Thursday, September 21, 2017

Zinke gets Interior staff into the “#sportsmen” spirit

Posted By on Thu, Sep 21, 2017 at 4:13 PM

As if riding a horse to his first day on the job wasn’t Montanan enough, Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke embarked on a mission this week to make his new D.C. digs look more like a western dive bar. In an agency memo distributed Sept. 19, Zinke announced the installation of a Big Buck Hunter Pro arcade game in the Interior’s employee cafeteria, known as the Bison Bistro. Apparently it’s part of an effort to bring “the excitement of hunting and fishing” to the Interior office and to celebrate “Sportsmen’s Season,” which isn’t an actual thing but can probably be understood as Beltway code for what actual Montanans know as “general rifle season.”
  • Screengrab from @SecretaryZinke

“This is an important part of the Department’s effort to highlight its key role in ​hunting​ and fishing across ​our ​public lands​,” the memo reads. “This will​ also​ increase employee awareness​ ​of​ ​how ​our efforts can support sportsmen and in turn further the Department’s mission​ of wildlife and habitat conservation​.”

Because nothing says conservation like bonus points for shooting squirrels, birds and UFOs.

Zinke’s bizarre attempt to give his staff a digital jump-start on hunting season (the real thing is still a month away in Montana) went viral after the Secretary tweeted about the arcade game installation on Tuesday. Most Twitter users treated it with derision, criticizing the use of taxpayer dollars or demanding Zinke get back to work. Several referenced Zinke’s fact-challenged National Monuments memo to President Trump, which leaked days earlier, confirming that Zinke had recommended the shrinking of at least four monuments. The Secretary’s tweets continued regardless, consisting mostly of photos of Interior employees hunting deer- and elk-shaped pixels on a screen.

The game isn’t just intended for idle cafeteria use. The memo about its installation went on to explain that between Sept. 19 and Oct. 11, employees can choose to compete in the “Secretary’s Shotgun Showdown.” The four finalists with the highest scores at 5 p.m. on Oct. 11 will go head-to-head for a chance to play against Zinke himself. That’s why so many of Zinke’s tweets included the hashtag “ShotgunShowdown.” According to the memo, “Prizes include bragging rights and a ‘Beverage on the Balcony’ with the Secretary.”

Bragging rights. It’s nice to know that after all this time in D.C., Zinke hasn’t forgotten the key motivating factor that gets Montana hunters outdoors every fall. And how better to spread that message than with a pair of plastic shotguns.


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Ellie Hill Smith files finance complaint against mayoral candidate Lisa Triepke

Posted By on Thu, Sep 21, 2017 at 12:08 PM

Today we published a story about mayoral candidate Lisa Triepke's campaign surrogate, Wes Spiker, who offered some choice words about transients while partially clarifying his rather murky role in Triepke's campaign. The campaign has disclosed paying Spiker's ad agency nearly $11,000 for "advertising," but our reporting indicates the agency plays a more central role in the direction and strategy of Triepke's campaign.

As the story went to press, state representative and Mayor John Engen supporter Ellie Hill Smith filed a complaint with the Commissioner of Political Practices alleging campaign finance violations by the Triepke campaign.

Hill's complaint alleges seven finance disclosure violations, including an unexplained "ATM fee" and failure to file so-called C7 disclosures for donations over $100.

"In a race for Missoula's mayor, where the city budget seems to be a much debated issue, it seems that nothing in the Triepke expenditures is properly itemized or labeled," Hill wrote.

Another alleged violation involves Triepke's "failure to disclose any detailed expenditures related to a $10,923.50 payment to Spiker Communications." As explained in our story, the Indy asked Spiker to provide a copy of the invoice. He declined, but did provide a list of services he's billed the campaign for, including "campaign strategy," which, last we checked, is different from "advertising."

Spiker took aim at Hill personally in our story, referring to commenters on her Facebook posts as "minions." And that was before she filed a complaint against his candidate.

Read more in today's story, "Lisa Triepke campaign surrogate Wes Spiker goes off script."

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Friday, September 8, 2017

Remembering Esther Chessin

Posted By on Fri, Sep 8, 2017 at 3:11 PM

Over the past few days, a vase of flowers and a photo collage have occupied a table in the bustling seating area at Bernice’s Bakery. They’re there to commemorate Esther Chessin—a mother, community member and former owner of Bernice’s—who died Sept. 5 at St. Patrick Hospital. She was 52.

