discharge plans from Montana’s only state-run psychiatric hospital in Warm Springs.

“When Warm Springs discharges them, they are often still in their hospital clothes and they are given seven days of medication,” Hill Smith said. “It is, frankly, morally reprehensible and it’s fiscally unsound.”

First, there is already discharge planning happening at Warm Springs. I’m not a fan of how that facility is run, but the problems are primarily from inadequate staffing and training, which ultimately means money. The problems were recently so bad, the facility risked losing Federal money:

Montana State Hospital, the state’s publicly run psychiatric facility, was set to lose its federal agreement in February because of what’s called an “immediate jeopardy,” a situation where the hospital’s noncompliance with federal regulations was considered serious enough to risk death or serious injury to a resident.

After a legal notice was published in The Montana Standard on Thursday announcing the termination of the agreement between the Warm Springs hospital and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid set for Feb. 8, the agency sent the paper a notice of retraction, saying that the situation that put residents at significant risk had been “abated.”

The second major problem with this bill is pretty straight forward: if there are no appropriate housing arrangements for a discharge, what is Warm Springs supposed to do? And what is this bill going to do to address the shortage of transitional housing and other community-based placements? There aren’t any good answers to those questions, and, as it turns out, there isn’t even data available regarding how many of the returning patients to Warm Springs are homeless:

Not having a stable home environment increases their chances of being readmitted to the hospital, Smith said. Hill Smith, an attorney who previously ran a Missoula homeless shelter, said 386 of the 768 people who were admitted in the hospital last year were returning patients. It was not clear how many of those returning patients were homeless.

I wonder if Rep. Hill even talked to anyone at the shelter she once ran about this issue. I doubt it. If I had been consulted, I would have described how the shelter got a request from Warm Springs to discharge a mentally ill woman, and the Pov said no. So what happened? Warm Springs got her set up with case management from the worst (in my opinion) mental health provider, then discharged her to a motel room. Within a few days the woman stopped taking her meds and got kicked out of the motel, then showed up at the shelter.

Does this bill also prohibit discharges to motel rooms? Because if it doesn’t, that’s the kind of thing Warm Springs will do.

Finally, there’s the money. The fiscal note makes one six figure claim, and Rep. Hill makes a counter claim that I think is ridiculous:

Health department officials said in a fiscal note accompanying the bill that the state would be forced to pay for temporary housing costs upfront while hospital officials await a determination of whether the patients are eligible for federal aid.

The cost to the state would run more than $150,000 a year, according to the agency’s estimate. Hill disputed that, saying the costs would be lower if hospital officials begin patients’ discharge plans when they are admitted.

The bill also requires health officials not to delay a person’s discharge from the hospital in order to comply, and to provide patients who are headed to temporary housing with information on how to find permanent housing.

How in the hell is immediate discharge planning supposed to lower the cost of paying for transitional housing? That makes absolutely no sense to me. Here’s another question: where is the money for more staff time to engage in discharge planning supposed to come from? Warm Springs can barely provide enough staffing to keep patients from dying and nearly lost federal funding because of it.

I also don’t get what is going to happen when this bill “requires health officials not to delay a person’s discharge from the hospital in order to comply”. If no facility will take a discharging patient, Warm Springs can’t delay the discharge, but they also are prohibited from discharging people with no appropriate place to go. It’s a classic damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario.

In summary, when one looks beyond the feel-good headlines of this bill, it starts looking crazier than the people who end up in Montana’s lone psychiatric hospital. It’s almost as bad as Rep. Hill’s “revenge porn bill”, which was interestingly dressed down at Moogirl a few days ago by Mary Moe.

What’s happening with mental health and homelessness in Montana is a serious problem. Unfortunately this bill doesn’t offer a serious response. If passed into law, it will actually create more problems when the funding to do what needs to be done doesn’t materialize.

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On Not Belonging: Notes from the Political Wilderness

by William Skink

There are people who are not Trump zealots and also not rushing to join the resistance. I consider myself one of them. So does Mike Krieger, who is back from a self-imposed break to report that everyone is going insane.

Facebook is probably the best platform offering daily proof of Krieger’s assertion. Earlier today I was reading proof that people are losing their shit and that real, long-lasting damage is being done to relationships with friends and family.

The original post was a demand for Brady and Darth Belicheck to denounce white supremacy. Pepe the frog was mentioned. But it’s in the comments where one sees the familial strain come out:

I was very conflicted watching the game last night and cheering for the Pats knowing that TB and Belichick endorse Trump, and by extension Bannon and white supremacy. I am made sick today by seeing my friends and family sharing pictures of TB and calling him a hero. The cumulative effect is that people very close to me are tacitly endorsing my extinction. I do not expect anything from the NFL, especially not in response to Dick Spencer and his fringe lunatics. I do expect my friends and family who care about being football fans to demand it of the NFL.

I really try to avoid getting sucked into Facebook threads, but I have my moments of weakness where I can’t help pulling back the lens a bit from the hysteria calling itself the resistance. A local musician I’ve known for years put up something about impeaching Trump, and I said this:

Trump is part of a continuum of the executive office grabbing power. I don’t remember similar outrage when Obama executed US citizens without due process while presiding over an immense expansion of government surveillance, violating our constitutional rights.

