Martin Kidston Is Montana’s Gomer Pyle

The eyes of the world have fixed upon Missoula, Montana. A procedural squabble over the otherwise boring municipal business of Tax Increment Financing has spiraled out of control, resulting in a global outcry against the continued detention of a world-renowned US military whistleblower. Staff Sergeant Brandon Bryant remains in the Missoula County Detention Facility on $100,000 bond, charged with “Threats and undue influence in official and political matters”. As the story dominates local news coverage and citizen dialogue, Missoula officials desperately scramble to control the narrative through their enthusiastic mouthpiece, the Missoula Current, headed by former Marine and useful idiot Martin Kidston. The Current has long been something of a punchline in Missoula’s local journalism scene, but this most recent storm of events has provoked Kidston to release a flurry of articles, showcasing a flabbergasting abandonment of journalistic ethics in favor of blatant fear-mongering and propaganda. He supports his pro-elite, anti-citizen rhetoric with an ever more absurd slew of false facts and authentic conspiracy theories. Kidston’s coverage has become so bad it is no longer hyperbolic to acknowledge that readers of the Missoula Current are actually less informed than those who know nothing.

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Downtown Missoula has become a confusing, dangerous place

Bryant’s lawyers have appeared twice in Missoula District court to defend their client against a politically motivated prosecution. At Bryant’s arraignment his public defender Robin Hammond asserted that her client’s detention and prosecution violates his rights under four separate constitutional amendments, including, but not limited to, his right of free speech, right to peaceable assembly, right to equal protection under the law, right against cruel and unusual punishment and right against excessive bail.

The free speech argument in Bryant’s case will be obvious to even the most casual of observers. The other violations of his constitutional rights are somewhat more nuanced but all can be plainly understood even by those who don’t speak the truth-obfuscating language of legalese. Importantly, at this moment where his $100,000 bail has been upheld by Judge Shane Vanetta three weeks in a row, the maximum fine for the crime Brandon is charged with is $50,000. His bail is double the amount of the maximum fine allowable under the law.

defenseDeputy County Attorney Matt Jennings insists that the $100,000 bail must be maintained to protect the safety of the Missoula City Council whom Sergeant Bryant is charged with threatening. The monkey wrench in the works of Jennings’ argument however is the inconvenient fact that four members of the Council have publicly stated that they do not consider Brandon Bryant a threat and have explicitly called for him to be released and his charges dropped. One council member, Heather Harp, read a heartfelt letter to Brandon Bryant at the last Council Meeting on 24 February. Before everyone who attended the meeting Mrs. Harp pleaded for Bryant’s release and called for the charges against him to be dismissed. Four days later, three more members of the City Council (the anti-TIF voting block collectively referred to as “Team Liberty”) released their own letter, demanding Brandon’s release and accusing their Council colleagues of encouraging Bryant’s draconian prosecution in order to stifle the growing local outcry against the use and abuse of Tax Increment Financing.

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City Council member Jesse Ramos was present in the courtroom during Brandon Bryant’s omnibus hearing on Thursday, 27 February. He informed Bryant’s lawyers that he was there in support of Brandon, a fact highlighted by public defender Jake Coolidge who presented Team Liberty’s letter to the Court. Every soul in the courtroom sat in silence for a few tense moments as Judge Shane Vanetta silently read the letter, which had been written and delivered to Bryant’s lawyers that same morning.

At this time the Court is still awaiting the prosecution’s response to a 28 page motion to dismiss the charges. While every hearing so far has been packed to the gills with precedent-backed arguments against Brandon’s excessive bail, Judge Vanetta has, thus far, been unmovable and inscrutable, maintaining the $100,000 bail pending a mental health evaluation. However, public defender Robin Hammond made several arguments, citing US Supreme Court precedent, that the court cannot legally compel a mental health evaluation, referencing Bryant’s right to privacy and right against self-incrimination.

Bryant’s mother started a go-fund-me campaign: “Freedom For Brandon Bryant” two weeks ago in an attempt to raise the money for her son’s bail. His lawyers argue that the excessively high bail explicitly violates his 8th Amendment right against excessive bail.

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A cursory perusal of the headlines from local media outlets might seem to indicate that Brandon Bryant’s landmark legal case is not the only news story in Missoula. But a closer reading of the headlines reveals that many of the most shocking news items published recently by local media connect themselves to the Brandon Bryant affair in some way. These items include the ongoing contention over a $16.5 million dollar taxpayer giveaway to Wisconsin millionaire Nick Checota, a highly controversial round of public comment to the City Council on 24 February, and the terrifyingly bizarre lockdown of the downtown area by militarized police originally purported as the result of an armed attack on Missoula Police Officers. The Missoula Police Department have since admitted that their response to the spontaneous shattering of a patrol car’s rear window may have been an overreaction.

On President’s Day 2020, immediately following the publication of our report, “Brandon Bryant Is A Political Prisoner”, Missoula’s local entrepreneurial organization the City Club hosted a luncheon featuring a keynote speech and Q&A with Nick Checota of Logjam Presents, and Jim McLeod of The Farran Group. Checota and McLeod are the chief developers of the proposed downtown “Riverfront Triangle”, and the recipients of the $16.5 million dollar taxpayer giveaway that sparked off the Missoula TIF controversy ultimately resulting in Brandon’s arrest and detention. At the City Club forum, Checota and McLeod gave a presentation detailing their plans for Checota’s “Drift” project, a hotel and condominium tower with attached convention center. Controversy surrounds this project as it constitutes the largest TIF giveaway in Montana State history.

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During the presentation Checota mentioned that the construction of the convention center would not have been possible without the inclusion of TIF funds. He stated that despite the runaway success of his entertainment empire, that the financial numbers for the convention center simply didn’t “pencil out”. He essentially acknowledged that a convention center of this sort was unlikely to be a profitable venture, and so the decision to spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money to build such an unprofitable enterprise seems like a poor choice for the City. It is, however, an extremely favorable deal for Checota. He will own the attached hotel and condo tower but the convention center will be owned by the City, with Checota receiving a lucrative deal that gives him exclusive rights to book events there for the next 75 years. The way Checota’s lease agreement is structured with the City, his property taxes for this building will NOT go towards the increased use of police, roads, fire services, etc., but will be instead paying for a conference center over which Logjam and only Logjam will enjoy exclusive booking rights for 75 years. Wouldn’t it be sweet if your property taxes paid for your own mortgage? That’s essentially the deal that Checota has cunningly negotiated with the City, determining where his tax dollars go. Said tax dollars will pay for his conference center; money that would otherwise go toward paying for the government services his project will require.

jamminThis is one of the most blatant examples of privatized gains and socialized losses. As a private business leasing the conference center from the City, Logjam stands to profit handsomely off of its events, but since the City owns it, should it be rendered useless or underutilized as the result of an economic downturn, Checota will be insulated from loss.

The City Club forum is a staple of the Missoula business community, bringing local business people together in one room to hear a keynote speech and then ask questions of a highly successful entrepreneur. However, 2020’s February City Club forum at the Double Tree started off on a particularly discordant note. After introducing the keynote speakers and event protocol, City Club Vice Chair Susan Hay Patrick delivered a stern warning to the audience, alluding to provocateurs who had apparently threatened to disrupt the event:

“You may note the presence of law enforcement today. That’s because we’ve been told that there are some people determined to disrupt today’s forum at any cost. So if that’s your purpose, this isn’t the place for you. And I just want to give you a heads up that if you’re here to disrupt or insult our speakers, we just can’t tolerate that. So if you become disruptive, you’ll be asked first to leave, by me because we paid to rent this space, then by Double Tree staff representing the property owners, and should you refuse to do so, you will be escorted from the room by law enforcement and likely charged with Criminal Trespassing. That’s not the outcome we want, but it is an outcome we are prepared to enforce.”

A palpable fear coursed through the room, populated primarily by affluent business owners, many of whom were previously insulated from the growing local tensions. Susan Patrick has an outstanding reputation in Missoula and she obviously intended to diffuse and minimize potential interruptions to keep the event flowing in good order. But the opening statements had the opposite effect, pouring lots of unintended gasoline on a rapidly spreading fire of indignation and apprehension. Throughout the luncheon, these bizarre threats of arrest hung over the guests, all of whom had paid to attend. Many tables in the crowded convention hall murmured to themselves, escalating tensions and sparking further rumors and speculation by the community; a community where rumors spread quickly according to Mayor John Engen.

Under this cloud of oppressive fear the forum continued almost as-normal. Checota and McLeod presented their plans for the future of the Riverfront Triangle project in the most detailed terms yet. Checota even dedicated the final third of his presentation to addressing “the TIF aspect” of the project which he acknowledged was a highly contentious issue. This basic acknowledgement of the controversy reflects the degree to which the anti-TIF activists have been successful in bringing it into the public narrative. Tax Increment Financing has been heavily used by the City Council and the Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA) for years, but in 2020 it has been pushed to the forefront of every municipal debate.

As anti-TIF rabble-rousing escalated following the announcement of Checota’s $16.5 million dollar TIF giveaway, some citizens warned against their contemporaries getting “too myopic about TIF”, advising instead that the underlying principle of income inequality was more important and that the City’s use of TIF was only one aspect of that struggle. However as TIF debate comes more and more into the limelight, the heavy proponents of its use seem ever more reluctant to discuss it. Multiple local media personalities have discussed a frustrating track of events, when TIF dealers like MRA Director Ellen Buchanan are questioned about TIF, their first tactic is to condescend, telling citizens and journalists alike that they just don’t understand the issue.

ellenSometimes active TIF proponents like Ellen Buchanan and Council Vice President Gwen Jones will offer to explain the workings of Tax Increment Financing, but as the debate becomes more and more heated, MRA director Buchanan has become more and more hostile to discussion of her favorite imperfect tool. When approached for an interview about TIF she first expressed frustration, saying she didn’t want to explain it again. When clarified that she didn’t need to explain it, that instead she would be asked to field detailed, educated questions about the use of TIF, she clammed up entirely. It is becoming more obvious with every passing day that those within the City behind the expanding use of TIF just don’t want to talk about it, especially not with anyone who is informed and engaged.

