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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As part of its effort to identify areas of city government that could be improved upon, the commission hired a behavior analyst who polled locals and reported back to the commission with his findings. The behavior analyst echoed what Rectenwald had argued: there was a disconnect between people on the ground and those in City Hall. And that disconnect, the behavior analyst said, left Missoula's political landscape fodder for the "stuff of revolution."

Earl de Berge of Phoenix-based Behavior Research Center reiterated what he told the study commission in a recent phone interview with the Indy. He said his study found locals brimming with civil awareness—more so than most communities. But the survey also unearthed a widespread perception among residents that city government wasn't listening.

"The tension was very palpable," says de Berge.

Rectenwald maintains that perception lingers today.

"Who knows what the revolution is," she says. "But something's not working here."

To remedy the problem, Rectenwald and Alan Ault, who co-authored the commission's minority report, suggested changing Missoula's municipal government. Specifically, they advocated taking away some of the mayor's power to hire and fire, and giving that power to a non-partisan city manager. The minority maintained those changes would eliminate the political cronyism that stifles responsive policymaking. Rectenwald says then and now administrators are afraid to go against top-down directives because they could lose their job. That leaves them out of touch with people on the ground.

"The Broadway Diet had over 10,000 signatures against it. That was ignored. Lincoln School, I think there were close to 400 signatures against it," she says of the Rattlesnake subdivision. "Have you seen what Lincoln School looks like now?"

Disrespect for citizen input is evident in council's body language and word choice, Rectenwald says. She points to Ed Childers, who referred to a group of citizens as a posse during a public meeting years ago. (See sidebar.)

"When you see the council people rolling their eyes like this, while people are speaking," she says, "it's not only rude, it's just that unbelievable arrogance."

Her friends say they respect her for standing up for what she believed in, even though Rectenwald's audience was, at times, less-than-welcoming.

"I personally witnessed a disinterest in alternative viewpoints from City Hall," says Jane Van Fossen, also at one point active in city government discussions. "I think she's one of numerous citizens who have not been listened to with courtesy and respect.

"I admire people who are actively involved in government," Van Fossen continues. "They earn my admiration much more that people who are sleepwalkers."

But there's a flip side to that tenacity. Tenacity is a close relative of obstinacy, and it's not easy to work with people who don't compromise.

Councilman Jason Wiener declined to comment for this story, but he summed up his position about Rectenwald's participation in the Local Government Study Commission in a 2006 post for the 4&20 blackbirds blog.

click to enlarge University District resident Jane Rectenwald says she stopped speaking out at public meetings because city officials don’t pay adequate attention to public concerns. “Who knows what the revolution is,” she says. “But something’s not working here.” - PHOTO BY CAHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Photo by Cahrine L. Walters
  • University District resident Jane Rectenwald says she stopped speaking out at public meetings because city officials don’t pay adequate attention to public concerns. “Who knows what the revolution is,” she says. “But something’s not working here.”

"The minority's leader is Jane Rectenwald, a sort of passive-aggressive poison pill dead set on replacing the mayor with a city manager," Wiener wrote. "Her main method of argument is faux-humble questioning meant to lead you right to her conclusion. She was a disagreeable presence at most meetings, ignoring responses to her points and continually trying to hijack the process by, for instance, hanging posters declaring the foregone sensibility of her opinion at every meeting, even when it was clear the majority of the LGSC [Local Government Study Commission] had zero interest in a city manager, having examined the question at some length with outside experts."

Rectenwald is persistent, acknowledges Councilwoman Pam Walzer, who served with Rectenwald on the commission.

"She's a bulldog," Walzer says. "She will dig and dig and dig."

As evidenced by the name-calling, that persistence doesn't always win friends. In fact, Rectenwald says she was shouted at and told to sit down during a 2008 planning meeting billed as an open forum to air out concerns about Missoula's zoning rewrite.

"There were boos, [people shouted,] 'Shut up,' 'That's not true,'" she recalls. "It's really hard to stand up and try and express your opinion when people are yelling."

The Missoula City County Office of Planning and Grants facilitated the dialogue during the meeting. Planners requested citizens discuss two things they liked about the rewrite and two items they did not. Rectenwald admits she didn't stick to the rules. The directive offended her.

"You see, that's a controlled outcome," she says. "It looks like public involvement but it says you have to find two things that you like."

Offering no "likes," she spoke at length—she says it was seven minutes, others said it was 20—solely about the negatives of the rewrite. The ensuing jeers left Rectenwald shaken. As she got up to leave, then-Planning Director Roger Millar approached her and, she alleges, spoke to her in a threatening manner.

She filed a formal complaint and hasn't testified in a public meeting since.

"I'm not doing it again," she says. "First of all, I've tried. And I thought, naively maybe, that it would make a difference."

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