Harmon’s Histories: And the gloves were off at Missoula City Council

Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current.

The Missoula City Council meeting started out routinely enough. The minutes of the last gathering were approved, routine bills were paid, a petition was received to extend the city’s fire jurisdiction south to Second Street, and matters of streets and bridges were discussed.

But that’s when normalcy and civility ended on the evening of October 15, 1890, or as the reporter from Missoula’s Weekly Gazette put it: “The fun began.”

Alderman Fussy “moved that the office of street commissioner be abolished … a polite way of ‘firing’ Alderman Osborne, who had been appointed to that office a month or so ago.”

Osborne shot back that City Attorney Reeves had already determined there was nothing in the statutes to prevent him from holding both offices.

Before anyone could discuss the matter, Alderman Mattus quickly seconded Fussy’s motion “and he and Alderman Bennett asked for the roll to be called on the motion.”

Osborne interrupted the clerk, who’d begun calling the roll, asking “that other members of the council be given a chance to talk.”

Matthus jumped in, asserting it was a “measure of economy (referring) to the Main Street grading.” Bennett agreed, saying, “That work was let out at $0.57 a yard, when it might have been let at less figures.”

And the gloves were off.

Osborne – Yes, the trouble is that you did not get the work yourself.

Matthus – I didn’t have the lowest bid.

Osborne – You had a bid for 40 cents.

Matthus – No, I did not.

Osborne – You had a man of yours put in a bid for you in his name.

Matthus – There was a bid in at 40 cents a yard.

Osborne – Yes, and what kind of bid was it?

Matthus – I guess the bid was all right.

Osborne – I’ll just prove it right now that that bid was one which no one could legally accept.

Finally, Mayor Kennedy interrupted; the discussion was getting too personal.

But the volleys continued.

Osborne said this whole attempt to abolish the office of street commissioner “was all a piece of spite work because certain parties did not get the contract.”

Fussy – We want to abolish it as a matter of economy.

Osborne – Where does the economy come in? You cannot get along without a street commissioner.

Fussy – We’ll show you when we get through with this.

Donley – I move we adjourn.

Aldermen Gussy and Bennett – There is a motion before the house. The motion to adjourn is out of order.

Donley – A motion to adjourn is always in order.

Fussy – Not when there is a motion before the house.

City Attorney Reeves – A motion to adjourn is in order at any time.

Fussy – What have you got to do with this? You are not running this council, I want you to understand. The people of Missoula elected us to run the affairs of the city.

Reeves – Yes, and the people of Missoula elected me to see that you do it right.

Fussy – Well, you just keep your mouth shut.

Reeves – Don’t talk to me that way, you dirty little scrub!

Fussy – I’ll talk as I please.

Reeves – You daren’t talk that way to me after we get out of the council chamber, you little pinhead. If you do, I’ll mash your face!

Mayor Kennedy had had enough, pounding his gavel, demanding order, and reminding the assembly he was in charge “by God!” and did not propose to have aldermen run things.

“This sudden wakening up of his honor,” reported the Missoula Weekly Gazette, “paralyzed the council, and quiet supreme at once reigned.”

A vote was called on abolishing the office of street commissioner, and it passed 6-1, with Osborne, inexplicably, among the “ayes” – only Donley voted “No.”

Finally, a motion to adjourn was made. But it faltered on a 4-3 vote “and another heated discussion began,” with Alderman Bennett suggesting the office of police chief be merged with the duties of street commissioner.

At that, Aldermen Angevine, Donley and Osborne simply got up and left, leaving the rest with no option but to adjourn.

The Gazette summed up the whole affair rather succinctly: “So ended one of the finest exhibitions the city council has yet given the people who elected them.”

Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at harmonshistories@gmail.com.