For eight years, Missoula City Councilman Dave Strohmaier has been among the most productive members of the local lawmaking body. He spearheaded council's effort to ban hand-held cellphones while driving and a law that prohibits motorists from refusing a police offer's request to submit to a blood alcohol test. It's also because of Strohmaier that kids aren't allowed to ride in the back of pickup trucks. Now that he's retiring from council at the end of this year, Strohmaier's got one last piece of business.
On Nov. 13, he introduced an ordinance that seeks to penalize opportunistic retail chains that use "going out of business" sales to sneak inventory into the city from other communities, thereby undermining competitors and duping consumers. "I see this as a consumer protection type ordinance," says Strohmaier.
The councilman began brainstorming the proposal several years ago, after Todd Frank, owner of The Trail Head, expressed frustration that a competitor had moved millions of dollars worth of inventory from elsewhere to reap sizable cash rewards. Frank shared the story with council during a meeting last week.
"That was the worst three-month period in my business in the 13 years that I've owned it," Frank said, "when a competitor three blocks away was going out of business."
Strohmaier proposes that businesses holding going out of business sales demonstrate to the city through a permitting process how much inventory they are moving. Operations found violating the law would be fined $500 for each day they skirt the rules.
During last week's committee meeting, Councilmen Dick Haines and Adam Hertz opposed Strohmaier's referral. "If somebody's offended by a business consistently going out of business, then don't shop there," Hertz said. "Then maybe they'll finally go out of business ... I don't really think that this is quite the thing for the city to be regulating."
While this will be the last law Strohmaier introduces to council, he's not given up public service. Last month, he announced that he's running for the Montana Legislature to represent House District 92.
"This ordinance really was the last thing that I could get under the wire here," he says.