On the topic of informed and engaged citizen attention in city affairs, the 24 February City Council meeting was once again a showcase of the tensions currently gripping the Garden City. It was the first City Council meeting since Brandon Bryant’s arrest on 11 February, and the brief but intense round of public comment spurred yet another controversy in local media coverage, the results of which are still unfolding. A key figure in this round of public comment was one Matthew Wardell. He is one of the many citizens who has been speaking out regularly at Council meetings against the City’s misadventures with TIF, and was prominently featured in a recent NBC Montana piece highlighting the role citizens have had in bringing the issue to the forefront of discussion.

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Wardell is a personal friend of Brandon Bryant, and in the Council meeting prior to Bryant’s arrest he spoke passionately about the injustice inherent in banning Bryant from Council meetings. The source of widespread local outrage comes from the unscrupulous behavior of the aforementioned Missoula Current, a local news publication of little note outside of their recent bombastic attacks on anti-TIF activists, as well as the publication cited in the anti-trust suit that allowed newspaper conglomerate Lee Enterprises to buy up both of Missoula’s main newspapers, the Missoulian, and the Missoula Independent, prior to the shutdown of the Independent. The existence of the Missoula Current was cited as the reasoning for ruling that Lee Enterprises’ ownership of both the Missoulian and the Independent did not constitute a monopoly.

At the 24 February Council meeting (again, the first meeting since Bryant’s arrest) Wardell again spoke with great personal passion. He shared some personal details about his own struggles with chronic illness and the accompanying struggles he’s had with addiction. He said he shared these openly in order to prevent these facts from being used against him, as anti-whistleblower activist Rick Rynearson had been in contact with Wardell and others discussing the issue on social media. Rynearson operates the Youtube channel that hosts the video that led to Brandon Bryant’s arrest.

He has faced numerous accusations for cyberstalking and online harassment. Wardell used his brief three minutes of public comment to publicly and unequivocally state that nothing he has said or will say to the Council should be construed as a call to violence. He went on to share with the Council some of the consequences to members of the community based on their attacks on Sergeant Bryant in local media and Bryant’s resulting arrest.

Wardell concluded his brief comments by reminding the Council of comments made by Council Vice President Gwen Jones who chaired the 10 February meeting. At that meeting, Councilwoman Jones responded to a member of the public who beseeched the Council to help Bryant rather than punish him, assuring the man that “efforts are being made” to connect Bryant with services. As Wardell pointed out, less than 24 hours later Brandon Bryant was in jail, facing a charge that essentially amounts to terrorism.

“Looking to exact undue influence with fear in a political matter,” said Wardell. “The textbook definition of terrorism.” Wardell stared directly at Councilwoman Jones, stating plainly that he and many others are now afraid of the kind of “help” the City Council seems all-too-willing to supply. He concluded his statements with the phrase “we’re afraid of you”.

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Matt Wardell on 24 February 2020

Before Matt had even taken his seat, Council Vice President Bryan von Lossberg loudly interjected. “Point of order! Not gonna take the personal attacks on Council members or the inaccuracies around this. So…”

The meeting continued without any attempt by von Lossberg to elaborate what “inaccuracies” he might be referring to. Wardell is unquestionably afraid, as evidenced by his body language and the quiver in his voice. Asserting to a member of the public that plainly stating their own emotional state is an “inaccuracy” would be a stretch even for the out-of-touch leadership of the Missoula City Council, so what other “inaccuracies” might von Lossberg be referring to? To be fair, Gwen Jones did, in fact, claim that efforts were being made to help Brandon Bryant, as seen in the video archived on the City website (start @ 12 minutes).

Point of Order, President von Lossberg: If you are going to accuse your constituents of “inaccuracies” in their public comment, it might be helpful to elaborate. It has seemed abundantly clear for months now that the ordinary practice of the City Council is to habitually ignore public comment, routinely prioritizing procedural norms over public good. In this case, the Council President breaking protocol seems detrimental both to procedural norms and to public good. The public comment portion of the meeting is explicitly set aside for comment by the public. It is a time for them to lend their voice to the proceedings.

The time for general Council comment doesn’t come until the end of the meeting. Emotionally unstable responses from Council that are critical of the public’s right to speak during the time period specifically allotted to them have a chilling effect on the public’s faith in their right to participation that is guaranteed under the law. But considering his other public statements about the detrimental effect that Brandon Bryant’s emotional outbursts have had on proceedings at these meetings, President von Lossberg’s emotional outburst appeared powerfully hypocritical.

No part of Wardell’s comments seem particularly vulnerable to von Lossberg’s accusations of “inaccuracy,” rooted as they are either in statements about his own personal history and mental state, or in recalling and highlighting the words of Council Vice President Gwen Jones at the previous council meeting. So moving beyond Mr. von Lossberg’s unsupported complaint about “inaccuracies,” what, pray tell, are these personal attacks that the Council President must break protocol to defend against?

Does Wardell’s confession that “we’re afraid of you” somehow warrant accusations of personal attack? Clearly Wardell is using his three minutes of procedurally protected public comment to communicate how he feels personally attacked by the actions of the City Council. Has Bryan von Lossberg reduced himself to victim blaming?

Perhaps when President von Lossberg says he “won’t take the personal attacks” he means that he doesn’t want you to personally attack the Council’s ability to throw citizens in jail on politically motivated charges.

In an attempt to refute the widely-held public perception that the City Council provoked Brandon Bryant’s arrest, Councilwoman Stacie Anderson stated:

“It’s really important the public knows that we had absolutely nothing to do with putting anyone behind bars. We don’t have that authority.”

Stacie Anderson’s attempt at obfuscation must be one of the false facts and inaccuracies that Martin Kidston and Bryan von Lossberg seem to be so upset about. After all, Bryant’s trespass order from the Missoula City Council chambers was originally imposed following an Email exchange between Council President Bryan von Lossberg to City Attorney Jim Nugent. This is direct evidence that the Council indeed had something to do with Brandon’s prosecution and arrest, in spite of vociferous deflection to the contrary.

As reported by ABC FOX Montana Thursday:

Indeed, it was Council President Bryan von Lossberg who directed the YouTube video to police, according to court documents.

Earlier this week, von Lossberg told the Missoulian he believed any official involvement in Bryant’s legal process should be left to the county prosecutor’s office.

Council President von Lossberg sent an Email regarding Brandon Bryant to the City Attorney, directly resulting in Bryant’s trespass from Council chambers enforced by arrest should he ever attend Council meetings again.

Matt Wardell’s statements in the City Council chambers that night ruffled feathers outside the City government. By early the next morning a sensationalist article in the Missoula Current was raising eyebrows across the city (at least it would have been if the Missoula Current had anything approximating citywide readership).

A few keen observers noticed a particularly egregious error in the Missoula Current’s coverage of the 24 February Council meeting. Missoula Current editor and reporter-in-chief Martin Kidston tacked a quick smear of Wardell and other anti-TIF activists onto the end of an article about the Council making a non-decision and sending a proposal for a River street warehouse back to committee.

What follows is the original, pre-correction text that appeared in the Missoula Current on 25 February 2020:

Current PRE-Redaction

Monday night’s meeting got off to a rocky start, prompted by public comment rooted in false facts and conspiracy theories, including those surrounding the arrest of a Brandon Bryant – a man who threatened to murder members of the City Council and others.

One of those speakers, who has protested during public comment several times in recent weeks, admitted that he too has made a threatening video. Like Bryant, he also contends his video was taken out of context by what he described as a digital stalker.

He accused the council of trying to make an example of Bryant. But council members unanimously disputed the accusation, saying the Missoula County Attorney alone made the decision to arrest Bryant for threats of murder and intimidation against public officials, as permitted under Montana law.

Those who were physically present for the 24 February Council meeting found it an extremely suspicious assertion that yet another TIF activist made yet another threatening video. The Missoula Current article never mentioned Wardell by name (a libel suit would likely have followed if it had), but based on the other context provided in the article there can be little doubt that Wardell was the next citizen the Current was attempting to implicate for “threats and undue influence in official and political matters”. Seeing as the last person to make a “threatening” video directed at the City Council was currently in jail, this accusation no doubt made Wardell uneasy.

Given this, it seems entirely plausible that writer-in-chief Martin Kidston may be unfamiliar with the concept of irony; a concept explained perfectly by legendary comedian and linguist George Carlin:

Irony is “a state of affairs that is the reverse of what was to be expected; a result opposite to and in mockery of the appropriate result. For instance: if a diabetic, on his way to buy insulin, is killed by a runaway truck, he is the victim of an accident. If the truck was delivering sugar, he is the victim of an oddly poetic coincidence. But if the truck was delivering insulin, ah! Then he is the victim of an irony.

Wardell set out from the beginning of his comments to establish publicly that he had not and would not make any calls to violence or threats. He expressed his fear that his sincere attempts to protect his town from income-inequality producing fiscal policy would result in political retribution against him just as it had against his friend. And in turn, a publication ostensibly dedicated to journalism literally put words in his mouth in an attempt to paint him as someone calling for or threatening violence against the City Council. The Missoula Current’s response to Wardell’s impassioned confession of fear of political retribution involved fabricating comments and attributing them to him in order to expose him to political retribution. Thus, Kidston’s attempt to change Wardell’s comments into an incriminating confession conforms beautifully to Carlin’s explanation of irony.

