By Jim Harmon
There had been talk of a trading the Yankee Clipper – Joe DiMaggio – to the Boston Red Sox.
Montana Congressman Mike Mansfield was busy gathering pork for the state ($3.5 million for a transmission line from Kerr dam, and construction of Hungry Horse dam).
It was 1947.
In Missoula, Ralph Hughes, a deputy sheriff, was given the routine task of delivering a subpoena. It’s likely, though, when he saw the name on the document, he did a double-take. It was to be served on Missoula Mayor Juliet Gregory.
It seems a couple of downtown businessmen, Leo Glodt and Edward Cozad, didn’t like an ordinance being considered by the mayor and City Council. In fact, they were fighting mad about it, and were taking the city to court.
Ordinance 743 involved a contract with Duncan-Miller, a company based in Seattle.
Little did either side know this legal battle would find its way to the Montana Supreme Court, and become a legal precedent for decades to come, cited from 1950 to today.
What were the two businessmen so worked up about?
The city wanted a better way to control parking in the congested downtown area, but Glodt and Cozad claimed the city was just trying to make money through an illegal franchise.
District Court Judge Albert Besancon was assigned the case and promptly slapped the city with a restraining order.
Despite that, the mayor and council went ahead, approving the ordinance and signing a one-year trial contract to buy parking meters.
They said they had every right to regulate parking, and the current system of assigning cops to wander around chalking tires and writing tickets was inefficient and too expensive.
After numerous briefs and amended complaints, Judge Besancon sided with the two businessmen, ruling the city should have put the matter to a vote of the people, “particularly when rights of long-standing are to be taken away. Horses have been hitched in the streets of Missoula for 75 years. Automobiles have been parked on the streets for at least 40 years. All without tax for such use.”
Score: Glodt and Cozad 1, the city 0.
The game was far from over, but let’s take a time out.
The mayor was juggling a number of issues at the time, not just the parking meter case. A handful of disgruntled union members were circulating a petition to recall Ms. Gregory (the city’s first and only female mayor), as well as Street Commissioner Claude Treece for the
“unjustified and dictatorial dismissal of city employees.” The petition had the soft backing of the Missoula Trades and Labor council.
Gregory told the Missoulian the petition was “a deliberate concoction of half-truths.”
The centerpiece of the brouhaha was the sudden departure of the fire chief. The mayor said the chief had refused to answer a fire call, which was “a violation of public trust.” She gave him a choice of facing charges or resigning. He resigned.
Gregory charged union officials with refusing to “…come out in the open to fight, man to woman, or to even carry their own petition… to say nothing of (desiring) to retain unnecessary employees and those who were found derelict in their duty.”
Long story short, Gregory weathered the storm, managing to complete her first term, but was defeated when she ran for re-election.
End of timeout. Back to the parking meter story.
The mayor and council still wanted their nickel bandits and in late November, 1947 appealed their case to state supreme court.
The next spring, the justices reversed Judge Besancon’s decision, saying, “We searched the contract of purchase in vain to find any grant of right or privilege to the vendor of the meters.”
The chief justice and four associate justices (including Lee Metcalf) found no validity in the businessmen’s arguments. “Neither the contract for the purchase of parking meters by the city of Missoula, nor the ordinance 743 of that city providing for their installation and use, nor the plan proposed thereby for traffic regulation, are vulnerable to any of the charges leveled.”
Meter installation began in early April, 1948, causing both confusion and delight. Before the work could be completed or any official starting date announced, confused motorists were seen feeding the mechanical devices. Youngsters, interested to see how they worked, inserted pennies in the meters and stood fixed, staring, waiting for the “expired” flag to pop up, as though the meters were designed solely for their entertainment.
For trivia buffs, Missoula’s official “momentous-municipal-meter-moment” came at 9 a.m., Friday, April 16, 1948.
Instantly, the meters achieved the city’s stated goal – reducing downtown congestion. In fact the Missoulian’s reporter (no by-line), covering the “meter moment,” noted “Many places customarily accommodating a full capacity of cars were vacant…” He added most folks seemed to think the meters were “a good thing” although there were a few dissenters.
Interestingly, in a follow-up story 30 years later, we learned the author of that 1948 story (with no by-line) was reporter/photographer Stan Healy.
Healy (in 1978, serving as a City Council member) helped circulate petitions to get rid of the “pesky” meters. The petition effort fell sort.
Fast forward 15 more years and we find a Missoula parking commissioner emptying the contents of a few meters into his own pockets and spending his (ah) their “pocket change” around town. He was arrested, resigned his position and was sentenced to four days in jail.
What is it about these pesky parking sentinels? Is there more misfortune to come?
These days with our high tech “smart meters,” swiping our credit cards or Downtown Association gift cards, or (soon) just using our smart phones, what is our fate, and that of our elected leaders? Security, we’re told, is top notch.
But, still… there’s just something about parking meters. I wonder what the next headline will be? “Mayor mysteriously disappears; Feared abducted by parking drones.”
Perhaps it’s already happened.
Jim Harmon is a retired journalist whose 50-year career included nearly three decades at KECI-TV, Missoula in roles ranging from news anchor to weather forecaster. In retirement, Jim is a landscape gardener and history buff who’s spent years reading historical micro-film newspapers. You can read his weekly history column at the Missoula Current.