Whether resulting from a thematic choice or just an oversight, the Indy's recent year-in-review sweep of the news neglected to mention any of the work done by local government this past year. Since we're not likely to make CNN's retrospectives, I hope you'll allow some space on the letters page to take a quick look from one attentive individual's perspective.
Some of the highlights of city business included undertaking the long-awaited construction of the Higgins-Hill-Beckwith roundabout and efficient completion of the necessary but nettlesome Scott Street overpass reconstruction, as well as other streets projects made possible by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The mayor proposed and City Council approved a budget that avoided both widespread layoffs and an increase in property taxes despite the economic climate's effect on revenues and demand for services. The Planning Board and City Council reviewed in detail and adopted a new zoning regulation to replace the inadequate, antiquated and contradictory ordinance on the books previously. Though it took several 7-5 votes to get us to this legislative accomplishment that's stymied City Council several times before, the regulation was adopted by a 10-2 vote in the end.
In fairness, not everything was copacetic. City Council adopted an ordinance regulating panhandling that a minority of council considered too broad, while also amending the existing pedestrian interference ordinance in a way a minority of council considered inadequate—neither proposal addressing the disproportionate share of responsibility for needy Montanans that Missoula bears. An ordinance that would have regulated the serious safety threat posed by distracted drivers on cell phones was curtailed in scope. Efforts to construct streets safely and equitably were punctuated by pedestrian, cyclist and driver fatalities.
There was an election too. Mayor John Engen was re-elected without opposition. Four of the six candidates for City Council received over 65 percent of the vote in their race and, while the incumbent in Ward 2 was defeated, even that result ratified the course city government charted during his term.
All in all, and at the risk of being self-congratulatory, it was a year in which municipal government took up its responsibilities conscientiously, even if we sometimes came up short against persistently vexing issues. As fashionable as it always seems to be to be cynical about politicians and policymakers, and as much as the news from Helena or Washington sometimes justifies skeptical reading, we're plugging away for good government here at home.
Thanks, everyone, for your participation. Be proud and have a happy 2010.
Alderman, Ward One