Conservative members of the Missoula City Council want to obstruct the progressive agenda of the sitting majority. That progressive majority has a fairly concrete and generally uncompromising idea about how the city’s zoning re-write should serve posterity.

Any account you’ve probably read about anti-zoning conservative Jane Rectenwald’s recent battles with the Office of Planning and Grants probably contained a variation of one of these two statements. However, so few involved in the blinding partisan onslaught seem to consider that both could be true.

During a Dec. 10 zoning workshop, Rectenwald delivered a 20-minute address that drew jeers from progressives in the room. According to a complaint she later sent to Mayor John Engen, head planner Roger Millar allegedly asked Rectenwald not to attend subsequent meetings—which is frankly a matter of hearsay. What really has conservatives all wound up is the perception that planners will ultimately ignore their complaints. And they could.

Consider Whitefish’s 2005 decision to extend its zoning powers two miles outside of the city limits. The whole mess started when city representatives ignored the pleas of so-called “doughnut” residents over planning and that fight is still ongoing. Just last week the Montana Supreme Court ordered a temporary injunction on Flathead County’s plan to take the doughnut back while the issue plays out in court.

In Missoula, progressives argue Millar’s decision to hold a boatload of public meetings on the zoning re-write proves the city cares about citizen input. Well, so did Whitefish—efforts that ultimately proved window dressing. Similar complaints of arrogance within the Missoula planning department may be unfounded, but they’re not new.

Make no mistake—the progressives can legally ignore away. It’s no coincidence that the scoreboard in City Council chambers has read 7-5 all season. Why should it surprise anyone that the lame-duck conservatives have resorted to obstruction?

Yet, perhaps the most irritating thing about issues of this sort is everybody suddenly becomes an expert on constitutional law (except for UM law professor and conservative blogger Rob Natelson, who actually is). The U.S. Constitution says little about fair play and even less about the greater good prevailing. However, it does say something about fair representation.

Whitefish tried to rule county residents without giving them a say in city government. Missoula is still a couple of unused Bogner ski suits short of turning into Whitefish. Let’s keep it that way.
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