Missoula Council Member Under Fire for Facebook Comments
MISSOULA, Mont. — A Missoula city councilwoman is under fire for comments made on a Missoula Facebook group that says its main purpose is to protect community members’ rights.
Julie Merritt questioned whether people critical of city government should be awarded city contracts. The business owner whose comments sparked that question is mad.
It’s a busy season for concrete company owner Deanne Saale. She’ll tell you she has a lot invested in Missoula and is outspoken about city taxes and spending on social media. “I voice my opinion a lot about taxes and the freedoms we’ve lost in this city,” Saale said.
Saale didn’t think it could jeopardize her company until she says an acquaintance sent her a screenshot from a Missoula Facebook group. It’s called Missoula Rises. It’s described as a closed group with roughly 3,500 members. We joined it to confirm the comments for ourselves.
Here's what we found in the comments.
One member calls Saale cruel and asks the if the city can “be encouraged” to not hire her or another contractor. She writes Saale spews “hatred”.
Missoula City Council Member Julie Merritt responds. She calls the other contractor a “POS” and then writes she’ll look into an approach to limit their contracts.
Saale explained how she took the comments, “(She) pretty much said that she didn't want us to do any work for the city and she and she was going to make sure we didn't do any work for the city anymore."
That’s a big deal for Saale. Her company just landed a $900,000 job.
Missoula city policy dictates the lowest qualified bidder gets the deal. She continues by saying she’s dug up other comments Saale made that are directly against the city and provided us with one.
Merritt writes she wants to see if there can be anything done to stop her from getting another contract until she “apologizes.”
We asked Merritt to tell us her side of the story. She won’t go on camera but wrote us in an email that sharing the screen grabs violated the spirit of the Missoula Rises group. Then she writes she’s found out it doesn’t matter what an owner of employee says about the city, its staff or elected officials, the contract goes to the “responsive low bidder.”
She ends her email by writing it’s free speech and people, including her, can say what they want. But that comment doesn’t cut it with Saale. “A city councilwoman, when she is sworn in takes an oath of office that she won't discriminate against someone of their race, sexual preference or political preference. It's right in the constitution,” she said.
Saale’s contacted a lawyer. But for now it’s business as usual as the summer construction season rolls into high gear.