To say that the Missoula Current distorted Wardell’s words would be inaccurate. The Missoula Current’s coverage of Wardell’s speech was an outright fabrication.

At no point did he say anything that could remotely be construed as a confession to having made a threatening video of his own. Martin Kidston and the Missoula Current have officially gone over to the dark side, abandoning all pretense of journalism and instead embracing their role as propagandists and stenographers for the powerful. This might not actually be so offensive if Kidston’s approach to the whole thing weren’t so ham-handed.

A quick tip in inculcation for you Kidston: you’re supposed to twist the narrative, not make it up outright. That’s propaganda. And when people inevitably see through it, you make both yourself, and the oligarchs you’re trying so hard to serve, appear foolish.

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The irony only grows deeper when one considers the intended affect of Kidston’s lies as compared with their actual result. Since the Brandon Bryant case started generating headlines Kidston’s coverage has been aggressively pro-government. He took hours of citizen comment describing the day-to-day difficulties and indignities of living in a city with the 33rd highest income inequality in the nation, flippantly describing citizens as people who express “disdain over development” and “struggle to find meaningful work”.

As Missoula burns, Martin Kidston fiddles with the narrative. Whatever his intention, the actual affect of his yellow-bellied journalism has only been to isolate and alienate his masters from the subjects they seek to rule. As Council Vice President Gwen Jones prophetically observed months ago “battle lines are being drawn”, and as the City of Missoula marches to war against their own informed and engaged citizenry, the elites are literally calling in the Marines to control the “battleground”. Much of what most people know about the United States Marine Corps comes from movies like Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece Full Metal Jacket. And in the City of Missoula’s war on whistleblowers, Martin Kidston distinguishes himself as Missoula’s Gomer Pyle, subjecting his neighbors and peers to the unintended consequences of his own thoughtless bumbling.

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There’s one in every platoon…

But what makes Kidston and Rynearson’s behavior particularly disturbing is the fact  that they themselves are both veterans, cheefully betraying and mocking a fellow veteran who continues to struggle with the blood of our imperialist wars on his hands. This brand of social friendly fire is precisely why many potential whistleblowers remain silent despite acknowledging moral dilemmas and ethical quandaries related to the often questionable necessity of America’s continued military adventurism throughout the world.

Semper Fidelis, Kidston. Perhaps you should remain faithful to the facts next time.

Kidston’s articles have consistently shown a clear dereliction of journalistic integrity and impartiality, omitting even the simple fact that Brandon Bryant is merely accused of a crime, declaring him guilty until proven innocent. The desired affect of Martin Kidston’s coverage has been to smear anti-TIF activists, protect and promote the interests of the Mayor and Council Leadership and sway public opinion against Brandon Bryant.

In effect Kidston aimed to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted. Getting carried away in the current of his own fear narrative, the actual result has further discredited the already shaky reputation of the Missoula Current. Rather than ingratiating himself to his masters in the City government, Kidston has instead spread the taint of his abysmal reputation to those he intended to support. To call Martin Kidston a hack would be an unfair besmirchment to the likes of Kenny Bania.

Kenny Bania

“And what’s the deal with TIF activists? That’s gold, Jerry! Gold!”

After an immediate and appalled response by the community, Kidston has edited his article to remove the fabrication about another citizen producing a threatening video directed at the City Council. However, the fact that the correction had to take place to begin with confirms the warnings of many anti-TIF activists that their fears of systematic and predictable political retaliations are absolutely substantiated. Indeed, Kidston’s coverage of the Brandon Bryant case and the anti-TIF movement has led some Missoula residents to call for a boycott of the Missoula Current’s sponsors, as what remains of the article, post correction, maintains its original tone.


Kidston’s fabrications masquerading as news have actually already made news in Missoula when his blunder was reported on by local poet and political blogger William Skink.

Skink broke the story about Kidston’s fabrication and other conspicuous omissions in the Missoula Current’s 25 February article.

In addition to impassioned public comment, the topic of Brandon Bryant’s detention came up again at the end of the 24 February meeting. During this time Ward 3 councilwoman Heather Harp read a letter to Brandon Bryant that she had painstakingly drafted. In the letter she implores the City to practice compassion and foster understanding and additionally she said that she does not consider Brandon Bryant a threat and called for his immediate release and for charges against him to be dismissed.

Councilwoman Harp has an interesting recent history on the City Council. She was one of the first council members to reach out to the growing community of anti-TIF activists. For her part she has spoken frequently in defense of the City’s use of TIF, but she has distinguished herself from some of her Council colleagues in her willingness to reach out and listen to displeased citizens, attempting to set an example for her peers by engaging in active discourse with citizens who oppose the Council’s agenda.

Unfortunately, her contemporaries have followed a different path. In fact, Councilwoman Harp was recently stripped of her position as Chair of the Administration and Finance Committee. As a career fiduciary, Harp is extremely qualified for this position, as mentioned by fellow supporters, but she was replaced by Council Vice President Gwen Jones. In a rare exercise of candor, Council leadership nominated Jones because of her superior “experience, strategic judgement and collaboration”. They also noted that the Administration and Finance committee is the body that largely oversees decisions regarding TIF funds, and that Council desired someone more capable of “heavy lifting” be the only ones managing the complexities of this highly controversial issue.

 

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Ward 3 Councilwoman Heather Harp

Despite the Missoula Current’s consistent interest in reporting on the Brandon Bryant case, Councilwoman Harp’s letter received no mention in Kidston’s article on the 24 February meeting, a full third of which dedicated itself to attacking members of the public speaking in favor of Brandon Bryant. But nowhere does Kidston see fit to spill a single word describing the actions of a member of the City Council who stood with those members of the public.

The dry description of the procedural non-event that makes up the first two-thirds of the article has been quickly forgotten by readers and seemingly by Kidston himself as the narrative of a sensational fabrication in the Missoula Current’s reporting and its hasty redaction spun beyond Kidston’s control. As reported by William Skink, when asked for comment on the change in question, Kidston replied:

The comment made at City Council was rambling and incoherent at best, moving between first, second and third person points of view. We simply clarified the graph after the gentleman in question called with concerns over how his comments were reflected in the story as a matter of courtesy. His comments were ultimately rebutted by City Council, and we stand by that reporting. Thanks for reaching out.

Skink’s response and the resulting exchange cannot be improved upon, so it is reproduced here:

Seeing this response I wondered why a “rambling, incoherent” public comment was worth including in the story about storage units, while Heather Harp’s letter stating her opinion that charges against Bryant should be dismissed was not included. So I asked Kidston why the rambling comment was more newsworthy than Harp’s letter, and this is his reply:

“We were there to cover the hearing on the storage project. The only reason the issue of the gentleman’s comment was included in the story was because it received sharp criticism from council members and a short dispute over decorum when it came to voting on claims, as it set a negative tone for much of the meeting.”

While Kidston was busy altering his article before the litigious thoughts of the aggrieved commenter got too far, the Missoulian did run an article on this story, and it’s a good article I encourage everyone to read. Here’s an excerpt

Tuesday, Harp shared the reason she wanted to write the letter. She said she was not defending Bryant’s actions but wanted to treat him fairly.

“When we talk about better outcomes for criminal justice reform — especially for a defendant with mental health issues — it requires a paradigm shift in approach,” Harp said. “I advocate for the most vulnerable amongst us to be treated with compassion and fairness.”

At the meeting, Harp said that although Bryant’s actions caused “fear and intimidation,” she does not believe Bryant is a violent person based on time she has spent with him. But she said “there are times when you say violent things, and that scares people. As a City, we have to respond. We have to act to ensure the safety of our citizens. But we must also act with compassion and fairness.”

Heather Harp’s statements seems newsworthy. I hope Martin Kidston can get around to covering this important development in this, a historically significant case that threatens not only to put a well-known whistleblower behind bars for a decade if he is found guilty, but thereby creating dangerous precedent for 1st Amendment rights down the line.

Skink’s eloquence here stretches back to prophetic statements he made back in early December regarding political retaliations, but there was no way to know that local officials would stoop as far as jailing Missoulians who speak out against the interests of the Engen Regime. Perhaps an important detail of the chronology is the fact that four days prior to Bryant’s arrest the Outer Limits published documents leaked by Brandon Bryant which had been given to him as part of a dossier of documents allegedly proving systemic corruption by the Mayor and his cronies. This dossier was given to Brandon by an anonymous source who claimed to be part of the Mayor’s inner circle.

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Jailed Drone Whistleblower Turned Anti-TIF Activist, Brandon Bryant

As media coverage of the Brandon Bryant affair becomes ever more nuanced, coverage in the Missoula Current has instead doubled down on the attacks, targeting citizens opposed to the runaway TIF train and to the politically motivated prosecution of a prominent anti-TIF activist, painting them all with a broad brush as criminals and lunatics. While Kidston’s incredulous smears can be described as ludicrous, unethical and dangerous, they are perhaps connected to the wider attitude of fear and mistrust that injected itself into the veins of this once-quiet riverfront community.

Tensions in the Garden City have been on the rise as quickly as income inequality, and many residents cannot help but see the obvious connection. As the community of artists and free-thinkers that made Missoula great see an autocratic mayoral regime attempting to sell their very homes off to the highest bidder, the citizenry is fighting back, attempting to protect the town they built from an invading army of developers and gentrifiers chomping at the bit to exploit Missoula’s pristine mountains and rivers, rubbing their sweaty palms together as the dollar signs rise into their eyes.


