Missoula City Councilman Jason Wiener says he was surprised by the recent alarm locals expressed when facing the potential loss of the Garden City's government listserv, an online forum that hosts lively and, at times, contentious debates about municipal lawmaking efforts.
"Handwringing might be too strong a word," Wiener says.
Since launching the site in 2006, outgoing Councilman Bob Jaffe has grown the MissoulaGov listserv into a must-read for political nerds, engaged citizens and concerned business owners. He did so by providing first-hand insights into the nuts and bolts of city government tinged with sharp commentary. A good example of Jaffe's colorful side came out last week, when he took aim at pending changes to the city's pedestrian interference law, which, if approved by council, will make it illegal to sit or lie within 20 feet of a downtown doorway. He called it the city's "latest effort to criminalize homelessness."
Jaffe's retirement from council left many to wonder who, if anyone, would take over. That's when Wiener, who's a former Independent staffer, announced he'll assume the responsibilities. Reaction from listserv participants largely praised Wiener for keeping it alive.
Since he was elected in 2008, Wiener has periodically written for the listserv in Jaffe's absence. Wiener's past posts would seem to signal that future commentary will pull no fewer punches. He first raised waves on the platform just months after taking office, when the progressive accused a handful of his conservative colleagues of engaging in "shenanigans" to derail a contract with a local architect that they found unpalatable.
After that post, one reader accused him of perpetuating the progressive equivalent of FOX News and, Wiener says, prompted his colleagues to lash out. "At least five members of council had a lengthy lecture for me," he says.
In the coming months, Wiener will receive assistance with the listserv from some of his colleagues. Ward 4 Councilwoman Caitlin Copple has said that she'll contribute and incoming Councilwoman Emily Brock Bentley, who's replacing Jaffe as a representative in Ward 3, also plans on posting to the forum. She provided her first updates this week. "I think it's important to show your thought process," Bentley says.
Wiener agrees and, despite taking occasional heat for his past commentary, he promises not to tone it down in the future. "That's what makes it worth readingis that it's candid," he says.