This week, the Missoulian published Q&As with the four candidates running for mayor. Meet Dean McCollom here in his Q&A, and read all the Q&As online at Missoulian.com. The rest of the print lineup was: Tuesday, Peggy Cain; Wednesday, John Engen; Thursday, Michael Hyde.
Q. What are your top three priorities for the city of Missoula?
A. The people who have the most at stake in this city are the Generation X and Y women with kids. We need to make Missoula government accessible to them so that they can participate in decision-making without having to physically attend meetings.
We need to foster a fiscal ecosystem that has a sufficient number of high-margin businesses to utilize our highly skilled workforce. Part of this will require an effort to educate the citizens on the changes in industry from the polluting age of forest products to current technology and light manufacturing.
Missoula’s geography and size make it well-suited for sustainability. If we get things right we can have an efficient mix of housing and industry that allows for efficient and relatively pain-free commuting.
Q. Downtown Missoula sometimes fills up with people who hang out on the sidewalks begging, yelling, urinating, and harassing others. What would you as mayor do to fix these problems?
A. This problem is particularly distressing to me. I estimate that Missoula is about where the city of Santa Cruz was in 1994. We need to find other municipalities who have successfully addressed these issues and adopt their best practices.
The City of Missoula and State of Montana already have laws on the books to deal with most of the listed problems. (See Titles 8 and 9 of the Missoula Municipal Code.) However, the solution will require the coordination and cooperation of the citizens, the business community and law enforcement. The problem that we need to solve is a resource issue. We have an appropriately sized police force. However, they are very busy. It is very difficult to address this sort of problem with a series of drivebys. To combat this problem, a persistent presence is required. There are three routes cities have followed: hiring police community service officers, downtown hosts and private security. Our response will have to be carefully considered with full citizen involvement.
Q. Should Missoula’s residential streets be a greater priority for snow plowing? Why or why not? If yes, what would you do to increase plowing?
A. This is another resource allocation issue that can be data driven. Our first priority with plowing should be maintaining the ability of public safety agencies to respond throughout the city. The second priority should be to make sure that critical workers (police, fire, medical, public works, etc.) are able to get to their posts (this may involve shuttling to an emergency van pool). Then the resources should be allocated for the greatest good to the greatest number of people.
Q. Of course, you’ll take care of nuts and bolts as mayor. But what is your vision for keeping Missoula special? How would you implement your vision?
A. The secret sauce that makes Missoula special lies deeply in its DNA. Short of starving Missoula and seeing a mass exodus, Missoula will exert its special influence on newcomers guiding them to be special as well.
Q. Leaders across the globe say climate change is one of the most pressing issues facing cities. What are the top three things you as mayor would do to help Missoula become sustainable?
A. It is unrealistic to expect the citizens to have the means to implement carbon reductions as aggressively as the city suggests in their 2011 report (Net zero by 2020). I ask how much carbon is released by citizens having to make a long commute to jobs to be able to afford to live on the available prevailing wage. I assert that by developing good high margin businesses in Missoula, people will be able to afford to live close enough to work that alternatives to single passenger commutes are viable thus taking a big chunk out of the net emissions from the city.
Q. The general fund budget for the city of Missoula grew nearly 30 percent from 2006 to 2012. Do you approve of the growth in the city’s budget? If yes, why? If not, what would you cut? Please be specific.
A. The fact the city budget increases in dollar terms is not particularly disturbing to me. Everything increases in price over time and as long as people’s income increases as well it is really no big deal. However, I am horrified that we chose to increase taxes at a rate two and a half times faster than per capita income. Some may make the argument that we have to maintain or expand current levels of service. However I counter that forcing people to have to make cuts in their own lives to support government is just flat-out wrong. I believe that we owe our citizens a legitimate bi-directional dialogue about what services they prioritize and just how much they feel they can afford in taxes. This was done in Santa Cruz and other communities.
Going forward I believe that we should embrace lean government based on the Toyota production system.
As we gain clarity on what exactly we should be doing as a city government and get more efficient at doing it we will have freed up resources to maintain or increase services within budget.