WATCH: Local Artist Travis Mateer Releases “Engen’s Missoula” Documentary Online
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Local artist and film producer Travis Mateer released his 3-hour documentary Engen’s Missoula late Wednesday night. “So happy to finally be able to share this, it’s been a long time in the making,” Mateer said in a tweet.
The film covers specific points in the administration of Missoula’s 5-term Mayor, John Engen, including the redirection of millions of taxpayer dollars (using a tax scheme struck down by courts in California); sweetheart deals for wealthy developers using these diverted funds; and intimidation and bullying towards scores of Missoula citizens who dissented to the mayor and the council in-person.
Mateer released the film on the documentary’s website, EngensMissoula.com. The film was produced and directed by Gabrielle Lafayette, a contributor to the now de-platformed Outer Limits Radio Show which formerly aired on KBGA.
A public viewing is being organized after the Roxy Theatre cancelled the showing last month without offering to reschedule. A private showing is set for January 17th at Crosspoint Community Church in Missoula.
The film opens with scenes from the February 12th, 2020 lockdown in downtown Missoula. Local media reported that Missoula Police Department officers “armed with machine guns” had locked down the downtown area after the back window of a police cruiser was allegedly shot out. The FBI and US Marshalls were deployed and snipers were positioned on the top of downtown buildings.
The film’s narrator asks, “How did we get here? Why does my hometown feel more and more like a war zone?”
The documentary continues, digging into the city’s leadership and its relationship to development and entertainment mogul, Nick Checota.
The documentary uncovers the attempt by the Missoula City Council to fast-track a $16.5 million tax-payer subsidy to Checota’s $100 million, 10-story waterfront development project at the old Fox Theatre site at Front and Orange streets.
Checota’s development was slated to include a 6,000-person capacity event center with 5 stories of hotel rooms and three stories of luxury condominiums in the top three levels.
A review of Checota’s plans by the city council was initially scheduled for the council’s regular Monday evening meeting on October 21, 2019, but was suddenly moved forward three days to mid-day on Wednesday, October 16th.
After Checota’s presentation, Engen stated to the council, “The speed with which we are bringing this to you has everything to do with seizing opportunity.” Missoula City councilwoman Gwen Jones noted the speed of the approval process during the meeting, but chalked it up to “closure” on the same day the public had heard Checota’s presentation for the first time. “There is this, wow this is happening so fast,” Jones said. “But, for me, personally, I don’t think thats fast, necessarily, I think it’s more like closure.”
Mayor Engen said that Missoulian’s are fond of circulating rumors and that the sooner the council could get Checota’s project in front of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, “the more facts we would have available to move forward with this project.”
“The sooner you all can get to a place to where you can support this, which I hope you can,” Engen encouraged the council.
The documentary shows scores of Missoula citizens during public comment that night and at subsequent city council meetings expressing concerns about the tax-payer subsidy and the project, in general. The first person who provided public comment the day of the rescheduled meeting was Kevin Hunt, an attorney who moved to Missoula from Oregon. Hunt called out the city council regarding the optics of rescheduling the meeting and fast-tracking a tax-payer subsidy of that magnitude.
The documentary also details the scheme that makes it possible for the city council to divert tens of millions of tax-payer dollars to private developers: tax increment financing.
Tax increment financing is a tax scheme (now shutdown in California by state courts) that diverts additional tax value collected beyond a property owners original assessed value into the coffers of an unelected body called the Missoula Redevelopment Agency (MRA).
The MRA’s members are appointed by the mayor and after Engen took control of the city he appointed Ellen Buchanan as Director. The documentary notes that all members of the MRA are also donors to Mayor Engen’s re-election campaigns. Former MRA director Geoff Badenoch is also interviewed. Badenoch admits in the documentary that funds controlled by so-called “redevelopment agencies” could be used irresponsibly.
Former Ward-4 Missoula City Councilman Jesse Ramos is also interviewed throughout the documentary, offering his perspective on the events surrounding the council’s move to subsidize the development and the citizen response. Ramos said that, in his mind, MRA Director Buchanan is “the most powerful leader in Missoula.”
Mateer shared that this film was likely only the first chapter in a miniseries on the administration of Mayor John Engen. Chapter 2? Mateer hints that in the next chapter of Engen’s Missoula, he will cover criminal justice issues including unsolved missing persons cases.
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