It pays to be suspicious when powerful people tell you that a certain subject is “off limits”. Our first line of defense against abuses of power is dissent, but entrenched systems have a way of turning seemingly innocuous movements and ideologies to their advantage. Missoula’s latest goodwill coup d’état involves the concerted effort of all local mainstream media, who assert in various ways that criticism of Mayor John Engen is off the table due to his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. The circumstances, we are told, necessitate an easing of pressure upon the almighty five-term Mayor from dissenters, political opponents and the activist community.
Once again we the people are presented with an emotional argument aimed to distract us into feeling sorry for Mr. John Engen, a man responsible for such a vast amount of human misery it boggles the mind to comprehend. We’re supposed to focus again on feelings instead of facts. Quite ironically, facts that represent heinous crimes of incomprehensible betrayal that have caused terribly hurt feelings across the board for Missoula’s poor and working class.
For those who might think it tasteless to kick a man while he’s down, remember that the Mayor and his cronies have a well-established history of kicking Missoula’s citizens while they’re down. As a matter of routine, low-income residents are rendered homeless by Engen’s real estate parasites, and when outrage inevitably boils over, City officials then patronize the citizenry with condescending accusations of ignorance, i.e. the public just doesn’t understand the policies.
Since Engen took office in 2006 Missoula has become the “next San Francisco.” Under John Engen’s leadership, Missoula’s wealth disparity grew to the 33rd highest in the United States. Rents and property taxes in the Garden City have continuously exploded to the point of displacing thousands of locals. And the people who have become rich from those price hikes are all friendly enough with our mayor to donate to his campaign again and again.
John Engen is the mayor of Missoula who drank on the job for months, then later admitted to his extensive benders after he got the taxpayers to cover his alcohol treatment following an incident that got him kicked off an airplane. John Engen is the mayor who got the taxpayers to pay for his $23,000 gastric bypass surgery, which in the long-haul, accomplished absolutely nothing for his health.
John Engen’s administrative blundering resulted in such egregious abuses of power that Jon Krakauer felt prompted to write a book called Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. Enrollment at Missoula’s university never recovered. But John Engen’s bumbling has also cost Missoulians millions in astronomical lawyer fees to wrest control of our water system away from corporate influences, only to see our rates increase dramatically under local management. John Engen’s failed 10-Year-Plan-To-End-Homelessness has ended in such utter failure that his administration defaulted to hiring private goons with loaded guns to patrol the city.
Our bureaucrats speak as though the catastrophic harm done to our neighbors and our communities can somehow be construed as justifiable in any way. They hypnotically chant phrases like “affordable housing” and words like “density” in their Jedi-mind-trick to convince locals that “these are not the taxes you’re looking for.” One needs only to observe the measurable harm done to Missoula over the past decade to acknowledge that the ends will predictably always justify the means for Engen’s donors, sycophants and followers.
So this monster finally gets sick and we’re all supposed to turn on the sympathy waterworks? What about all the displaced families whose lives were ruined by Engen’s real estate buddies? Did any of them ever get sick with a terminal illness?
But Missoula’s liberal voters don’t seem to care as much for those people’s feelings, therefore that brand of suffering doesn’t really exist. In fact, the poor bastards should love what’s happening, especially with the City’s abuse of tax money through TIF, because it’s making so much profit for the people whose feelings do matter. People like Bill Coffee of Stockman Bank, who profits hand-over-fist every time the City passes a new TIF project (or pays interest on the money Stockman laundered through the bureaucracy). Or people like Peter Lambros, who got the City to cough up $8.6 million in taxpayer money to spruce up Southgate Mall, only to stiff Missoulians by flipping the Mall to Washington Prime for $58 million. Or people like Andy Holloran, who earned his TIF money demolishing historic structures to build luxury hotels. All of these players donate money to Engen Inc.
Isn’t it amazing that our beloved Eggman Engen can now run his government smoke-screen show from behind the curtain? He doesn’t even have to come into the office anymore because ostensibly everyone in the area-code feels sorry for him. This arrangement certainly gives new meaning to the term “sitting mayor,” if one does not actually have to sit upon the throne to wield its power. Ordinarily a shadowy puppet master requires a figurehead to actually sit upon the throne while he wields inscrutable power from behind it, but in yet another perversion of the natural order, John has arranged things so he can rule from the shadows without the bother of putting anybody in his place to absorb the criticism of a restless populace. Maximize sympathy. Minimize criticism. Discredit heretics. Perhaps his campaign donors are doing everything they can to continue propping ol’ John up. After all, they’ve all become quite comfortable with the slices of pie this administration has been able to provide to them over the years at the expense of the taxpayers.
Engen maintains power in part by ruthlessly destroying the reputations of his opponents. Jacob Elder became the most recent example of what happens when someone gets in the way of Engen’s political steamroller. Prior to Elder, Engen’s machine tore Lisa Triepke apart on the basis of her divorce. Meanwhile, John was allowed to cheat on his wife while parading around his mistress at public functions, and Missoula saw fit to reward his hypocrisy with media silence and repeated reelections.
