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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In addition to testifying before City Council on nearly a weekly basis, Matthew-Jenkins has become a familiar face at the Legislature in Helena. She still remembers the first time she spoke before the governing body.

"Going to Helena I realized government was into everything—everything—our getting up and our laying down, everything that we did," she says.

Much of Matthew-Jenkins' work aims to purge government from the lives of Montanans.

"We have not taught people to be responsible for themselves so they have allowed themselves to be taken over by the government agendas, political parties, you name it—they're not free," she says. "Since my country is no longer free, I have to fight for that."

Her political awakening started in 1981 when she became the director of Birthright of Missoula, a faith-based pregnancy support center now called 1st Way.

"I discovered things I never even thought of before," she says. "I discovered that we were becoming a people who thought it okay to premeditatively murder unborn children."

Matthew-Jenkins first testified before the City Council in 1988, when officials moved to raise business-licensing fees. Hers was the only public comment that day, she says.

"For years I testified as the only citizen in the room," she says.

Today, she directs much of her testimony toward CPS. Through weeks of regular three-minute comments, her story comes out more or less chronologically. Council members learn that a CPS caseworker pulled Matthew-Jenkins' 8-year-old son out of class 15 years ago. That led to an inquiry after the child told a counselor Matthew-Jenkins spanked him. The incident spooked Matthew-Jenkins so much, she tells council, that she removed her three youngest children from the public school system, opting to home school them instead.

"For three years we lived in fear," she tells council.

Matthew-Jenkins still hasn't let go. She's lobbied the federal government and stayed up nights researching allegations against the agency. She shuttles families to Helena to offer their own testimony indicting CPS. The issue, she says, isn't a random conspiracy theory put forward by a nut job with a personal gripe. As she sees it, the agency's intrusions illustrate a government run amok on the taxpayers' dime.

"It reflects throughout our daily lives of what kind of control the government has over us," Matthew-Jenkins says. "That one issue incorporates everything. It can go down to your property rights, because you lose your home, you lose your job, you lose your standing in the community, your reputation."

click to enlarge Kandi Matthew-Jenkins testifies almost every week before council. She says her primary concern is reining in overblown government and keeping it out of Montanans’ lives. “It’s not a personal gripe. It’s a real live happening thing,” she says. - PHOTO BY CAHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Photo by Cahrine L. Walters
  • Kandi Matthew-Jenkins testifies almost every week before council. She says her primary concern is reining in overblown government and keeping it out of Montanans’ lives. “It’s not a personal gripe. It’s a real live happening thing,” she says.

Although Matthew Jenkins is greeted at times by name-calling—she says she's been called "Christian right-wing fanatic" and "crazy lady"—and council members who don't necessary appreciate her rambling message, she has no intention of keeping her mouth shut.

"I can't even imagine how many times I've been told, 'Kandi, you get more flies with honey than you do vinegar,'" she says. "And I just tell them that I'm not after flies. This is after the hearts and souls of people."

Ignorance and arrogance

On a recent afternoon, Will Snodgrass stands on Woodland Street and points to a massive cement manhole, part of the Upper Rattlesnake sewer installation project currently underway. Manufacturing and shipping that manhole alone consumed more resources than Snodgrass likes to think about.

"Look at this horror. My God, this is like Aliens," he says.

Then consider the dust—just the dust—created by the project, and what it does to local residents who have to inhale such dirty air. Particulate pollution spikes during peak construction periods, and it's a primary concern of his—those spikes, he says, can trigger cardiac arrhythmia, heart attack and stroke. It's all part of what Snodgrass calls a massive environmental disaster underway in the Rattlesnake.

"Look at all this shit. This is what I want Jason Wiener and the other guy [Dave Strohmaier] to talk about," Snodgrass says, referring to his Ward 1 council representatives.

Snodgrass has been fighting the sewer project for years the only way he knows how: with reams of data and a tenacious, unrelenting approach. The 64-year-old videographer comes from a family of professional wrestlers, boxers and scientists, and he has inherited those ancestors' traits.

Before landing in Missoula, the Minneapolis native attended college, pre-med, at the University of Minnesota, but didn't graduate. His activism began three decades ago, when he began reading everything he could get his hands on about the dangers of pesticides and herbicides in the environment.

Around the same time his environmental awareness kicked in, Snodgrass began developing an uncanny sensitivity to smell, along with an aversion to lotions, perfumes and detergents. Chemical compounds in dryer sheets make him feel ill, as do pesticides and herbicides. The sensitivity makes him acutely aware of toxins in his surroundings. He goes so far as to sit upwind from offending scents—or avoid them altogether.

"I'll be putting Weed-B-Gon on a dandelion and he'll yell at me from a block away," says Doug Grimm, who's lived in Snodgrass' neighborhood since 1946 and sits on the Upper Rattlesnake Neighborhood Council.

People think Snodgrass is crazy, Grimm says, but his neighbor's observations often prove correct. Grimm remembers attending a council meeting several years ago during which Snodgrass discussed the gasoline additive Methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), which at the time was increasingly being used across the nation. Snodgrass told the council people were getting sick and representatives should fight to keep the additive out of local gas tanks. The subject matter was only peripherally relevant to municipal purview. Even so, MTBE was later banned in 17 states across the country.

After Snodgrass' MTBE presentation in front of council, Grimm says there wasn't much of a fuss.

"They all yawned when he was done and said, 'What's the next line of business?'" recalls Grimm. "But he was right...He stands up there and shouts and jumps and waves his arms, and people think he's crazy. But sometimes he's right."

Today when Snodgrass speaks in front of City Council, he mostly antagonizes its members. The slender white-haired man will often point a pale finger and raise his voice, accusing city staffers of ignorance and arrogance.

"That's my right. That's my duty. That's my obligation as a citizen," Snodgrass explains. "The Constitution of Montana guarantees me the right to participate. It also says that I have an obligation. That obligation, I think, does not extend to pandering to inept public officials or putting up with their derisiveness, their skinning and grinning, their looks of disdain and their abject silence in the face of very solidly put questions. I think they're a bunch of careless fools."

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