Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) One member of City Council brought a measure to the Committee of the Whole on Wednesday that would require any referral he presented, regardless of topic, to be heard in a committee while enabling him to dictate when that hearing takes place.

The referral, presented by freshman council member Daniel Carlino, was eventually tabled for lack of support. But it did prompt a broader discussion on how the City Council communicates and how items are scheduled for hearings.

“I'm trying to uphold democracy at the City of Missoula,” Carlino told his peers. “We don't need to get into examples. But every City Council member should be able to refer things to committees. They should be able to refer things to committees in a timely manner. I was elected, just as you all were, to be part of the policy-making body for the City of Missoula.”

Carlino's past referrals have included an effort to decriminalize hallucinogenic plants, which didn't gain any traction. He also has spearheaded efforts to defund the police department and funnel that revenue into homelessness.

“You either care about BIPOC safety in Missoula or you don't, and you've shown you don't with your budget,” Carlino told the police chief in 2020. “At the end of the day, it seems like you're going to keep upholding the same white supremacist society since you benefit from it.”

Several council members suggested Wednesday that Carlino doesn't communicate well with his council peers, misleads in his statements and doesn't take advantage of other council rules already in place that would enable him to bring a referral forward, even if a committee chair opposes it.

When pressed on his use of Rule 22, he admitted he hasn't done so but would in the future. One member also called Carlino out for preempting Wednesday's hearing by launching a Twitter attack against another council peer in late June.

“The City Council President Gwen Jones has been the biggest road block to progress by preventing policy proposals from even making it on the agenda,” Carlino tweeted. “That's why I'm bringing a rule change to ensure every council member has the right to bring policy proposals forward for a vote.”


Carlino's Twitter statement drew backlash from constituents, with one suggesting that “it's more beneficial to work it out informally than to try to demonize a fellow council person on social media.”

Carlino already has one warning in his file, which came after he sent the city's former policy chief a threatening email last June saying, “You are a toxic police chief who doesn't care about our safety or improvement as a society. Can't wait to see you fired.”

Council member Stacie Anderson also noted Carlino's occasional lack of decorum and his use of social media to attack others.

“There's the subcurrent of different personalities and there's the need to make sure the council works in productive ways," she said Wednesday. "We need to bring it back up to council in a productive way, not taking to Twitter and calling members of council out.”

Anderson, who chairs the Budget and Finance Committee, said scheduling is key to running a proficient and productive committee hearing, and not everything warrants a hearing. Some issues can be resolved outside of council chambers by working with peers, department heads and other city leaders.

Other council members agreed, saying city staff and department heads are often part of the discussion and need to be scheduled. Their time also needs to be valued.

“None of us act individually in the end. It has to be a majority vote and that requires a lot of legwork ahead of time with policy ideas, to at least make sure you have some collaboration on the front end,” said council member Heidi West, who chairs the Public Health and Safety Committee. “That's respectful of our time. It's respectful of staff time. Committee meetings cost a lot. We're paying upward management to spend time with us. That time needs to be well used.”

Most agree that improvements could be made

Carlino cited three referrals that he alleges haven't received a committee hearing including a presentation by the Homeless Outreach Team, banning the police department's use of “spit hoods,” and ways to address urban camping.

But Carlino isn't the only member of City Council exploring solutions to urban camping, and other council members said it makes little sense to bring dozens of referrals forward on the same issue.

Rather, they suggested it was a better use of council time and the public's time to have issues consolidated while also ensuring they have tangible outcomes. They also need to be legally vetted and can't come forward on the whim of a single individual.

“Scheduling is a real thing. We have to be organized about what topics are coming,” said Amber Sherrill, who chairs the Committee on Climate, Conservation and Parks. “I don't want things coming to my committee that haven't been vetted legally. The chair needs some discretion to make sure whatever is coming to their committee has been vetted, otherwise it makes the process too messy.”

Ward 3 Council member Daniel Carlino expressed frustration on Wednesday over current City Council rules, though he later agreed to work on a solution with peers. (Screenshot)
Ward 3 Council member Daniel Carlino expressed frustration on Wednesday over current City Council rules, though he later agreed to work on a solution with peers. (Screenshot)

Carlino's referral to allow one person to bring any referral to council floor was heading toward defeat, at least until it was tabled by council member Mike Nugent. And while the tone and substance of Carlino's referral didn't win wide support, it did generate a debate in which most agreed that improvements could be made to the process.

That includes better communication from committee chairs who field referrals and requiring committee chairs to respond by email to the council member making a referral. The later appeared to have wide support with some suggesting that a chair's response should go to the entire council, so each member knows what another member is working on.

That could address concerns over duplicating efforts, they said.

“I always appreciate the opportunity to improve, and there's a lot of room for improvement in a lot of ways we conduct our business as councilors,” said council member Mirtha Becerra, who chairs the Public Works and Mobility Committee.

“I see our referrals as a way to provide information but also as an actionable item. It needs to come with some level of research already done and a way to enforce it. I like the idea of more communication from the chair. It should be a reply to all of us. It's a way for us to know if there's someone else working on a related topic.”

By holding the issue in committee, City Council is expected to discuss the issue further, and they urged Carlino to work with others to find a solution that considers all concerns.