Missoula’s City Council has taken its fair share of abuse over the years, but rarely has an attack been so pointed as Missoulian Jennifer Terzo’s diatribe on Monday, Oct. 27.

“The only thing that would set us apart tonight from any other family here is that we are being sued by Councilmen Jerry Ballas and his wife,” said an angry Terzo during the meeting’s public comment period.

Ward 4’s Jerry Ballas—currently seeking re-election—has filed suit against Jennifer and Jake Terzo for building a house adjacent to Ballas’ property. The councilman believes the house violates the city’s zoning ordinances. The city approved the Terzo house, but that doesn’t matter to Ballas—he’s also suing the city.

With less than circumspect tact, Ballas used his Council seat to publicly announce his objection to the project at the Council meeting on Monday, Oct. 6.

After alleging that Ballas was using his position to his advantage, Terzo detailed her interactions with Ballas over the course of the project. She alleges that Ballas knew full well what the Terzos had planned, and expressed no problem with the house until election time rolled around and he needed some quick publicity.

“We were never told that if we built our house we would be personally sued and possibly forced to tear down our home and lose the value of our property,” she said, before concluding: “Councilmen Ballas, I will say shame on you. Shame on you for taking on my family, and in my opinion abusing the power that was entrusted to you by families like mine.”

When she finished, scattered applause was heard before Council President Jack Reidy banged his gavel and called for order. Two speakers quickly stated their support of Ballas, and the public comment period came to a close.

After taking the tongue-lashing stoically, Ballas, in a characteristically clinical response, said: “Because I’m involved in a legal case, I can make absolutely no comments on a matter that must be decided by the courts.”

•••

The Indy recently reported that investigators solve more than 90 percent of cases involving arson-started wildfires (see “Robert who?” by David Madison, Oct. 9, 2003). Now comes the case of Michael Grant, who is accused of starting a series of wildfires near Plains. Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris McLean says Grant’s MO involved lighting fires near roads and railroad tracks. The fires never burned much more than an acre because they were lit where people could see them, and because a member of the local volunteer fire department happened to be in the vicinity at the time. The firefighter blessed with impeccable timing was none other than Michael Grant, the accused arsonist. “He was the first to respond, most times,” says McLean. Grant’s trial starts Nov. 3 in U.S. Federal Court in Missoula.

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