One notable victory for the citizens in the ongoing battle for the soul of Missoula comes in the welcome and surprising news that Missoula’s recently-confirmed new director of development services won’t be taking the job after all. Early in January 2020 the Missoula City council confirmed Josh Martin as their new head of Development Services. Martin was set to make his way up to Missoula from sunny Palm Beach Florida where he planned to smear his gospel of “New Urbanism” all over the face of this riverfront community. Amidst Mayor Engen’s glowing praise heaped on his history of accomplishment in gentrification, Martin promised to streamline the process by which developers would seek approval for large construction projects in the City’s planning bureaucracy. Martin’s tone-deaf promise that under his leadership the City Council approval process would “lead with yes” was met with a less-than-enthusiastic response by those who are skeptical of the City’s development fever. In fact the City Council Committee meeting where Martin was confirmed as director of development services received extensive public comment, all of it opposed to Martin’s appointment.

Public comment was, characteristically, ignored. Martin was appointed to the job and the fight seemed lost, but as reported by William Skink on 26 February, Martin apparently changed his mind. Skink posted this quote from 20 February in the Palm Beach Daily News:

“Two weeks ago the town parted ways with Josh Martin, who resigned as zoning director Feb. 7 after accepting a job in Montana. But Martin, it turns out, isn’t leaving town. He declined the job as development director in Missoula, Mont., he said, and will be working as a consultant, mainly to developer Todd Michael Glaser, on projects in Palm Beach, Miami Beach and elsewhere in South Florida”

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Master of the Municipal Switch-a-roo, Josh Martin

As mentioned, tensions in Missoula over runaway development have never been higher than they are right now. It seems that New Urbanism apostle Josh Martin would rather stay in South Florida than move up to Montana. Perhaps it’s just too hot for him up here…

Thank you William Skink for your diligence and eloquence.

 

Nowhere have the elevated tensions in Missoula been displayed more prominently than in the dramatic downtown lockdown of 12 February 2020. Following a report by a Missoula Police Department officer that his back window had been shot out during a traffic stop on the 400 block of Woody street in the heart of downtown Missoula, the City’s law enforcement infrastructure sprung into action, blocking roads and sealing off the downtown for over 7 hours as they searched for an armed assailant for which they had no physical description and no physical evidence.

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Indeed the de-facto state of Marshal Law throughout downtown Missoula fueled intense speculation, generating suspicion about the stated reason for the lockdown from the very start. And the total absence of any kind of evidence that might corroborate the Missoula Police Department’s original story only intensified the scrutiny. Over two weeks after the incident took place, the MPD finally acknowledged this week what has always been the most likely narrative: that the glass in the patrol car’s back window spontaneously shattered. Thorough examinations including two X-rays of the car found no bullets and no bullet fragments. Many Missoula residents, upon hearing the MPD’s active shooter narrative noted that sometimes auto glass shatters with no discernible cause. Research on the topic reveals plentiful anecdotal evidence of the phenomenon, as reflected in this story from ABC affiliate KTRK Houston:

“All of a sudden we heard a big bang and the glass shattered and we stopped. [I] got out to look to see if anything had hit us and nothing. There [were] no marks, no anything, just shattered glass.”

The Missoula Police Department maintain that their investigation is ongoing, declining to state conclusively that there was no shooter. They have not provided any picture or video of the damaged police car. Many Missoula citizens questioned whether the entire episode might have been an elaborate contrivance, an exercise where the Mayor tested the capabilities of his security infrastructure. It is not inaccurate or disparaging to describe this narrative as a conspiracy theory. It is literally a theory about an elaborate conspiracy. In this case the oft-used moniker is accurate. But if we lived in a world completely free of sinister conspiracies we wouldn’t really need whistleblowers. The fact that whistleblowers exist and that they are so often targets for elimination by the powerful is evidence that SOME conspiracy theories can prove accurate. The point is that the City has thus far been exceptionally tight-lipped regarding all of their shifting theories surrounding the Downtown Occupation, and speculation will continue until evidence is provided to lay those rumors to rest.

One Missoula resident has attempted to secure that evidence directly and legally. J. Kevin Hunt is among the Missoulians openly opposing the city’s highly questionable TIF dealings.

11526558-largeKevin, who grew up in Missoula and attended Rattlesnake Grade School (’72), Hellgate High School (’76) and University of Montana (cum laude, Political Science ’80), was formerly a highly-rated  criminal defense and constitutional lawyer who practiced in Oregon for three decades after graduating from law school there in 1984. Hunt’s practice quickly gained a reputation for representing the defenseless and oppressed, devoting much of his career to representing persons facing the death penalty, in both trial and appellate courts including the Supreme Court of the United States. Every death sentence he challenged was vacated and one client was even freed after five years on death row. Having returned to Missoula in 2018, he intends to be admitted to the Montana Bar by motion within the next year, after reinstating active Oregon Bar membership.

While in Oregon, Kevin co-organized  a citizen group that exposed corruption and abuse in Oregon City’s misuse of Tax Increment Financing (TIF). With former Oregon City Mayor John Williams, Kevin was co-Chief Petitioner for a city initiative drive vigorously opposed by the town oligarchs as well as their Mayor and City Commission minions. His efforts culminated in amendment of the city charter to prohibit bonded indebtedness for urban renewal without voter approval. An unheard of eclectic right/left coalition of Green Party and Americans for Prosperity activists promoted the ballot measure, which brought socialism for the rich to a halt in Oregon City.

Throughout his career, Kevin has been a frequent target of spurious attacks, false indictment and retribution for his justice-seeking activities. He learned the risks of whistleblowing when less than six months after passing the Oregon Bar, he provided classified information to a Congressman regarding fraud against taxpayers being committed by Kevin’s then-employer, a government contractor. Kevin was promptly fired, followed, wiretapped, and falsely accused, by complaint to the Oregon State Bar, of various ridiculous criminal offenses by the international law firm representing the contractor in an effort to set aside the successful unionization drive Kevin also spearheaded. A few months after Kevin beat the law firm in the National Labor Relations Board and was exonerated by the Oregon Bar of the contractor’s serious allegations (in part due to the Congressman writing to the Bar that Kevin’s provision of the confidential evidence of fraud was consistent with his obligation under federal law to “expose corruption wherever found”) the contractor pled guilty to defrauding the federal  government.

Twenty years later, Kevin was a background source for investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, who was at the time writing his best-seller “Chain of Command” exposing the U.S. military’s torture of innocent civilians held captive at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq; the same government contractor was involved in the torture.

Here in Missoula’s present moment, Kevin has sent a number of letters to high-ranking City officials following Bryant’s arrest. One such letter is addressed to Mayor John Engen, Council President von Lossberg, Council Vice President Jones, and Alderpersons. In the letter, Hunt cites Article II, section 9 of the Montana Constitution. The Montana Constitution asserts the public’s “Right to know”, stating that:

“No person shall be deprived of the right to examine documents or to observe the deliberations of all public bodies or agencies of state government and its subdivisions, except in cases in which the demand of individual privacy clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure.”

Hunt argues that:

“[The] inadequately explained show of paramilitary force, the official justification for which contains assertions by Missoula Police contradicted by citizen photographic evidence and contemporaneous reporting of a Missoulian journalist’s personal on-scene observations, have had a chilling affect on the people’s exercise of two other fundamental rights enshrined in Article II of our 1972 state Constitution”

Hunt’s letter clearly and formally requests information from the Mayor, City Council leadership and newly assigned Missoula Police Chief Jaeson White (who will officially take over the job starting on the first of March). He concludes with the following list of actions that are demanded not by Hunt, but by the Montana State Constitution:

1. Mr. Von Lossberg, Mayor Engen and all Alderpersons: disclose the totality of circumstances under which you became aware of You Tube videos featuring edited allocutions by internationally acclaimed drone war crimes whistleblower, PTSD-afflicted veteran and Missoula TIF abuse opponent Ret. Sgt. (USAF) Brandon Bryant. Specifically, publicly disclose and release the entirety of all communications among you, and between any of you and ex-Air Force drone warrior, Ret. Maj. (USAF) Rick Rynearson, producer of You Tube channel “Pick Your Battles,” said to be a weapon of continuous intimidation of Mr. Bryant casting him in a false light, by featuring out-of-context, edited clips cherry-picked from Mr. Bryant’s personal therapeutic vlog.

2. Mayor Engen, Missoula Police Chief White: disclose the full truth and totality of circumstances surrounding the unprecedented 12 February imposition of de facto Martial Law, including any and all communications evidencing planning of a Feb. 12 exercise, execution of such an exercise under pretense, coordination with Lake County officials regard such an exercise, and any allusion therein to a nexus between the aforementioned Brandon Bryant affair and the referenced events of 12 February.

The inclusion of the connection to Brandon Bryant’s situation will prove significant, not only for Bryant who is still incarcerated and undergoing legal proceedings relating to his charge of “threats and undue influence in official and political matters”. Only time will tell if these legal demands will be addressed adequately or at all. Anyone who has given public comment before the City Council knows how easy it seems to be for them to ignore public comment. Mr. Hunt will soon find out if they think they can ignore formal legal demands with the same impunity.

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The chilling images of police snipers perched atop the courthouse roof and SWAT teams in armored vehicles rolling down the streets give silent testimony to the shock-and-awe power that can and will be brought to bare against those who attack the City’s armed enforcers. Monopoly of force is a reliable, time-tested tactic of the powerful to assert dominance. But TIF activists who now feel vulnerable in Missoula’s tense atmosphere have never fought with the weapons of war that were employed by law enforcement during the February lockdown.

TIF activists have only ever fought with their words, satire and art. Now that the MPD has essentially acknowledged that their militarized takeover of the downtown was predicated upon an overreaction, since no armed attack on police ever took place, the fact that the whole fiasco was perpetrated ostensibly to protect Missoulians from a non-existent attacker is cold comfort.