John Engen’s government has ruined the lives of countless locals and made a significant contribution to Montana’s role as the Suicide Capital of America. Suicides caused by Engen’s judges filling the jails with petty offenders. Suicides caused by skyrocketing property taxes that displaced families from homes our forefathers built with their bare hands. And the suicides that continue today in the gentrified nightmare that is the community formerly known as Missoula. It’s nothing personal. It’s just business. The “new normal” in Engen’s Missoula.
It is surely a coincidence that all the newspapers John wrote for are still in business, while all the independent media that ever dared to express criticism of John’s policies were systematically eliminated. Engen’s political machine razes anything that gets in its way, transforming purple mountains majesty into mountains of garbage, collateral wreckage and wasted lives. John Engen has helped his big business buddies railroad the community under a for-profit banner before then mercilessly patronizing anyone left willing to vocalize their outrage about Missoula’s new predatory direction. He actually shut off a citizen’s microphone during public comment time on the basis of “untrue information,” in-turn violating the first amendment of our constitution (which John, a longtime journo himself, should himself be aware of). Apparently John’s policies are so perfect they needn’t be articulated, and the blasphemies of critics are wrong by default of opposing a sacrosanct deity.
Lies and spin are all locals can ever depend on, be it the silly rationalizations for chopping down all the trees on the County Court House lawn (including the Blue Spruce planted to honor 9/11’s fallen, dubbed the “911 Memorial Tree” to help Missoulians “never forget”), or the reasons for employing mercenaries to patrol the city with live ammunition, or the truth about the demonstrable harms of Tax Increment Financing. And with Missoula’s vanishing tax base unable to cover the basic costs of road maintenance and schools, they’ve proposed a “local option” sales tax. Perhaps none of this seems surprising given that Engen’s very first campaign manager, John Talbott, came to Missoula after retiring from the CIA to work for Lee Enterprises, parent company of The Missoulian and the same company that bought the Missoula Independent just to shut it down. The duplicity never ends.
Given that Missoula’s donor class requires Engen’s policies remain in place, the post-election hand-off of the mayoral coattails to Council President Gwen Jones might be more premeditated than many are willing to admit. Having proven herself an uncompromising Engen loyalist, Gwen can help Missoula’s donor class feel secure in the guarantee of a continuity of government. Engen steps aside. Jones steps up. The monopolies remain intact. The donors remain happy. The underclass continues to suffer, toil and die. The business train remains on track and on schedule. It seems like nothing—not even a terminal illness—can stop John’s monstrous mayoral machine.
Perhaps John’s tumor (if it’s real) stands as the harbinger of a harsher reality relating to Missoula’s increasing hypertoxicity. It seems incontrovertible to assert that Missoula has become a hyper-toxic environment, and our Great Leader’s sickness could be a warning for the rest of us to get out while we still can. Maybe spending another minute engaged with this leviathan can only further ensnare one’s spirit and deteriorate one’s health. Because Missoula’s toxicity isn’t limited only to its political swamp of eternal stench; it’s now also literally toxic, again due to Engen’s duplicitous leadership.
For example, Engen’s Parks and Rec department indiscriminately sprays carcinogenic RoundUp all over our schools, parks, trails and riverbeds. This thoughtless activity pollutes Missoula’s aquifer, and in-turn, Missoula’s source of drinking water, with a deadly carcinogen. Under Engen’s lead, Parks ‘n Wreck also chopped most of the trees down along the Clark Fork River and viola! A plethora of unlawful homeless encampments are revealed for a different kind of roundup to occur, this time leading homeless individuals into the fenced-walls of Missoula’s Clark Fork Lane Concentration Camp. Said camp sits along the shoreline of the Clark Fork River, which is now so full of the lead, arsenic and chromium from upriver mines (like Butte’s mile-wide, mile-deep superfund site known as the Berkeley Pit) that Missoulians can no longer safely eat the fish angled from its shores. Add to this the atmospheric inversion that results in some of the worst air quality in the region, made worse by the radioactive coal shipped through from a not-so-distant sacrifice zone on its way to a Chinese power plant, and you’ve got a recipe for manifesting a multitude of illnesses.
Functioning as the administrator for so much of this corporate pillaging, John Engen has also finally succumbed to the same force that he has allowed himself to become in his community. As above, so below, and John has himself become a metastasizing cancer that daily threatens the health, safety and survival of the people surrounding him. Engen’s tentacles strangle and smother life from every corner of the Garden City until the only thing left are the lifeless condo towers looming over a concrete landfill trampled by tourists, degraded by developers and sold off by politicians. Symptoms of disease.
When Mayor Bill Cregg was diagnosed with a terminal illness, he put a gun to his head and splattered the wall with his brains. When Mayor John Engen was diagnosed with a terminal illness, he hid in the shadows and put the bill for his treatments on the taxpayers. A parasite vying for self preservation. A smug traitor who sold out his neighbors with a condescending smile. No sympathy for the devil.