Ask anyone who knew her and you’ll hear stories of a smart, engaging and community-minded businesswoman. Some of the stories are simple and familiar, fond remembrances of weddings and backyard barbecues. Others encapsulate more trying times, namely Chessin’s battle with a cancer that twice went into remission. That she had a sizable impact on Missoula was evident, her friend Cindy Waltz says, even on hikes up Pattee Canyon or Mount Sentinel.
Esther Chessin, pictured here at her friend Molly Bradford's wedding. - COURTESY MOLLY BRADFORD
  • Courtesy Molly Bradford
  • Esther Chessin, pictured here at her friend Molly Bradford's wedding.

“She almost always knew somebody that we passed,” Waltz remembers. “She had a really wide reach, and part of that is growing up in Missoula. A big part of that was Bernice’s, though.”

Chessin bought Bernice’s from founder Becky Bolinger in 1993, and during her 11-year tenure as owner, she more than doubled the size of the space and established the popular seating area. It was in her capacity as the bakery’s owner that Chessin first got to know Christine and Marco Littig, who at the time owned the Red Bird wine bar and frequented Bernice’s for coffee and scones. They connected as peers and “acquaintance friends,” Christine says, and when the Littigs sold Red Bird, they wound up going to work for Chessin at the bakery. Christine recalls Chessin asking them to buy Bernice’s from her “no less than five times.” The fifth time, it worked. Chessin passed the business into the Littigs’ hands in 2004 (the Littigs turned Bernice’s over to new owner Missy Kelleher this summer).

“I don’t think she ever received enough credit for what she did to Bernice’s before Marco and I took over,” Christine says. “We elevated the face of Bernice’s, but she built it.”

Looking around the bakery, Christine adds that nothing aesthetically has changed since Chessin expanded. Chessin gave Missoula “a great gift,” Christine continues: a place to gather together and share tables with friends and strangers, “and eat a pastry on the side.”

Chessin also worked for the Independent as a business manager in spring and summer of 2007, then as an administrative assistant through January 2008. Former Indy owner and publisher Matt Gibson remembers her fondly as well. “Fundamentally, she was a gentle and kind soul,” he says.

The Indy is also how Chessin came into Molly Bradford’s orbit. Bernice’s was a longtime advertiser in the paper’s pages, and when Bradford started as an ad representative at the paper, Chessin became her client. In Bradford’s words, the two “just clicked.”

“When I first met her, I was like, ‘Are you Bernice?’” Bradford says. “She was like, ‘No, Bernice doesn’t exist. I’m Esther.’ We would laugh about who’s Bernice. We really bonded, and it extended outside of work. We would hike or go to musical events. She came to my wedding. I hosted her baby shower.”

Chessin’s death this week appeared, to many of her friends, sudden. Waltz says Chessin had begun cancer treatments again early this summer, and that she’d become ill Tuesday morning before being rushed to the emergency room. She died in the hospital that afternoon. Throughout her treatment this summer, and in previous years, Waltz says, Chessin “really didn’t make a big deal of it.” She was active in Missoula's Silver Linings breast cancer support group, in addition to her work as an area manager for the international skincare and wellness company Arbonne.

“She kind of just took it in stride,” Waltz says of Chessin’s battle with cancer. “I don’t think she wanted to give it a lot of energy. She didn’t want it to be the focus of her life.”

Over the past few days, Bradford and others have worked to set up a benefit fund for Chessin’s 13-year-old daughter, Isabella, at Missoula Federal Credit Union. Chessin’s friends are also planning a community celebration for Chessin on Oct. 1. We'll share the details of that event when they're confirmed.

"I'm sure everyone has said probably what I'm going to say," says Laina Wustner, Chessin's niece, "but she was just probably the most powerful force of love and life and strength, and she was not only a warrior against battling cancer but she just was a phenomenal warrior of life."

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Indy publisher Matt Gibson named general manager for Lee's Missoula-area papers

Posted By on Wed, Aug 30, 2017 at 11:45 AM

Well we never…

Never thought we'd see the day, frankly.

Though maybe we should have.

