Randal Wolfe says he’s resigning as executive director of the Missoula Senior Center because the city refuses to help him maintain order at the 705 S. Higgins Avenue facility.
“I don’t feel safe here anymore,” Wolfe says.
Last Friday, Sept. 19, Missoula police would not honor Wolfe’s request to arrest 75-year-old George Houtchens, a longtime center member and outspoken critic of Wolfe’s leadership. Wolfe wanted Houtchens charged with criminal trespass for the third time since this spring, but Missoula Deputy City Attorney Carrie Garber directed officers not to assist trespass calls from the center.
“A decision was made within the city attorney’s office that we could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a trespass occurred,” says Garber. “In order to tell someone they can’t be on your property, you have to have the authority.”
Until a judge clears the ambiguity surrounding Wolfe and the center’s authority to revoke memberships, Garber says the city lacks the legal wherewithal to prosecute trespass cases against center members. On September 12, Missoula Municipal Court Judge Donald Louden dismissed a previous criminal trespass charge filed against Houtchens on behalf of the center. Houtchens’ counsel claimed his membership was improperly revoked in an effort to quell growing criticism of Wolfe. In June, Wolfe had attempted to boot Houtchens’ without gaining approval from the bylaw committee, as required by Article III, Section V of the center’s bylaws.
“Using the Missoula police as a tool to control dissent or opinion about the changes at the Senior Center is unconscionable and contrary to Montana law,” wrote Houtchens’ attorney, Andrea Olsen, in an August 26 brief.
But Wolfe, who’s responsible for nominating the bylaw committee’s membership, says there’s one problem: the bylaw committee doesn’t exist.
“I’d have loved to do everything by the book,” Wolfe says, “but it was impossible. We didn’t have the committee.”