Also troubling to attentive Missoula residents is the considerable price tag for this downtown war game. The overwhelming tactical response unfortunately didn’t come cheap, and between the seven-hour lockdown and the citywide increased police presence that followed, the City racked up a bill estimated at a whopping $1.5 million.

Emergency operations of this magnitude can run a minimum of $100,000 for costs associated with the Fire Department alone, and that’s a conservative projection. Estimated cumulatively, the coordinated response by City, County, State and Federal agencies can cost up to $250,000 per agency depending on the many hidden charges associated with these kinds of logistical concentrations, such as the costs associated with mobilizing and maintaining armored personnel carriers including the activation of special and expensive insurance policies; hazard pay for the paramilitary forces deployed; overtime pay for first responders who were called up from their days off and regularly scheduled shift breaks. Adding all these factors together under the uncertain cloud cast by the City’s opaque bookkeeping, we feel confident that a total cost of $1.5 million is a conservative estimate.

Where else have we seen Missoula drop that kind of money on an oppressive downtown eyesore? None other than the income-inequality generating engine that is Stockman Bank! An institution that received $1.5 million in Tax Increment Financing dollars, buying it’s own bonds and charging the City 4% interest; loaning us their own corporate handout at interest. The downtown lockdown of 12 February 2020 spent a Stockman Bank’s worth of City tax dollars in a single day.

cdffa23f-a7a0-4da6-829c-32d4d4571b5c-large16x9_stockman2Speaking of Stockman Bank, they’ve been grabbing headlines again recently, this time not for their highly irregular $1.5 million dollar TIF handout, but for an unrelated outrage, which is objectively too terrible to be made up. As reported by the Associated Press last month:

“A former commercial loan assistant at Stockman Bank has been sentenced to nearly five years in federal prison for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from the accounts of two customers, including a mentally incompetent elderly man.”

Shawn Al Logan, 31, of Shepherd, pleaded guilty to theft, embezzlement, aggravated identity theft and other charges in October. District Judge Susan Watters sentenced him Thursday to four years and nine months in prison, followed by five years of supervised release.


The emperor’s new clothes are on full display for all to see. The rulers are exposed, and look more and more silly with every new attempt to sweep the inconvenient facts under the rug. The MPD in particular have received extensive criticism over the extreme nature of their response, as well as it’s unintended consequences, which are still unfolding. But when questioned if the lockdown was an appropriate reaction to the perceived threat, Missoula interim police chief Mike Colyer said that he had no regrets about deploying fully armed tactical teams downtown.

“It is all about ensuring safety at that point. The safety, first and foremost, of any uninvolved third party in the area; the safety of our officers to have the right people there with the right training and equipment to handle that mission.”

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I don’t know about you, but when I think of snipers, the first thing that comes to mind is safety. Consider how this event has triggered many Missoula area veterans.  The urban center of our home temporarily resembled horrors witnessed abroad. As a result, many Missoula veterans are reporting increased nightmares, increased anxiety attacks, and increased PTSD symptoms.

What is certain is that all parties involved, both citizen and first responder alike, both civilian and veteran alike, agree this unfortunate overreaction has hurt local morale and regret that circumstances forced this unprecedented mobilization as a necessary procedure. Spontaneous window shatterings are spooky indeed, and could understandably cause a worst-case-scenario reaction in an official trained to deal with such situations.

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A Missoula Police car being towed away from its downtown location. As yet the City has not released any photos of the rear window of the police car that was allegedly damaged. Photo credit: Edward O’Brien / Montana Public Radio

While Colyer and the MPD have, after long delay, been somewhat forthcoming about the complete lack of evidence to support their active shooter narrative, their positions dictate they play the hand they were dealt. One can hardly expect the interim police chief to state publicly that their armed takeover of the city center violated the civil rights of the public they are sworn to protect, or to throw the Mayor under the bus and pass the blame for such an extreme response.

But Mayor Engen’s role in the management of the downtown occupation should not be ignored. Local media reported in the aftermath of the lockdown that Mayor Engen oversaw the entire response from a fortified command center where he called in City, County, State, and Federal law enforcement agencies, including the MPD, Missoula County Sheriffs, Montana Highway Patrol, FBI, US Marshalls, Department of Interior and even Fish Wildlife and Parks.

With very few exceptions, most movie buffs loudly decry sequels as inherently inferior to originals. One prominent exception is the classic second installment of the Star Wars Trilogy: The Empire Strikes Back. Just over eight years after the October 2011 citizen movement of Occupy Missoula created an enduring presence on the courthouse lawn in protest of systemic income inequality, Missoula has finally debuted a blockbuster sequel: Occupy Missoula II: The Engen Regime Strikes Back.

bvlAs discussed in a previous Outer Limits article, it seems naïve to believe that the Brandon Bryant affair played no role in the intensity of this response, taking place as it did less than 24 hours after Bryant’s arrest. Most Missoulians, including many City officials were unaware that Bryant was already in custody at the Missoula County Detention Facility, allowing speculation to run wild among both citizens and City officials alike that it was Brandon responsible for the “shooting”. The few people in a position to refute these rumors did what they could to quell runaway conjecture, but such a tense and dramatic situation added fuel to the fire that had already been kindled by Council President Bryan von Lossberg and others in their statements about the threatening nature of Bryant’s presence at City Council meetings.

The line between rumors and deliberate obfuscation of the facts became even cloudier when The Hellgate Lance actually put into print that Bryant was indeed the assailant responsible for shooting out the rear window of a police squad car:

 

HELLGATE LANCE 12 FEB 2020

“Brandon Bryant, the cause of all of the chaos this past Wed. was arrested and taken into custody on Thurs., Feb. 13… Bryant reportedly shot out the back glass of a police patrol car, fired shots outside of City Hall, and posted a video where he said that he would, “hunt people and exterminate them.”

This piece’s author, Maggie Vann, is still a high school student at Hellgate High. She’s young and inexperienced as a journalist, but already picking up bad habits from the wrong crowd. How any editorial board – even at a high school newspaper – could make such damning and egregious errors is already astonishing. But Martin Kidston, a grown man, intentionally fueling the fires of misinformation and adding to the confusion with deliberate propaganda, seems to be the real offender in all of this.

The connection between Bryant and the downtown lockdown persists only in the minds of lazy thinkers. The parallel may have seemed apropos since the events happened more or less simultaneously; Bryant was arrested on 11 FEB and the city went on lockdown on 12 FEB. Even those in the MPD aware of the facts of Bryant’s arrest and detention seemed rather quick to preemptively assume that Wednesday’s apparent “attack” on the Missoula Police Department was armed retribution against Bryant’s arrest, possibly by one of his friends or supporters, possibly even by some of the other anti-TIF activists who spoke alongside him at City Council meetings.

As reported by Montana Public Radio, “Interim Police Chief Mike Colyer said he erred on the side of public safety, even if that meant inconveniencing the public for a while”.

For Missoula’s countless residents who value freedom and safety (or who are simply wary of jumpy soldiers with assault rifles searching door-to-door for an armed assailant for whom they have no physical description) the downtown lockdown likely felt like something more than a mere “inconvenience”. And for those citizens who enthusiastically exercise their right to participate in local government and spoke out against the City’s pro-development agenda, the armed occupation of downtown Missoula felt anything but safe to them.

Part of the City Council’s justification for banning Brandon Bryant from Council meetings in the first place was that angry outbursts like the one he displayed on 18 November 2019 could have the effect of making citizens afraid to come down to Council meetings to voice their opinions. In the wake of Bryant’s arrest and vigorous prosecution, the fear many citizens now have of continuing to raise their voices is more than just a theory. They’ve looked on as public comment regulars stopped showing up to meetings. And on top of it all, Council leadership have been explicitly informed that the citizens feel afraid of them.

Council President Bryan von Lossberg broke protocol during public comment, decrying a clear communication of the fear they have inspired in the public, as a “personal attack”. Where is Councilman von Lossberg’s outrage over the violation of the public trust inherent in an armed occupation of downtown? Where is Councilman von Lossberg’s outrage over the silencing of a decorated veteran who dedicated himself to “eliminating” the grim specter of cronyism from his hometown’s local government? Where is Councilman von Lossberg’s outrage over the dramatic erosion of public trust in the democratic process? One can hardly expect Bryan von Lossberg to feel the sting of these oh-so-personal attacks on the citizenry. After all, he is one of the cadre of despots behind those attacks on the community.

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Gabrielle Lafayette is the executive producer for the Outer Limits Radio Show. This cache of thought is presented free of charge as a service and gift to you. May our eternal vigilance help liberate all beings from the smoke-and-mirrors deceptions of the Samsaric Panopticon.

Montana’s Jackson Hole

If you’ve been having trouble keeping up with business closures in Missoula lately, you’re not alone. Just when it seems the situation in here couldn’t possibly grow more absurd, even more iconic local businesses and longtime Missoula institutions forever closed their doors this month, including Pita Pit, Green Light, Lucky’s Market and JCPenny. The dust has barely settled from the last round of closures, claiming the Old Post American Legion Hall, Iza and Zoo Brew, among many others, all within the space of three months

Many displaced shopkeepers say they were forced to close down because their landlords increased rents. Others were obliged to vacate after property taxes suddenly multiplied. Both reasons highlight the effects of Missoula’s ongoing gentrification disaster.

The Green Light’s shop owner Sabrina Smith corroborates this fact. She says that after 11 and-a-half years working retail in downtown Missoula, she is retiring because her rent increased last January by about 30%, then increased again due to property taxes.