By the time you read this, Matt Gibson will no longer be the publisher of the Missoula Independent, which he owned from 1997 until the paper’s sale to Lee Enterprises in April.
A Wednesday morning press release sealed the deal.
Matt Gibson
  • Matt Gibson

Effective immediately, Gibson takes on the title of general manager for Lee’s “Missoula-area properties,” i.e., the Missoulian, the Ravalli Republic, and the Missoula Independent. Lee VP Mike Gulledge continues in his role as publisher of the Missoulian and the Billings Gazette, and Independent general manager Andy Sutcliffe will continue in that role with expanded responsibility. There are no editorial department changes associated with the promotion. We have, however, noticed that Matt has started dressing sharper.

What does this mean for us? Well, it means that we have the strongest possible advocate for the Indy and its mission—an advocate who understands the paper’s history and promise better than anyone else could—embedded deep in the belly of the… umm… Lee family.

Or, in Gibson’s words, “The fundamental character of the Independent, which I’ve spent 20 years creating, is extraordinarily valuable. And it’s not going to be compromised.”

As for his new gig with the Missoulian, he says, “My goals are to build trust with the community and with a terrific group of employees and help guide the business to sustainable success.”

In that regard, of course, we wish him the very best of luck.

Because “sustainable success,” of course, is the real challenge in this perilous journalism moment, and it’s also, at root, the reason Gibson sold the Indy to Lee in the first place. The manifold difficulties facing the newspaper business need no recounting here. And yet:

“Somebody’s got to do the work, and that’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do,” Gibson says. “And Missoula is the only place I’ve ever wanted to do it.”

Now, more than ever, he has his chance. Those of us who’ve worked with him for years are confident that he’s more than up to the task. Those of you who’re about to get your first chance to work with him have a real opportunity in store. We’re rooting for you, boss.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Photos: Thursday night's Slayer show at the KettleHouse Amphitheater with openers Lamb of God and Behemoth

Posted By on Fri, Aug 18, 2017 at 4:36 PM

Seth and Nergal of Poland’s Behemoth introducing European Black/Death Metal to the KettleHouse Amphitheater.
  • Seth and Nergal of Poland’s Behemoth introducing European Black/Death Metal to the KettleHouse Amphitheater.
Lamb of God
  • Lamb of God
Slayer’s Kerry King (of the Goat Beard).
  • Slayer’s Kerry King (of the Goat Beard).
Tom Araya’s eyes on the prize.
  • Tom Araya’s eyes on the prize.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Helena to remove country's northernmost Confederate monument

Posted By on Thu, Aug 17, 2017 at 11:05 AM

A fountain dedicated as "a loving tribute to our confederate soldiers" in a Helena city park will be removed in wake of the recent white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The Helena City Commission directed city staff to remove the monument—the only public tribute to the Confederacy in the northwest—after two hours of public comment Wednesday. The commission did not take a vote, but members expressed unanimous support for its removal, citing public safety concerns and the monument's racist history.

So did Mayor Jim Smith, who two years ago had resisted calls to remove the fountain after Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people at a Charleston, South Carolina, church. At the time, Smith compared removal to totalitarianism, and the commission agreed instead to add an informational placard to the fountain. But recent events, and particularly a request by the eight members of the Montana Legislature's American Indian Caucus, changed his mind.

"I really thought we could find a compromise that would be acceptable, but circumstances and events have overwhelmed our intentions two years ago," Smith said Wednesday.
The Helena City Commission directed staff Thursday to remove the 101-year-old monument to confederate soldiers erected in a city park. It's thought to be the northernmost public memorial to the Confederacy in the United States commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • The Helena City Commission directed staff Thursday to remove the 101-year-old monument to confederate soldiers erected in a city park. It's thought to be the northernmost public memorial to the Confederacy in the United States commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The previously approved educational text summarized the history of the granite fountain, erected in 1916, and the group that pushed for its installation, the United Daughters of the Confederacy. "The UDC openly supported the early Ku Klux Klan in its mission of white supremacy and worked to rewrite school textbooks to distort history by romanticizing the Old South," reads a portion of the draft text posted to the Helena Independent Record.

That text was never installed, due to delays that weren't fully explained at Wednesday's meeting, adding to pressure on the commission.

The commission did not set a timetable for the fountain's removal, saying only that it ought to come down as soon as possible, nor did the commission decide what do with its remnants.

Instead, apparently motivated by concern that the fountain could become a flashpoint for violent protest like the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, commissioners decided to remove the fountain quickly.

