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A controversial housing project turned even more contentious Monday when Missoula City Council members used it to log-roll their own leadership election.

The council president contest between candidates Lou Ann Crowley of Ward 3 and Ed Childers of Ward 6 shifted stage left when two other members started their own clash of wills. The president's race had just had its first tie ballot of the evening when Ward 4's Myrt Charney pulled a complicated procedural gambit.

The council had already spent almost four hours trying to redesign a planned neighborhood cluster project on Briggs Street before voting to kill it. (See story on Page B1.) As members were considering the results of another 6-6 tie, Charney announced he wanted to reconsider the Briggs Street project. He then called for a recess and asked Ward 5 Councilman Bob Lovegrove to accompany him to the hallway.

In Charney's view, reconsidering the housing project would mean the issue was still unfinished, and thus the City Council would miss its Monday deadline to settle the matter. That might allow the developer to either go ahead with an unpopular project, or at least give him good grounds to sue the city for the delay. Charney then asked Lovegrove to switch his support from Crowley to Childers in return for letting the project die its official death.

"It's in Mr. Lovegrove's hands right now," Charney said during the recess. "We've failed to act. If he wants to play hardball politics, I'll play hardball politics with him."

Childers said he thanked Charney for his efforts, and added "this is not an attempt to make anybody do anything they haven't offered to do before." He said at least four people had offered to support him if he named them to leadership posts on council committees.

But Lovegrove didn't bend, and other Crowley supporters reacted angrily.

"You're equating a request for certain people to join the leadership of the council with the quality of life for hundreds of people," Ward 4's Jerry Ballas told Childers. "Your judgment is flawed. That's why I won't vote for you and nobody in our group will vote for you."

The council is split with Ward 2's Anne Kazmierczak and Don Nicholson, Ward 4's Ballas, Ward 5's Lovegrove, and Ward 6's Clayton Floyd supporting Crowley. Ward 1's John Engen and Heidi Kendall, Ward 3's Stacy Rye, Ward 4's Charney and Ward 5's Jack Reidy support Childers.

Hold-over Council President Reidy then motioned to put off the election for another two weeks.

"Tonight is one of the strangest meetings in my 18 years (on the council)," Reidy said. "In no way was I planning to stay here for two more years. There's too much animosity floating around here tonight. There's too many hot-button issues, and all we're doing is making ourselves look like fools."

With the decision to postpone, Charney then withdrew his plan to block the Briggs decision. That effectively allowed the council's original denial to take effect, meaning it had met its deadline.

Asked what this did to the Briggs project, developer's representative Nick Kaufman said, "I have no idea. I've never seen this before."

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or by e-mail at rchaney@missoulian.com

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