And the same vice squeezing locals out of their business is likewise pinching residents from what affordable homes remain that haven’t yet been bulldozed to install giant monuments of gentrification; projects that permanently contaminate entire neighborhoods with construction blight, ugly architecture, and fly-by-night tourists who only spend their summers in Missoula and consider the locals their compliant servants.

26% of Missoula’s work force must now commute from outside of Missoula largely because they cannot afford to live in town anymore. A chilling parallel to the housing crisis currently playing out in California’s Bay Area, where housing prices have ballooned to such an absurd degree that an annual salary of $120,000 is now considered “low income.”

Additionally, as many as 40% of Missoula residents are what is referred to as “income independent”, meaning they do not have to rely on income from local wages to pay for their costs of living here. Some of these residents are remote workers who draw silicone-valley level incomes from out of state businesses, while still others are simply independently wealthy people who do not need to work at all.

But Missoula’s income disparity insinuates an even more chilling reality. It’s the case today that 24% of people living in Missoula are one-percenters. Considering that Missoula’s income disparity is now the 33rd highest in the nation, it would seem Missoula isn’t so much becoming the “Austin of the Northwest” as it is to becoming Montana’s Jackson Hole.

Locals aren’t happy about this deadly trend, and they’re starting to become savvy to its causes. And one cause increasingly stands out above the rest: the misuse and abuse of Tax Increment Financing (TIF).

TIF constitutes an elaborate taxpayer-giveaway scheme that bankrupts cities through a morbid process of death-by-a-thousand-cuts. This kind of Voodoo economics directly causes property taxes to spike, in-turn causing rents to skyrocket, thus displacing locals and gentrifying entire communities.

But some TIFs are more egregious than others. The Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA) are all-too happy to cough up TIF money, even to organizations who don’t ask for it. But when developers hold the blight gun to the city’s head, they coerce our public officials to ensnare us all in highly regrettable quagmires that accelerate the decay of our fragile community.

Five years ago Peter Lambros threatened the MRA with “mall blight” if it didn’t cough up millions in public financing for a road, namely the Mary’s Avenue extension. Lambros said millions had already been invested, claiming that without public TIF the whole deal would collapse.

plPeter Lambros presented a cartoonishly-dismal picture, threatening “future blight” if the city didn’t grant the Lambros Cartel millions in taxpayer subsidies to build that unnecessary road. The Lambros Cartel and Southgate Mall Associates got their $7.6 dollars of public money, plus several more millions in additional TIF money, then turned around and flipped the entire property to Ohio-based Washington Prime for $58 million.

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More than $8.6 million in taxpayer money was spent on the Mary’s extension

But it gets even better!

Not only did MRA director Ellen Buchanan assure us that it’s fine for Peter Lambros to screw over the taxpayers of Missoula so brazenly because apparently Missoula requires a better road to the mall, when asked whether Lambros would have to repay the millions of taxpayer dollars granted to them through TIF, Buchanan dug in even further:

As reported by Sarah Gravlee last week:

Ellen Buchanan Director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, the group that manages TIF funding, said the city has been trying to identify an east-west connection between Reserve Street and Brooks Street for decades. This project gave them that opportunity.

So, that’s what the money’s for,” Buchanan concluded. “It’s for a city street.”

The only problem with that story is that this so-called “public” street was requested by Peter Lambros specifically to get Lucky’s Market into Southgate.

Buchanan knows that, and she knows it looks bad.

According to Councilman Jesse Ramos, that road was explicitly requested by Peter Lambros to get more customers into his mall. “It’s in the minutes for that meeting,” he says. “It’s public record.”

So is Buchanan lying?

It seems obvious that the road would naturally be desired by Lambros for the purposes of attracting customers into the parking lot, but Buchanan continues to spin it as nothing more than a benefit for the community. Unfortunately, locals are well aware that these millions in TIF subsidies did little more than complete a road that nobody uses except to access Southgate Mall. Indeed, the very shape of the road itself indicates to whom its fruits would benefit, and it wasn’t the Missoula community. What a great deal for Lambros, and yet another cold shoulder for Missoula taxpayers.

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From WGM’s 2015 TIF proposal for Southgate

The above map featuring “SOUTHGATE MALL” indicates “JCPENNY” on the western corner and “OLD SEARS” on the eastern. That “old Sears” would become Lucky’s Market. Both businesses are directly contiguous with this road which was meant to give life to them. A superb example of the fact that no speculator, no matter how well spoken, has a crystal ball for what the future will bring.

And even as the ideology of the MRA’s master-plan narrative crumbles, Ellen Buchanan doubles down on the vapid claim that the City desired this unnecessary road through that part of town since the 1990’s. But the only reason anybody would ever use that road is to go to the mall or the shops around the mall. Trying to navigate that area is a nightmare, new road notwithstanding.

With malls across the country closing down and boarding up, Lambros was clever enough to realize that “future blight” might become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even though Southgate wasn’t a “mall” anymore, choosing instead to identify as a “Mixed-Use Town Center,” it remained just as susceptible to the same economic forces currently driving all brick and mortars out of business nationwide as it was before.

Lambros clearly knew this. So he flipped the mall while it was still profitable to do so, but not before taxpayers built him this unnecessary road to make the sale more appealing. And Washington Prime Group did indeed bite for $58 million.

You’re welcome Peter.

Mary-Avenue

From the developer’s standpoint at the time, the sole purpose of the Mary’s Avenue extension was to direct more traffic into the mall so that the owners could entice Lucky’s to move in. Because of this poor decision from the Council, tens of millions of dollars will be diverted from roads, from police, from fires, from schools, to benefit wealthy business owners.

But Southgate is just the tip of the iceberg!

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Millions more in TIF was extracted from taxpayers to build the South Reserve Bridge. Mayor Engen and other TIF addicts claimed at the time that connecting the trails would relieve blight all along the bike trail; yet another excellent example of inappropriate abuse of the TIF statute through creative interpretation of the law.

When it comes to abusing the TIF statute, Urban Renewal District III really takes the cake. The Reserve Street pedestrian bridge that stands just a few short blocks away from the Southgate Mall, added an additional $5 million burden onto Missoula taxpayers, in an area of town that doesn’t seem “blighted” by any logical metric to thus justify TIF funding.

When asked how Larchmont Golf Course and a thriving industrial zone could possibly be considered “blighted”, MRA director Ellen Buchanan said at the time that the bridge “completed the trail, and people love to build on riverfront properties.” So even though the bridge didn’t eliminate blight in that specific area (URDIII), it apparently eliminated blight down the path, illustrating once again the desperate lengths these TIF addicts will go to justify their addiction.

This week, Councilman Jesse Ramos appeared on KGVO to elaborate:

“Urban Renewal District III, that’s the one the bridge is in … goes from the walking bridge, wraps all the way around Cabela’s, wraps back around 39th, wraps around the fairgrounds, wraps down through Bancroft, hits Mount, wraps all the way back around Reserve, and then comes around. It’s one square mile, so it’s a massive, massive district. It was created in the year 2000 because it was blighted, according to Montana Code Annotated.

urd3

Ramos continues:

As defined by Montana Code Annotated, “blighted property” is “an area that is conducive to ill health, transmission of disease, infant mortality, juvenile deliquency, and crime.”

Ramos explains that the district had a $10 million tax base in 2000. When the tax revenue was divided roughly equally, a third went to the city, a third went to the county, and a third went to the schools. In 2000, TIF funding froze the process. The only tax revenue going to the city, county and Missoula schools was a part of the original $10 million tax base. Property taxes still increased, but any increase in the tax base was skimmed off of the top and went to the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. TIF funding must be reinvested back in the same district; along with the pedestrian bridge construction, some of that TIF funding went towards the Missoula Mercantile, [to] construction at Southgate Mall, and [to] Stockman Bank.

“That TIF money is only supposed to be used for 15 years, so that district was created in 2000 and was supposed to sunset after 15 years,” Ramos explained. “But there’s a small provision within Montana Code Annotated which states that if you settle debt within the district, it extends the district out the length of the bond for a maximum of 40 years total. In September of 2015, the city council sold $5 million worth of bonds for that walking bridge built with TIF funds, and extended that district out until the year 2040. So, all the growth in that tax base is going to be skimmed off the top until the year 2040.”

And what company was it that helped “reimagine” Missoula’s Southgate Mall? The now notorious WGM Group; an organization with players working inside the Missoula City Council and other local government posts. The same organization now proposing the ludicrous commercial rezone that would bulldoze several historic buildings and displace Missoula locals to build luxury condos, blighting the skyline of Missoula and uprooting the fragile foundations of our community for all time. For once this spot zone is deemed legal, we open a Pandora’s Box of developments just like this all over Missoula in the form of precedent.

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And on top of it all, the MRA, headed by Ellen Buchanan, awarded $50,000 in TIF subsidies to Lucky’s Market itself. That’s $50,000 that Missoula taxpayers are told would come back to us as a “return on investment” through property taxes generated by Lucky’s. But it’s awful hard to collect property taxes from the business we’re subsidizing when those businesses go belly-up in their first 24 months.

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On top of it all, there’s the interest to think about, since TIF projects are bonded out, putting the city, and thus the taxpayers at its base, in astronomical debt. From a $7 million TIF we can expect at least an additional $5 million in interest to accrue, putting Missoula Taxpayers out by at least $12 million for a road to benefit a mall that is closing down like every other mall in America. And the trend indicates that’s exactly what’s happening. Because it isn’t just Lucky’s closing down shop.

Friday, Southgate Mall owners announced JCPenney’s would also close their doors, though the mall has indicated that it will announce plans for “redevelopment” of the JCPenney location soon; “redevelopment” that will likely involve even more TIF subsidies, awarded in vein to delay the inevitable sinking of Southgate.

Astonishingly, the city’s justification for these monies was to prevent “future blight” – a term that does not exist under state law, further illustrating the blatant misuse and abuses of the TIF statute.