Dozens of people spoke for and against the fountain's removal during the meeting. Those seeking to preserve the monument generally equated its removal with erasing history.

"We don't change history by pretending it didn't happen," said one Helena resident.

The sentiment was repeated Thursday morning by President Donald Trump, who tweeted that he was "Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can't change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson - who's next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish!"

Some on social media, unaware of the 2015 debate, wondered why Montana had a monument to the confederacy in the first place, given that it didn't gain statehood until 1889.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Photos: Monday night's Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue show at the Wilma

Posted By on Wed, Aug 16, 2017 at 9:49 PM


Monday, August 14, 2017

On Sunday, Missoulians marched in solidarity with Charlottesville

Posted By on Mon, Aug 14, 2017 at 12:21 PM

In response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, an estimated 225 people gathered at Missoula's BN Plaza Sunday night, Aug. 13, to march in solidarity with Charlottesville. The attendance was estimated by Missoula Rises: Organization and Action Founded in Love, an affiliate of the Montana Human Rights Network and the group that organized Sunday's vigil and march.

The gathering kicked off with Erin Erickson, the Missoula Rises, organizer thanking attendees for standing against hate, and recapping events in Charlottesville. Afterwards, community members Lauren Rodriguez, Deborah Schmidt, Dave Jolla, Davis Ritsema and Dustin Monroe spoke to the marchers about racism in the Missoula community. Members of the Industrial Workers of the World and the Democratic Socialists of America also spoke, honoring the life of Heather Heyer, who was killed in Charlottesville on Saturday when a driver crashed his car into a crowd of demonstrators counter-protesting a violent white supremacist rally.

Dustin Monroe, a Lakota and Blackfeet speaker and activist, spoke about the persistent nationwide culture of racism and outlined local examples of racism against Native American peoples. Among the crowd was Chris Badgley, a candidate for Missoula City Council representing Ward 4, who said, “There is nothing patriotic about fascism.”

The marchers then took to Higgins Avenue, peacefully chanting “No hate in our state,” “Love lives here,” and “Black lives matter,” raising fists and signs, and garnering honks from several cars and whistles from pedestrians.

Erickson concluded the march up just above the Clark Fork Market area by announcing further actions that citizens can take to combat hate (follow Missoula Rises: Organization & Action Founded In Love on Facebook for more information) and reiterating the importance of persistent activism.

A man closes his eyes in prayer for those injured and killed during the weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. - ELI IMADALI
  • Eli Imadali
  • A man closes his eyes in prayer for those injured and killed during the weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Dustin Monroe, a Lakota and Blackfeet activist, speaks to the crowd about racism against Native Americans in Montana. - ELI IMADALI
  • Eli Imadali
  • Dustin Monroe, a Lakota and Blackfeet activist, speaks to the crowd about racism against Native Americans in Montana.

A marcher holds a sign commemorating Heather Heyer, who was killed in Charlottesville on Saturday when a driver crashed his car into demonstrators protesting a white supremacist rally. - ELI IMADALI
  • Eli Imadali
  • A marcher holds a sign commemorating Heather Heyer, who was killed in Charlottesville on Saturday when a driver crashed his car into demonstrators protesting a white supremacist rally.

Caroline Temple marches down Higgins Avenue, with her child, both of them chanting “love lives here,” along with an estimated 225 other marchers. - ELI IMADALI
  • Eli Imadali
  • Caroline Temple marches down Higgins Avenue, with her child, both of them chanting “love lives here,” along with an estimated 225 other marchers.

Missoulians march down Higgins Avenue chanting “black lives matter.” - ELI IMADALI
  • Eli Imadali
  • Missoulians march down Higgins Avenue chanting “black lives matter.”

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Roxy Theater gets its art deco marquee

Posted By on Thu, Aug 10, 2017 at 4:05 PM

  • photo by Parker Seibold

The Roxy Theater's new marquee went up yesterday, marking the most dramatic moment of the vintage theater's recent restoration project. The art deco sign—cherry red with bright yellow lettering, and lined with neon—is based on the theater's original sign. Mike Steinberg, the Roxy's director and programmer, says he thought the original sign was destroyed in 1994, when the Roxy burned. But photos from the fire show that it's not the original. "We don't know where the original one is," he says. "It's another Roxy mystery."

