Monday, October 24, 2005

City Stories

Need a story from the city beat? There's a forum for the mayoral candidates tonight (Tuesday) at the Crystal Theater. Otherwise, check out the City Council committee meetings this week. Looks to me like the Public Works Committee has the juiciest agenda: a discussion on the city's space needs (think council chambers) and a plan to rebuild sidewalks in some areas of town (controversial if homeowners have to kick in).

You're also free to follow up on some issue that struck your fancy Monday night. (When and how will the council consider replacing Lovegrove?) Other prime prospects include various scheduled forums for City Council candidates this week at several neighborhood councils. If your candidate is debating his foe, cover the debate and make contact. You'll be glad you did. (Check with organizers before you go to make sure the forum is still on.)

Other ideas? Share them with the class.

This just in ...

I hope you've all had a chance to read Saturday's post about tonight's council meeting, but you should know that there's another story on the horizon. Ward 5 Councilman Bob Lovegrove, a former mayor, died Sunday of complications from brain cancer. The mood at tonight's meeting is likely to be somber, and the council's reaction to Lovegrove's death will be news. Among other things, the council will have to decide how to replace Lovegrove.

This week's assignments:

1. Monday's council meeting.
2. A story from the city beat. (Latest deadline is 5 p.m. Friday.)

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Power Politics

I know you're finishing your candidate background reports, but spend some time this weekend backgrounding yourself for Monday night's City Council meeting. Check out the agenda online, and read Ginny Merriam's preview in Sunday's Missoulian. Me, I think Monday's meeting will be a test of the council's commitment to Montana Public Power Inc.

It's hard to know which side is right in that debate, but that isn't your worry. Your job is to help readers understand what each side is saying. To do that, get familiar with the most recent news about this. Ginny wrote a story Wednesday about a committee's debate on the very same issue the council will consider Monday. The Lee State Bureau also reported Saturday on Northwestern's latest reaction to the MPPI's latest buyout offer.

Me, I'd read that stuff and write three grafs of background on the MPPI issue before I went to cover Monday night's meeting. Graf 1 would explan in broad terms what MPPI is and what it wants to do. Graf 2 would explain why MPPI thinks it can better serve customers than NorthWestern can. Graf 3 would explain why NorthWestern thinks that is like so totally wack. (<-- Incredibly hip slang for cattle manure.)

If you'll do that, you'll be in a much better position to look for news Monday night instead of trying to figure out what everyone's talking about. By the way, everybody will be tossing around the phrase due diligence as if you should already know what that means. Maybe you should.

Questions? Comments? Humorous observations? World Series tickets for sale?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Happy Hour at the Heron?

C'mon, it wasn't that bad. In fact, most of you nailed the news on council's about-face on what to do with its moldy, old night club. Some brave souls even ventured to write about the surprise fuss over the aquatics project, though you had little, if any, background. Good instincts! That story has a far greater personal and financial implications for your average Missoulian.

Ginny Merriam did a solid job of reporting both angles. In simple, clear prose, she told her readers what happened and what it might mean, and she put the news in context with just enough background. She also gave readers a sense of the debate (the pros and cons) and the captured the frustration some speakers felt. Her story would have made perfect sense to readers familiar with the issues and those seeing them for the first time. The only thing I might have added to her reporting on the swimming pools would have been a response from the mayor to his critics. (Did you catch a whiff of election politics in both issues? The city's critics included two City Council candidates.)

I was especially proud of those you who sat through some of the energy expert's criticism of the cities' bid to buy NorthWestern Energy. As dense as that subject must have seemed, I'll bet you understood the thrust of his main argument: the cheap hydroelectric power the cities' hope to offer customers may not be there.

If anything, I hope Monday night drove home the need to be as prepared as you can be before the meeting and to listen hard, even when it the jargon gets thick. And don't be afraid to grab people to answer your questions.

Questions? Comments? Observations? Bad jokes?

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Blue Heron Blues

It's showtime on the City Beat. We'll cover tonight's City Council meeting for a midnight deadline. Meet at the first-floor conference conference of St. Patrick Hospital (500 W. Broadway) a few minutes before 7 p.m. Get a good seat. Take good notes.

Why are we meeting at a hospital instead of City Hall? Funny you should ask because that oddity looks like the Big News on tonight's agenda.

Here's the deal. Missoula's City Council is essentially homeless, having surrendered its comfortable chambers to Municipal Judge Don Louden, who's court was bursting at the seams. Initially, the council had considered moving the court to a former night club on West Pine Street called the Blue Heron. The council bought the building for $550,000, but when estimates came in for remodeling and cleaning up some asbestos and funky mold, the council balked. Eventually, and with some embarrassment, it decided to sell the Heron and build a new City Hall annex to house a new council chambers. Case closed?

Hardly. Uncomfortable in its awkward settings (where it could remain for two years or more) the council's Public Works Committee voted 6-1 last week to recommend the Blue Heron sale be delayed and the building be remodeled as a temporary home for council meetings and the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. The issue is contentious. In fact, the council was soundly criticized for buying the night club in the first place.

What will the city do? You tell me. By midnight, and not a minute later.

Reminder: No class Wednesday. Be working on your candidate background reports, which are due in class -- in writing -- Monday, Oct. 24.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Welcome to City Hall

Contrary to earlier reports, there will be no City Council meeting Monday. Why? It's Columbus Day, a holiday celebrated by city employees but not state workers like me. Hence the confusion.

The upshot? Obviously, you won't be asked to write a preview of Monday's nonexistent meeting, much less cover it. Instead, I'll ask you to dig through the city's Web site and Ginny Merriam's recent beat coverage in the Missoulian and submit a written report proposing three stories from the city beat. For each idea, provide the necessary background and suggest specific sources.

Deadline: Friday, Oct. 7, at 5 p.m.

Don't forget you also owe me a story from your beat this week.