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Incoming!! - part two of a three-part series with Missoula mayor-elect John Engen
After serving four years on Missoula’s City Council and with some encouragement from friends and colleagues, John Engen ran for mayor - and won Nov. 8.
Photo by DEAN BAKER/InBusiness

In part one of this series John Engen made reference to the amount of cooperation between the City and County of Missoula. In part two, he says he's continuing to work on building those bridges and relationships.

"When we talk about this being a continuation of Mike's (Kadas') tenure as mayor I think it's important to note that there are lots of things that Mike didn't necessarily have time to do because of various commitments and there's lots of history at play here," Engen said. "I don't want anybody to expect that I'm going to react to anything the way that Mike Kadas would necessarily react to anything.

"I hope folks will give me a chance to demonstrate my qualities and my style without presuming how I'm going to act and react," Engen continued. "To date I've had a number of conversations with (county) commissioners and I think there's lots of opportunity for the city and the county to work together toward our mutual benefit.

"We're all in this together and those folks are public servants as well," Engen added. "I think we have tremendous opportunity to move past some of the stress and strain and work together. We're not always going to agree, our goals aren't always going to be the same."

Engen said it's important to realize that people don't have to agree to be able to work together.

"We can decide what we can agree on and work through the disagreements," he said.

On a more casual note, Engen also talked about what's going to happen to his well-known, sometimes off-the-wall self-deprecating sense of humor while he serves as mayor.

"You have to provide some balance and have some fun," Engen said. "We need to have a laugh or two around City Hall certainly, and I continue, I hope, to try to provide some of those laughs. Lately I've been suggesting when people congratulate me, for example, I let them know it's really about time I got a job."

Engen said he hopes never to be so full of himself that "we can't poke holes in me. There's lots to laugh about here as there is in many spots, so I think we'll continue to yuk it up a little bit."

The mayor-elect also has been one of the area's most popular masters of ceremonies, serving in that capacity for numerous fundraising and other events. Engen hopes to keep some of those gigs alive.

"That's where a lot of the community connection comes from," he explained. "That's where you hear from regular folks and you get to know a little bit about what concerns them. Those events . . . are great examples of how this community works together for the benefit of everyone. I want to continue to be a part of that."

Engen acknowledged that he won't be able to do as much emcee duty as he has in the past. His pre-term meeting schedule has made him well aware that time availability - or lack of it - is going to be a real issue.

Is he hiring an agent? Will his price go up?

"I've been charging nothing for so many years," he said, "I suspect given my new reputation and occupation that price can only go down. 'You've got a politician coming in, ladies and gentlemen. Won't that be fun?'"

Engen's latest bio also describes him as a "rampant volunteer." Even with the time-consuming duties he faces as mayor Engen is hoping to continue with some non-conflict-of-interest interests.

Engen said he serves on a number of volunteer boards and doesn't have any financial conflicts with any of those so he would like to continue.

"Part of my job here is to be out among folks, hear what's on their minds, put a face to government," Engen explained, "and whenever possible represent the City as someplace that's open and interested in what concerns citizens. I mean we're all about trying to help folks here."

So how does Engen's wife Tracy feel about this mayor thing? Does she think he's crazy?

"I think she probably suspected I was crazy many, many years ago and still does," Engen joked. "No, she's been enormously supportive. We own a travel agency downtown and she runs that business with remarkable skill.

"She takes care of business, she takes care of customers and of late she's really taken care of the dog and the cat, too."

That "angry cat" Engen described in his bio?

"That angry cat, year," said Engen.

Another of Engen's goals is to bring more civillity to public discourse, which seems to have become increasingly rancorous in recent years. He's had experience already by serving as chair of the Plat, Annexation and Zoning Committee.

"That can be about as contentious as it gets," Engen said. "Those are issues that are near and dear to folks and I've worked simply to be fair. When people get kind of hot and disruptive we've toned it down. I have that expectation of not only folks who are sitting in the audience but folks who are sitting at the table serving the public. We need to be nicer to each other."

Engen said he's not planning to squelch disagreement, but "snide has its place. I don't think these hallowed halls are one of those places. I'm not afraid to tell folks (what's) unacceptable."

Engen graduated from the University of Montana with a bachelor's degree in journalism - without honors - and he said that training has served and should continue to serve him well.

"My dad of course worked for the newspaper, was a printer," Engen recalled. "He wanted me to be a teacher and of course I followed his advice by going to journalism school. At the time you don't realize what a broad education you're getting and how that education and your ability to take things in - in some cases discern fact from fiction which we used to call a detector of some kind - and ability to communicate and express your thoughts in a way that's easy to understand, all that comes together.

"This is a business about relationships and communication," Engen continued. "You gotta know people, you gotta be able to know how to talk to 'em. My time as a journalism student, as a working journalist, and really by all my experience at The Missoulian is invaluable."

If nothing else it gives Engen an advantage when dealing with those prying, biased, low-life media types, right?

"That's exactly the case," Engen said. "I don't know if you've notice, but I've pretty much manipulated you this whole time."

- Find out how Mayor-elect John Engen deals with word association in part three of this series Thursday on Missoulian.com

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