[MissoulaGov] Committee Update 7-21-2010

Bob Jaffe BJaffe at ci.missoula.mt.us
Wed Jul 21 21:51:30 MDT 2010


Greetings,
This morning we started out with a two hour conservation meeting. We did a couple of interviews for the greenhouse gas committee and had a pre-public hearing on the new conservation lands management plan. We had two very qualified candidates apply to serve on the committee. We get some really amazing folks apply to serve on our citizen committees, especially the conservation related ones. Our consultant who worked on the conservation lands management plan said something to the effect that our open space advisory board was the most highly qualified group they had ever worked with.
The plan provides guidance on all aspects of taking care of our open space lands. In general folks were pretty happy with the document but there was a little discontent from Marilyn and Stacy that it didn't offer specific policy regarding off leash dogs. The board instead chose to offer more general guidance throughout the document that could be used to inform a policy developed by the animal control board or the council. Apparently the animal control board has been working on updating this policy and it should be coming back to the council real soon.
The conservation lands management plan can be found here:
http://www.ci.missoula.mt.us/DocumentView.aspx?DID=4174
The public hearing will be Monday night.

Next we had a presentation in Public Safety regarding our new full time downtown officer. Her name is Nicole Pifari and she has decided to leave the police force to go to law school. The plan is that she will continue to work for the force during the summers while she is in school. She has been at it for about six weeks now and the response from downtown business owners and patrons has been extremely positive. Assigning an officer to this beat full time creates continuity. She sees the same folks over and over and gets to know what's going on.
The presentation was from Assistant Chief Brady and BID director Rod Austin. I wanted to hear what Officer Pifari had to say so I asked her up to come up and answer some questions. She had a few comments that I thought were important. She clarified that the work was primarily about dealing with the homeless population. She was clear that her job is not about solving homelessness or vagrancy. It is about keeping it out of downtown. She lets the folks know they need to find a more socially acceptable place to throw up and piss themselves. She knows that Missoula is a very friendly and empathetic place. Her job is to make it a little less friendly and comfortable for the least among us.
I had the impression she was fully aware of the unfortunate and tragic nature of this assignment. We have a very friendly and accepting community and a population of destitute people who survive by manipulating and taking advantage of this kindness. There is a critical mass or threshold that gets crossed and then the community starts to feel victimized. Our response is to dial down the love these folks feel when they come to Missoula. This is Nicole's job.
On the up side, she provides the rest of us with a sense of security, safety and order. In general, the odds that a shopper will suffer any actual harm from a homeless person is incredibly small. But the perception of danger is real. An officer in uniform creates a perception of safety. Folks love it. Her presence is a huge benefit to the health and future of our downtown. I got the feeling that she had the perfect disposition to serve the community in this role. Hopefully the plans to retain her during the summers will pan out.

Jon Wilkins also pointed out that we can't just arrest these folks because our judge just lets them go free. He wants to see them go to jail and be given an orange jump suit and be put to work picking up trash along the highway. I'm actually intrigued by the idea of instituting a chain gang in Missoula. Nothing wrong with a little community service and clearly these folks aren't concerned with being humiliated in public. We would need to find a big tobacco chewing officer with a shotgun to oversee the crew to get the full effect. I think the word would get out pretty quick that maybe Missoula isn't the best place to be sprawled out on the sidewalk. There is a major issue with funding and liability. One of the reasons we don't put transients in jail is they have all sorts of medical problems that become our responsibility once they are incarcerated. I can't imagine what would happen if we actually made them perform physical labor. If we could come up with a funding mechanism I would be curious if we could try this. I'm wondering if anyone north of Texas has attempted it and whether folks would be horrified or happy the trash was being picked up.

Thanks for your interest,


Bob Jaffe
Missoula City Council, Ward Three
1225 South 2nd West
Missoula, MT 59801
(406) 880-2052


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