To this he said:

Trump/Bannon represents an immediate and out-of-control shift toward authoritarianism that I feel needs to be resisted with all possible strength now. Your concern over the long term degradation of our system is valid and important, but IMO is not the thing to be diverted by today. Right now, I am sick of people talking about Hillary, or Obama, or Bill Clinton or any other thing that any other president has done in the past. I believe we must act today to minimize the insane, hateful, power-usurping situation that is unfolding.

Now, I’m not saying he’s wrong in his assessment of the authoritarian shift being out of control. Just read this piece, titled “Wait Calmly“, and tell me this description of how the threat of Hitler was down-played and underestimated in 1933 doesn’t sound like what we are seeing play out these last two weeks.

I guess what it comes down to, for me, is this question: is the story of how we got to this point a necessary component of forming a viable resistance, or is the threat so immediate there’s no time for any awkward histrionics that includes Democrats as complicit in the rise of overt Fascism in America?

George Ochenski is asking essentially the same thing in his column today when he asks what now, collaborators? It’s a good question for the table-scrap enablers of Tester’s shady legislative attempt to mandate logging, and it’s a good question for any cheerleading partisan who provided cover these last 8 years as a smooth talking Democrat in the White House continued consolidating the power grab, post-9/11, enacted by Bush.

I don’t know how to effectively respond to the growing constitutional crisis Trump represents as he tweets attacks on judges who rule against his executive orders, but I do think the story of how we got here is important, because without that understanding this resistance is going to get cut-off at the knees by self-serving Democrats who can’t be trusted to represent anyone outside their donor circles.

So, for those of you not bought in to this corrupt political duopoly, here is a little Krieger to let you know you are not alone:

I think the U.S. citizenry is being afflicted by a sort of mass insanity at the moment. There are no good outcomes if this continues. As a result, I feel compelled to provide a voice for those of us lost in the political wilderness. We must persevere and not be manipulated into the obvious and nefarious divide and conquer tactics being aggressively unleashed across the societal spectrum. If we lose our grounding and our fortitude, who will be left to speak for those of us who simply don’t fit into any of the currently ascendant political ideologies?

I’ve always prided myself in having and maintaining a very diverse readership. Many of you are Trump supporters, and many of you are Sanders supporters. Very few of you are Hillary Clinton supporters. This is how it ought to be, considering that I advocate that the current paradigm is broken, unethical and needs replacing. I don’t pretend to have the answers of what needs to be done on every policy issue, but I do know for sure that we can’t continue along with the current model any longer. As such, my intent is to have a discussion with all of you who want something new, even though we will invariably disagree on all sort of topics. This is healthy and normal.

What isn’t healthy is cheerleading your preferred political candidate once he is in power. I see this all over the place when it comes to Trump, and I find it pretty sickening. I can begrudgingly accept the cheerleading during an election, after all, the entire point of an election is to win. I cannot accept it after victory has been achieved, however. Trump is now the President and wields a grotesque amount of executive power thanks to the precedents established by all of the horrible individuals who came before him. Trump didn’t create this mess, but he now holds the ring of power and that is something to be feared, not cheered.

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Super Bowel Open Thread

by William Skink

Alex Jones is predicting that Lady Gaga will be conducting a satanic ritual at today’s Super “Bowel”.

This is entirely plausible considering Gaga’s role as high priestess in the Illuminati’s entertainment industry.

Football is the perfect sport for a less-than-innocent nation that has its share of professional killers.

Enjoy the game!

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Missoula Leads Montana in Dumb Ways to Spend Money We Don’t Have

by William Skink

News coming out of Helena is grim. Cuts to budgets are going to have very real impacts on vulnerable populations. For example, of the 4.5 million in proposed cuts to the judicial branch, child advocates will be on the cutting block–a cruel move that will also be fiscally compounded by the resulting loss of federal funding that will be triggered if this happens.

So, mean and stupid.

Luckily not all of Montana is being threatened by the machete of austerity. Here in Bubble Town (Missoula) Convention Center plans are being pushed through, labor is being told to fuck off, and development is happening all over the valley, despite any and all objections from the plebes for consideration.

I guess it’s the anticipation of all this development and coming tax dollars that helps city officials justify spending over $150,000 to make sure the visual atrocity of the Verizon store on Broadway never happens again.

I’m not kidding.  From neon Verizon outrage came the “Design Excellence Workshop” which will now gobble up tens of thousands of dollars:

That Design Excellence Workshop was born in part from complaints surrounding the new Cellular Plus retail store on East Broadway. The bright neon lights, corporate architecture and single use of a downtown property prompted something of a public outcry, and it set the city on a course to write new rules guiding the design of commercial buildings.

City staff and members of the council have since interviewed and selected a consulting firm to craft “character management tools.” If adopted next year, the tools would guide the design of new construction in Missoula.

“We hope to get a contract approved and moving forward this month,” said Laval Means, planning services manager with Development Services. “It would be a 16-month-long project, at the most.”

The selection team chose Winter & Co. to lead the planning process, and it set a budget of roughly $159,000. Of that, MRA would contribute $25,000 while the city commits $75,000. Development Services would provide the remainder.

Isn’t that fantastic? One ugly store gets built, and so many (of the right) people get outraged that the city finds over a hundred thousand dollars to create a whole new set of design regulations to micro-manage development so the visual offense of the Verizon store won’t be repeated.

In summary, while kids are losing their court advocates and dying from an under-funded CPS system that can’t protect them, Missoula is bankrolling signage Nazis to impose their sense of decorum on the future look of Missoula.

Way to go, Missoula

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