At Monday night’s Missoula City Council meeting, all the fuss about of a 7-5 Council split, progressives vs. conservatives, first seemed like a myth concocted by the news media. Two important measures dealing with a subdivision and an interlocal agreement with the county concerning Miller Creek Road improvements seemingly erased the supposed party lines, with votes of 12-0 and 10-2, respectively. Could it be, really, a council devoid of partisan politics?

Fat chance.

When pushed to decide more ideological measures—like, say, an urban chicken ordinance…again—the respective voting blocs fled to their corners just as predicted.

Ward 5 councilman Dick Haines’ unwelcome motion to reopen the tiresome chicken debate proved just one example. When asked to reconsider the decision by last year’s Council to allow urban fowl, is it any wonder that annoyed progressives used their majority to end the discusion, 7-5, once and for all?

“I think tonight’s debates show where we are at working together with some members trying to rehash old business and undo things that have already been done,” said Ward 3 councilor Bob Jaffe, perhaps offering a blunt reminder of just how far apart the two camps currently stand.

In another telling vote, Council also decided who would take on the Council’s leadership roles of president and vice president for the next two years.

Each bloc advanced a candidate. Ward 2’s John Hendrickson for the conservatives and Ward 6’s Ed Childers for the progressives both vied for the Council presidency, which confers defacto chairmanship of any Monday meeting the mayor cannot attend. The progressive Childers won, naturally by a 7-5 vote, leaving conservatives to grovel for the second slot.

“Some of us are in the minority, and we know that,” said Ward 4’s Jon Wilkins, as he pleaded with the progressive councilors to throw the minority a bone and give the vice presidency to Hendrickson. “Back when this country started the person who lost a presidential election got to be vice president…I think we should do that.”

Wilkins’ last-ditch effort at historical precedence went for naught. The progressives clearly don’t have to play ball unless they choose. Consequently, progressive Ward 3 Councilor Stacy Rye will take over as vice president, winning by a—you guessed it—7-5 margin.

Although early in the year, Monday night’s splits lend credence to prior assumptions about the new Council, and provide a clear sign of things to come. As a disgruntled, defeated Haines told the group, “It’s my prediction that we’re going down the road 7-5, no matter what anyone says.”
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