It is not the job of the taxpayer to bail out private business, and if the mall is going to close we’re not going to stop it no matter how many tens of millions of taxpayer dollars we decide to throw at it.

When will Mayor Engen, the Missoula City Council, and the unelected TIF addicts working for the MRA, realize that they cannot take on Jeff Bezos and Amazon with taxpayer handouts?

We can’t reverse a nationwide economic trend with TIF subsidies!

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Gabrielle Lafayette is the executive producer for the Outer Limits Radio Show. This cache of thought is presented free of charge as a service and gift to you. May our eternal vigilance help liberate all beings from the smoke-and-mirrors deceptions of the Samsaric Panopticon.

Heather Harp Claims Average Citizens Too Ignorant To Understand TIF Law

Every time the City Council vote “yes” on inappropriate TIF subsidies, they confirm that short-term gains are more important than long-term sustainability.

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The death of iconic local businesses like the Old Post American Legion Hall, Iza Asian Restaurant and now Pita Pit and The Green Light, all within the space of three months, confirms that the heart and soul of Missoula is disappearing before our very eyes; the latest examples of a terrifying trend. Countless other Missoula staples have been forced to close in recent years, including institutions like Uptown Diner, the Red Bird, and Stage 112, just to name a few. Many displaced shopkeepers say they were forced to close down because their new landlords increased their rents by astronomical amounts, while others were obliged to vacate after property taxes suddenly multiplied. And the very same vice squeezing locals out of their business spaces is likewise pinching residents from affordable homes.

26% of Missoula’s work force must commute from outside of Missoula largely because they can’t afford to live in town anymore. A chilling parallel to the housing crisis currently playing out in California’s Bay Area, where housing prices have ballooned to such an absurd degree that an annual salary of $120,000 is now considered “low income.”

Considering that Missoula’s income disparity is now the 33rd highest in the nation, it would seem we’re not that far from experiencing Frisco’s affordable housing woes.

part zoo

Locals aren’t happy about this deadly trend, and they’re starting to become savvy to its causes. One cause increasingly stands out above the rest: the misuse and abuse of Tax Increment Financing (TIF). An elaborate taxpayer-giveaway scheme that causes property taxes to spike, in-turn causing rents to skyrocket, and in-turn displacing locals and gentrifying entire communities.

For those who say “correlation is not necessarily causation,” former defense attorney Kevin Hunt corroborates our worst suspicions:

“Although it was said that ‘general taxes in the community won’t be affected,’ we know that these TIF projects have, in fact, already drastically increased property taxes for some people in this city. The Missoulian has already written articles about what’s happened to people like Office Supply; people who are downtown. When we start bookending these projects around these locally owned businesses – icons – familiy businesses, who were presented with property tax bills that had suddenly tripled, and because of that, their landlords now are jacking up their rents and they don’t know if they’re going to remain in business. …

“What happens is a lot of times these people do go out of business, and then the buildings are snapped up. And they’re snapped up by people like Nick Checota. Not that he would do it. But others with the funds to do it, they snap them up at a discount. Often they then end up demolished because they’re declared “blighted” and then we use more TIF. And what do we do with the more TIF? We demolish these buildings. We maybe save a facade or two. And pretty soon Missoula doesn’t look like a western town anymore.”

Jesse

Countless subversive “lost cat” posters appearing all over town seem to signal a mobilization within the community, many of whom consider the current state of Missoula nothing short of an emergency situation. An emergency that officials are now attempting to ameliorate with its very causes: inappropriate TIF subsidies that set dangerous precedents for the further abuse of the TIF law.

Councilman Jesse Ramos posted the “lost cat” on facebook, adding:

These were found all over Missoula this weekend. It is time the council has a serious discussion about TIF.

Our streets are in disrepair, our police are understaffed, our citizens are being taxed out of their homes and now the city wants a sales tax to cover these basic services. Yet oftentimes when a wealthy developer comes to the city with their hand out they walk away with millions.

Not only does TIF cause the city tax rate to go up but it also puts upward pressure on the county and school district taxes.

The latest case in point is unfortunately the Missoula Food Bank – an organization about which I have nothing but positive things to say. It’s an indispensable lifeline that’s helped me and many of the people I know navigate difficult times. I’ve even volunteered there. But this TIF is blatantly inappropriate, highlighting the creative misuse of the law.

First and foremost TIFs are only supposed to be used for the “elimination of blight,” and the Missoula Food Bank currently resides in a brand new building. Can anyone really tell us with a straight face that a brand new building can be considered blighted?

Far from it.

The present director of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA) Ellen Buchanan showed up in the flesh on Monday night not only to double down on the misuse of TIF funding, but also to tell us that she’s not required to follow the common understanding of the law, leaning instead on its many possible interpretations:

“I think one thing that comes into play here is the fact that in order to create an urban renewal district, you have to make findings of blight. And the definition of blight is laid out in State Law and it includes, you know, a dozen or better different conditions and you have to meet so many of those in order to declare an area blighted. And I think what that’s translated into for a lot of people is that Tax Increment Financing dollars can only be used to address those specific things that are laid out in that definition of blight.”

MT definition of BLIGHT

Current standards for defining “blight” in the State of Montana. As the law is written, proposed projects that hope to make use of TIF funds are required to honor this provision. Unfortunately, it’s still an extremely low standard that allows for the abuse of TIF because virtually anything can be considered “blight” under such loose conditions.

Buchanan continues:

“But if you read the statute in its entirety, there are references all through the statute to things that really speak to this type of project. In the preliminary statement of policy it says that, it’s declared that blighted areas which constitute a serious and growing menace, injurious to the public health and safety and morale, that the existence of such areas constitutes an economic and social liability. There is reference to health and safety throughout the statutes. And there also is authorization in the statute to use TIF funds for the acquisition of real property, to provide land for public facilities. I would argue this is a public facility. By virtue of the relationship with the county and the nonprofit status and the community that it serves. And I’m not going to bore you with all of the references in the statute. But I was aware of the issues that Geoff Badenoch raised back in October. He raised those. The city attorney responded in almost exactly the same way that I have addressed this tonight.

“We’re going to buy that property. We’re going to buy a portion of that building. And it will be for a public use. That’s no different than using TIF funds to buy a piece of land, and building a public park for public use. So I don’t know how you make the argument that this is an inappropriate use of TIF funding. It’s throughout the statute. I think that State Law enables us to do this. This serves a public purpose, like almost all of the dollars that we spend do. So I’m happy to try to answer questions, but I would encourage you to read through the statute and find those references that are to something besides water and sewer and streets and sidewalks.”

Bryan von Lossberg: “Thanks for clarifying. So Mr. Badenoch’s comments were back in October?”

Ellen Buchanan: “They were.”

Actually, they weren’t.

At least not if they’re referring to Badenoch’s comments quoted earlier at that same meeting. Said comment does not come from October of 2019 at all, but appears rather in response to last week’s hit-piece by the Missoula Current: Despite Conservative Opposition, Missoula City Council Approves Funding for Health Clinic at Food Bank.

The article’s author, Martin Kidston, gaslights his readers by dishonestly characterizing Jesse Ramos and other TIF skeptics as “conservative” in order to portray all critics of TIF as classist snobs who hate poor people. After all, why else would anyone vote against this Food Bank/Partnership Health Center deal?

Geoff Badenoch explains exactly why:

“Let me say first off, I am all for helping public health clinics and food banks with public funds. Second, on most issues, I would not agree with Jesse Ramos. [But] on this issue of TIF funds, I think there is less daylight between our views. One does not have to be “conservative” or “liberal” to examine the purposes for which the Montana State Legislature empowered local governments to use TIF as a tool for redevelopment. It is essentially a tool meant to correct physical deficiencies that create social problems. Assemble and/or Clear land. Expand or relocate utilities. Plan. Build curbs, gutters, sidewalks and streets. Build parks. Missoula has used it to build other government or public facilities.

“I am concerned about this particular use because it has been the case all over the country that municipalities cannot resist the temptation to use TIF in ever more expansive ways and state legislatures have almost always responded by removing that tool from local governments.

“Anyone can go to mt.gov and look up the urban renewal statutes in the Montana Codes Annotated. Simply look in Title 7-15, Parts 42 and 43. Read it yourself and see if this issue as not as clear cut as it appears. I think we need to be terribly circumspective about these expansive uses of TIF. This particular use might even be worth referring to the State Attorney General for an opinion as to its legality.

“TIF is too important a tool to be used without serious and deep consideration, regardless of the good outcome that may come for the clients of the Partnership Health Center, a brilliant institution that itself does wonderful work.”

Geoff Tiger Prawn Badenoch

Fun fact about Geoff Badenoch: he worked Ellen Buchanan’s job as MRA director for 18 years, from 1985 to 2003. I’m betting he probably knows what he’s talking about.

This is not to suggest that Ellen Buchanan doesn’t know what she’s talking about. The above quote is a concise illustration of how the evolution of the TIF law since the 1970’s consistently results in wider and wider interpretations of the law, lending itself to misuse and abuse over time.

When TIF addicts hit the TIF pipe too much, they force legislators at the state level to take this “imperfect tool” away from municipalities. Historically this is invariably what occurs in every state where dependent municipalities inevitably fall victim to TIF addiction. Tax Increment Financing in California has driven several cities to declare bankruptcy, compelling California legislators to take away the TIF toys forever.

Buchanan declared that blighted areas constitute a serious and growing menace. But for many Missoulians, the only serious and growing menace that directly threatens the health and safety of their families is the prospect of raised rents that price them out of Missoula. Property owners are worried about the serious and growing menace of exploding property tax bills that force them to sell their property to speculators. And our fragile community is terrified about the serious and growing menace of gentrification.