Steinberg and his staff have been raising funds to restore the vibrant community theater back to its roots. They started a #Give37 campaign to raise $37,000 (the Roxy was built in 1937), and that money will go to the new marquee and other art deco flourishes throughout the lobby, and etched-glass doors with brass handles. Steinberg says they're trying to reach the goal by Sept. 24, which is when the Roxy celebrates its 80th anniversary with a big family-friendly party, including screenings of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and the original Snow White, plus music from the Skurfs.

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Trenton Johnson died fighting a forest fire on July 19. A lifelong friend recalls the memories he left in Missoula.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 8, 2017 at 12:26 PM

Trenton Johnson was adopted from the Ukraine. At least that’s what he’d have told you if you were just meeting him and you asked where he was from. He pulled that prank for upwards of a decade, finding endless joy in the prospect of people believing he’d come from such a foreign land. I first met Trenton in the second grade, and I still have a hazy recollection of him informing me of his fictional origins. I believed him for months until his parents verified that the claim wasn’t true while driving me up to the first of what would end up being many trips to Trenton’s cabin on Elbow Lake.
Trenton Johnson in 2011, the first year he played lacrosse. - PHOTO COURTESY KEILAN SAYER
  • Photo courtesy Keilan Sayer
  • Trenton Johnson in 2011, the first year he played lacrosse.
Trenton had dozens of little quirks like that. Throughout his life, Trenton managed to draw laughter and happiness from what would have been nonsense to anybody else. For whatever reason, he named every cat he ever met “Rilo,” and would proceed to refer to the cat as Rilo even if he was provided with the actual name. Any time he rolled through a yellow light he’d kiss three fingers and touch the roof of his car for “good luck.” You’d be going through everyday life and all of a sudden Trenton would do something small that made you look at him a little weird, and then maybe you’d let out a giggle. 
On July 22, I was absolutely blown away by the displays and tributes the Forest Service and all the different fire departments from the northwest put on. At the memorial at Fort Missoula, flying from the outstretched ladder of a fire truck, was a massive American flag, and that is an image that will stay in my mind forever. I am also grateful for the displays the Hellgate lacrosse team made—a team that both Trenton and myself suited up for to win the state title in 2015. His jersey was displayed at the private memorial, and a lacrosse scholarship fund has been established in his name.

But Trenton’s influence ranged so far outside of the lacrosse and firefighting communities. He really was a friend to all. The night after the funeral, I hosted a small gathering for Trenton’s friends, and as I and a few others went through our contacts looking for people to invite, we amassed a list of more than 20 people, all just as touched by Trenton’s existence as I was. The gathering turned into a party, and it was beautiful to see the turnout. The group was comprised of family friends, friends from elementary school, middle school, high school, lacrosse, cross-country, people he just met in the classroom—people who would never normally be seen with each other. It illustrated in plain terms why Trenton’s loss is so huge to the community. He was a hard person not to be friends with. Social standards meant nothing to him. It didn’t matter how you looked, what you liked to do, who you hung out with. Trenton was friends with everybody, and once he considered you a friend, you were his friend for life.

He loved fun, he loved work, he loved people, he loved his family.

And everybody loved him for it.

When somebody dies, there’s a rush to try and define what they were. Whether they were a fireman or a lacrosse player or a scholar, people try to understand the deceased in narrow terms. And while Trenton wore all of those qualities proudly, they barely scratch the surface in describing him as a person. Of course there is no way to put into words what Trenton was, but if I were to try, I’d say he was above all a friend.

That was what was most special about Trenton. Beyond his obvious strengths as a smart, hard-working, loyal, thoughtful and happy person, he made life more fun with his quirky intricacies and winning attitude. He could make anything fun, through pure determination and a starkly individual view of his surroundings. There was rarely a hard time that Trenton couldn’t make at least a little bit better just by being there, and by being himself. He was unique in his own right, and in this way, Trenton was from a distant land. Or he may as well have been. He was his own person in such a pure way that he was invitingly foreign to everybody he got to know, because there was no chance you’d ever met anybody like Trenton. You may as well have met somebody who had been adopted from the Ukraine.

Chase Koenig is a graduate of Hellgate High School, he is currently attending the University of Iowa as a second year Creative Writing student. He has been friends with Trenton Johnson since they met in the 2nd grade.

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