Open Mic Night 

Missoula City Council opens its meetings to public comment every week, allowing anyone to sound off on whatever they want. Meet the regulars with the most to say.

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Snodgrass, his partner Loreen Folsom and the Rattlesnake Coalition, with Snodgrass as president, have filed three lawsuits against the city since 2003, all of them aiming to stop the Rattlesnake sewer project. Snodgrass says a more extensive environmental impact analysis should be undertaken. Yet, the Montana Supreme Court disagrees and reaffirmed a lower court ruling last spring that found a sufficient environmental review occurred. After six years of legal wrangling, the Upper Rattlesnake sewer system finally got the green light in May 2009.

Nevertheless, Snodgrass won't let the situation go. He met with his lawyer again last month, and he says the current construction shows how the courts were wrong. There's no way the project would have been approved had the agencies truly considered what's going on now in the Rattlesnake. Why, for instance, would the powers that be deem PVC pipe safe to carry sewage? The PVC manufacturing process produces the carcinogen dioxin, Snodgrass says. In fact, he witnessed the effects first hand decades ago as he filmed a video about chemical contamination in Louisiana's Cancer Alley. What he saw then sticks with him today.

"I actually put my hand on the hard lumps that were generally found in various regions of the human body among workers," Snodgrass says. "They were hard lumps. They were tumor-like precursors to tumors, and I've actually touched them."

click to enlarge Will Snodgrass is perhaps the most vocal City Council critic. He maintains the governing body is riddled with faults. “I am offended by incompetent public officials. And I think that the Missoula City Council is largely incompetent,” he says. - PHOTO BY CAHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Photo by Cahrine L. Walters
  • Will Snodgrass is perhaps the most vocal City Council critic. He maintains the governing body is riddled with faults. “I am offended by incompetent public officials. And I think that the Missoula City Council is largely incompetent,” he says.

Cancer scares Snodgrass. In addition to the workers in Louisiana, he's watched friends battle with the illness. That's largely why he pushes Missoula Public Works employees and elected officials to wake up and steer clear from using products like PVC in the Rattlesnake.

Missoula Director of Public Works Steve King declines to address Snodgrass' personal tactics, but he does stand behind the sewer project.

"What we're doing is collecting human waste and delivering it to a treatment plant instead of depositing that human waste into the Rattlesnake Valley," King says. "Just on its face, that makes a lot of sense to me."

Snodgrass disagrees, no matter what King or the Supreme Court has to say. His stubbornness on the topic—as well as other fights through the years—sometimes gets him in trouble. In 2001, he was accused of calling a Forest Service weed specialist an "idiot" and slapping him on the rear end. Snodgrass was later found innocent of the charges. Six years ago, before she joined City Council, Ward 6 Councilwoman Marilyn Marler had an attorney draft a letter of no contact—the precursor to a retraining order—to stop Snodgrass from repeatedly showing up to her office, calling and cornering her at public meetings. Marler, a University of Montana Division of Biological Sciences staffer, says Snodgrass confronted her about pesticides UM used to control weeds.

Snodgrass acknowledges Marler's allegations and confirms there have been others. He says the complaints, including Marler's, simply constitute efforts to quiet him. Specifically, the Forest Service suit was bunk, he says. He never hit anybody. Isn't it interesting, he adds, that they claimed he slapped the public employee, when "SLAPP" in legal lingo is an acronym for strategic lawsuit against public participation?

That's the way it goes, he says. In the face of so much ignorance about issues that affect everything from the physical landscape to the fundamental human right to a healthy environment, Snodgrass says he has every right to get riled up and to keep furthering his cause.

"These people who make these decisions on the basis of poor information or lack of research or, as I said, arrogance seeped in ignorance, they're capable of destroying a civilization," he says. "They're capable of destroying the spirit of the community. They are capable of ruining Missoula and they are rapidly on their way to doing that."

Poison pill

An American flag flutters in the early summer breeze over Jane Rectenwald's red porch. The tall woman with white hair and pink cheeks gazes out over her tree-lined street. She sounds tired remembering the arguments that consumed much of her 10 years of local activism. She was called a "poison pill," a "loose canon," and a "dumb growther." Even the media, she says, unfairly branded her a troublemaker.

"Why don't you use the term 'watchdog?'" she asks. "Instead, you say, 'critic.'"

Before getting fed up testifying before City Council in 2008, Rectenwald says she pushed to simply make elected representatives accountable to taxpayers. She advocated for everything from the preservation of her neighborhood's clean and quiet streets to responsibly funded aquatic facilities.

click to enlarge Missoula City Councilwoman Stacy Rye says it can be tough to keep a straight face while taking heat from aggressive critics like Snodgrass during public meetings. “I have been told that I have the worst poker face in the world,” she says. - PHOTO BY CAHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Photo by Cahrine L. Walters
  • Missoula City Councilwoman Stacy Rye says it can be tough to keep a straight face while taking heat from aggressive critics like Snodgrass during public meetings. “I have been told that I have the worst poker face in the world,” she says.

She loves the University District, largely because it's so different from the industrial thoroughfares in Pittsburg where she grew up. When she first came to Montana—her employer, the Girl Scouts of the USA, transferred her—she planned on settling in Butte. But Butte felt too much like her dark and dusty hometown, and she kept driving. Once she reached Missoula, she fell in love with the place.

"We pick the neighborhood that we live in because we like the character," says Rectenwald, who declines to talk too much about her personal life for fear of retribution from her political enemies.

Rectenwald moved into her historic house in 1995. About three years after her arrival, she grew concerned about her neighborhood's changing character. Owner-occupied homes were being rented to tenants and traffic down her quiet street grew heavier. It prompted her to join Missoula's conversation about how best to plan for growth. From the beginning, she saw glaring problems in local oversight. Her increasing drive to shape municipal workings led her to accept a 2004 voter appointment to Missoula's Local Government Study Commission, which analyzed municipal workings.

That's when she became a regular at local planning meetings—and a vocal "watchdog" of the city's zoning laws. Over the years, Rectenwald says she saw elected representatives neglecting a significant chunk of Missoula's citizenry. She maintains her study commission service validated that observation.

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