As of this writing, Missoula housing prices have soared to a record high of $315k. As reported by David Erickson last week:

“Housing prices continue to behave like a runaway helium balloon in the Garden City, while wages behave like a child on the ground with hands toward the sky, watching as the gap gets larger. Missoula’s median home sales price soared to a record high of $315,000 in 2019, a jump of 8.62% from the 2018 price of $290,000. … Andrea Davis, the executive director of the nonprofit Homeword in Missoula… noted that a person or a family would need an income of around $100,000 a year to afford a median-priced home in Missoula.”

The constant abuse of taxpayer money through endless TIF results in runaway housing prices that in-turn cause property taxes to explode, thereby displacing entire generations out of the neighborhoods they grew up in but can no longer afford. Then those newly abandoned areas are declared “blighted” enabling subsequent waves of gentrification to violently uproot the last vestiges of formerly-strong communities.

As Ryan McMaken further authenticates:

“Tax Increment Financing (TIF) legislation is geared not toward low-cost housing, but toward new commercial development. Often, that development is built where “unsightly” (but affordable) housing once existed. Its destruction is encouraged by government policy.”

Missoula-born local Lily Elison identifies how everybody loses when communities become gentrified:

“It is the inner-woven lives of individuals which creates a community … If we do not hold space for our local people and historic places, we will lose what makes this city worth living in. We will see a serious loss of security in our streets as life-long neighbors and childhood friends are replaced with strangers who have no community ties or responsibility to this place.

“I don’t want to see our history bulldozed. I don’t want to see skyscrapers instead of mountains. And I definitely don’t want to see my people in tent villages, because that’s what’s happening in Portland right now, because of their gentrification, because they’re pushing people out.

“And just think. What if it was your home that they were asking you to leave? What if it was your home?”


YOU JUST DON’T LIKE IT BECAUSE YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND IT

A persistent myth elected officials use to justify these taxpayer giveaway schemes is that ordinary folks are just “too dumb” to understand TIF. Indeed, any TIF addict relies on this myth as their primary rebuttal to the concerns of locals. Earlier at Monday’s meeting, Missoula local and longtime TIF critic Robert Moore — a man who spent the bulk of his career as the Chief Financial Officer for Fortune 500 Companies — approached the lectern to dispel an awful myth:

“Here’s an article where some of the members of the City Council are saying that the reason we don’t agree with TIF is that we don’t understand it. Well let me tell you – I do understand it. And I think all of you all understand it. You’ve just got a different purpose in mind. You want to give ten-million-dollars to the shopping center; four-million-dollars to Stockman Bank, that’s got a balance sheet of 2 or 3 billion dollars, and a surplus of 300-million-dollars.

“Tax Increment Financing is something we all need to learn more about, but at the same time Mrs. Harp [deflects] question[s] about it by saying, ‘You just don’t like it because you don’t understand it.’

“I understand it very well. It’s nothing but taking taxpayer money and giving it to developers and builders, and calling it ‘investment’.

“I think TIF oughta be disbanded.”

HH

Councilwoman Heather Harp

When it was Heather Harp’s turn to speak to Mr. Moore’s comments, she reiterated the very myth he sought to dispel, suggesting once again that people just don’t understand the law:

“I think one of the things that has often eluded a lot of folks, and frankly I don’t blame you, is because you don’t necessarily have all the facts. And I think we have a long ways to go in this community in terms of being able to tell a compelling story about why TIF is good. We know it has been good for us for 40 years. But going forward how how can we reshape that, so that folks understand?

“We also face the fact that we only have one tool in our toolbox in terms of being able to actually remedy our economic decline in these certain neighborhoods.

“Jesse, from time to time we’ve gotten into conversations about the merits and the demerits of our one and only tool. And I come down to this point of view that you can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. This is the only thing we have. And at this point in time we have 600 people that need services of all types.”

I’m sure that Mrs. Harp, like everyone supporting this project, thinks she’s doing the right thing. After all, how can you go wrong endorsing either the Food Bank or Partnership? There is no questioning the good these organizations do on a daily basis for the many people who depend on their services.

But that isn’t the issue at all.

Critics don’t dispute the merits of TIF, but the negative side effects that occur later as a direct result. Negative side effects that we can’t afford to ignore for much longer.


ENTER PRINZING JONES

Councilwoman Harp is not the only one gas-lighting citizens about TIF. She has a lot of help from her fellow ideologues – like Natasha Prinzing Jones.

As William Skink noted this January, “The Missoulian is launching a new quarterly publication focusing on doing PR for businesses called Missoula Business. This vapidly titled quarterly will feature a notable business person and other things … The first notable business person is a lawyer for the Missoula Redevelopment Agency and the topic will be PR spin for Tax Increment Financing.”

Prinzing

Natasha Prinzing Jones is an un-elected MRA board member, married to a banker who works for a bank that benefited from TIF the same way Stockman Bank did, loaning us their own corporate handout and stiffing taxpayers with the interest payments. What’s more, Prinzing Jones happens to work in an office that itself benefited from TIF subsidies.

Natasha Prinzing Jones is also the attorney who underestimated Missoula’s Mountain Water legal fees by over $12 million!

So what does this “competitive spirit” have to say about citizen criticism regarding TIF?

“My observation is that many of the individuals who voice either concerns or opposition of TIF funding misunderstand its role and application,” she said. “Many individuals who are critics, I’ve never seen at a single (MRA board) meeting. Big picture, I think folks just don’t understand what’s going on. Their objections to the agency and the concept of TIF would benefit from a deeper review of what’s actually happening at those meetings.”

There you have it folks.

Once again, with painful predictability, there are NO specific responses whatsoever to either criticisms or concerns about TIF. The Missoulian had a whole cover story to do so. An entire centerfold’s worth of material, and only a few short paragraphs dedicated to beating Missoulians

Instead of responding to specific concerns, Prinzing Jones defaults to the same politically expedient tactic as all the other TIF addicts, claiming that Missoula’s citizens are just too brainless, too ignorant, and too stupid to understand how TIF works.

The reason that TIF addicts don’t debate the specific concerns is because they know they’ll lose if they argue the points before them. Critics don’t question the merits of TIF, but focus instead on it’s many unintended consequences.

TIF addicts seem to prefer employing STRAWMAN arguments: they substitute their opponent’s actual position with a distorted version that’s easy to dismiss. The debate is NOT about what TIF can do, but what it’s effects are. It’s about multi-million dollar taxpayer giveaways to banks, shopping centers and entertainment monopolies that unnecessarily and inappropriately increase everyone else’s property taxes to the point that locals are displaced completely by wealthy out-of-staters.

The Missoulian recently featured such a Strawman, quoting Linda McCarthy, executive director of the Missoula Downtown Association. Not only does McCarthy claim that, despite all the businesses closing all around us, “Downtown Missoula is without question a thriving commercial and community hub today.” The strawman comes in the form of trying to show all the good that TIF has done for local businesses – something critics don’t usually dispute.

McCarthy

Linda McCarthy, executive director of the Missoula Downtown Association


What TIF addicts don’t seem to realize is that by constantly using TIF to finance everything in the city from Lord Checota’s Ego-Dome to Stockman Bank’s Crony-Tower to Peter Lambros’ Shopping Maul to Andy Holloran’s Hotel Holocaust, what they’re actually doing is dooming Missoula to a fiscal death-by-a-thousand-cuts. And just like any addiction, the more they do it, the more they must continue doing it.

It doesn’t take that much time for these policies to produce negative side effects of increasing relative tax burdens for everyone, by artificially raising property values across the board.

TIF addicts claim that they’re trying to alleviate poverty, while actually helping to worsen the very conditions that exacerbate poverty in the first place: rising housing costs!

Mrs. Harp’s comment seems especially perplexing within the context of its timing. The previous week, on the 8th of January, she was stripped of her chairmanship on the Finance Committee, apparently because of her willingness to sincerely listen to citizen anxieties about TIF, and its constant overuse.

Her replacement, Gwen Jones, consistently displays an unapologetic contempt for citizens concerned about the effects of TIF, and was therefore the logical choice to Chair Missoula’s Finance Committee, at least from the point of view of wealthy developers, their cronies, and the useful idiots who go along to get along. Gwen’s cold, calculating indifference is further revealed by her recent declaration that “battle lines have been drawn.” Because apparently our community is nothing but a battlefield.

Those on the Council who helped unseat Mrs. Harp have sent a chilling message both to the people of Missoula as well as the rest of our elected representatives: don’t ever work with the people of your community, or you’ll lose what little authority we allow you to have.

I concede that at least this Food Bank/Partnership TIF is aimed at doing some good. Unlike the proposed $16.5 million TIF for Nick Checota’s LogJam Monopoly to further dominate Missoula’s entertainment scene with a giant monstrosity that they alone will have rights to operate for the next 75 years, all on the taxpayer dime.

As Missoula’s debt engines speed toward the cliff of bankruptcy, the TIF addicts are hitting the nitrous boosters while screaming, “Can’t this thing go any faster?” And the only operator who even discussed tapping the brakes was just pulled from the driver’s seat.

Jones isn’t merely a TIF addict; she’s a TIF dealer.

Under these circumstances, what possible benefit exists in continuing to patronize taxpayers with the same condescending claim that Tax Increment Financing is just too complicated a subject for ordinary folks to wrap their heads around?

john-holcroft-5-5d073d80139f9__700

Gabrielle Lafayette is the executive producer for the Outer Limits Radio Show.
This cache of thought is presented free of charge as a service and gift to you.
May our eternal vigilance help liberate all beings from the smoke-and-mirrors deceptions of the Samsaric Panopticon.