Much has been written and said in the past few days about ads landing in mailboxes throughout the city from a group called ‘Missoulians for Missoula’.

The ads state ‘Missoula Needs Leaders that will break the Politics as Usual cycle. Leaders that will find REAL SOLUTIONS TO THE SERIOUS CHALLENGES MISSOULA IS FACING AND WHO WILL LOOK OUT FOR TAXPAYERS’

On the left of each ad is a candidate (or incumbent) who:

Supports a sales tax, will raise property taxes, and will vote for more road diets.

On the right of each ad is a candidate who:

Opposes a sales tax, will lower taxes and will work for better roads and less traffic.

The group is made up of Missoula residents who have not been identified, and their treasurer, Katie Wenetta, has a Helena address.

Recent media reports have named some of the donors to the PAC, namely Michael and Kiomi Burks, former owners of the Garden of Read’n Christian Bookstore and current owners of a local health club.

Michael Burks spoke with KGVO News after the media reports of his family’s donation to ‘Missoula for Missoulians’ and explained his support for the organization.

“(Ward Four City Councilor) Jesse Ramos contacted me and asked if he could sit down with me and talk about a new non-political group that was being assembled to bring light to the property tax situation we have going on here that have escalated so much that many of us have had to file protests,” said Burks. “By turning to candidates who understand that everybody is maxed out right now. The second issue on the table was there are some candidates who are supporting a (local option) sales tax in lieu of rising property taxes. Unfortunately, property tax numbers have been released. Our taxes for our personal property have gone up $3,000 since 2016 alone.”

Another issue of concern for Burks is the reduction of 5th and 6th streets to one lane each way, which he says is causing problems for drivers.

“They’re actually cutting out the primary routes and making people drive in single file lines just to accommodate bicyclists. The bottom line is that this group of individuals (Missoulians for Missoula) is fighting for our right to not have our roadways taken from us. We should be able to use the entire roadway, with a bicycle lane. They’re causing mass delays.”

Burks, even though his family contributed to the PAC, said he had no input into the messaging of the flyers that have been mailed to the various wards.

“100 percent correct,” he said. “I simply supported a group of individuals who are running for office to make changes. I had no idea how the political platform was going to be done, but I am absolutely proud that we are confronting these issues.”

Burks said the media has taken the issue and twisted the focus toward those who support the issues, rather than to the issues themselves.

“The fact is that there are five candidates that support this group. Two are blue, three are red, so it is a nonpartisan group of individuals. We all have the same issue in hand, and that is to save the people who live in Missoula their tax dollars.”

Burks said he is thankful for his success in business; however, he is concerned about the Missoula residents who are being harmed by the rise in property values and higher taxes.

“I know of many people where a two percent, three percent or four percent rise in property value is going to destroy their budget,” he said. “Quite frankly, I’m fighting for this city; I’m not fighting for myself. There’s no way that we can handle these property taxes and then add on a sales tax, then take away our roads and be happy about the situation.”

Burks said no one from the media contacted him prior to the publishing of their stories.

“That is absolutely true,” he said. “My wife and I were headed to Kalispell to have emergency oral surgery and we received text messages stating that they were proud of us for standing up to something or the other, and we were completely blown away. We got to the hotel and started doing some research and, lo and behold, we found the articles. No, I had no idea this was coming. No, nobody called us for any comment, because, trust me, what I had to say to them would have been in print.”

Burks said that the way the media has treated him and his family over the years that he was not going to reach out to them.

Ward Four City Councilor Jesse Ramos stated plainly that neither he nor ‘Team Liberty’ candidates had anything to do with the creation of the fliers that were sent to Missoula households, though they may agree with some of the messaging.

“No, we certainly are not,” said Ramos. “They’ve been knocking on doors, they’ve been talking to constituents, but mostly they’ve been learning the issues. In fact, they just sent out their own mailers last week to coincide with the sending out of the ballots. And we worked our butts off to time that out so that our mailers came out the same day that the ballots did.”

Ramos noticed some spelling errors on the ‘Missoulians for Missoula’ mailers and that one of the ads mentioned ‘Jane Doe’ as opposed to the other candidate.

“They talked about tax increases, and I was hoping they would focus more on TIF’s (Tax Increment Financing) and that everyone on Team Liberty opposes Tax Increment Financing,” he said. The candidates mentioned in the ads had no input whatsoever in the content. They were as surprised as everybody else. In fact, John Contos was so upset that he actually emailed Mr. (Alex) Fregerios and apologized.”

Ramos said that KGVO can ‘absolutely print’ that they had ‘nothing to do’ with the ads sent out by ‘Missoulians for Missoula’.

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