Commissioners sign petition, deny bias, postpone decision

In the years after World War I, the Missoula Mercantile building moved three tons of huckleberry fudge a day.

The Missoula Mercantile, which once moved three tons of huckleberry fudge per day.

Bad news for business travelers: Missoula’s Historic Preservation Commission1 has put off deciding whether to let developers knock down the Missoula Mercantile Building and build a Residence Inn. It met for four hours last week. In addition to public comment that compared HomeBase Montana to ISIS, the commission addressed the recommendation of City Attorney Jim Nugent, who advised four members to recuse themselves for bias.

“I am still in shock that somehow we’ve been found guilty without any due process whatsoever,” commission vice chair Steve Adler told The Missoulian.2 I find him guilty of exaggeration. Nugent issued no verdict, because he held no trial. He did tell four commissioners that the city could be vulnerable to a lawsuit if the they didn’t recuse. Nugent’s office discovered that Adler, an architect, worked on his own plan to develop residential condominiums in the Mercantile building. He also signed a Save the Merc petition and liked various postings from a group of the same name on Facebook. So did commission chair Mike Monsos and commissioners Kate Kolwicz and Cheryl Cote.

First of all, alliteration on the Historic Preservation Commission has gotten way out of hand. Second, and perhaps even more importantly: Did you guys think signing petitions and liking Facebook posts from parties to a permit dispute that you’re adjudicating was appropriate? I am scared the answer is yes. Now’s a good time to remember that Missoula’s commissioners of historic preservation are all volunteers, and we’ve asked them to stop putting plaques on mansions just long enough to intercede in multimillion-dollar development deal.

This may not be a job for amateur government, but it has fallen to the amateurs’ lot. We installed these people, and we will foot the bill if their predictable errors in judgment trigger a lawsuit. You can read all about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent. Official motto: Your local newspaper that has an editor.3

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