Missoula City Councilwoman Caitlin Copple said Thursday she plans to resign her Ward 4 seat in short order – with roughly 11 months left in her term.
She plans to remain seated until the council selects a replacement. City Clerk Marty Rehbein said the city will take applications and the council will make the appointment early this year; a schedule for the procedure is pending.
In May, Copple took a job as a principal with Hilltop Public Solutions, a strategic public affairs and political consulting firm.
She said she took the position with the understanding it was "a very big job," and Copple told her supervisor she would do her best to juggle her professional work with council duties. On Thursday, though, she said both jobs are too much.
"I appreciated the opportunity to try to make it work and try to balance it all, but it's pretty incompatible in terms of having the time it takes to do a really good job," Copple said.
Despite her early departure, Copple has pushed through several initiatives in her three years on the council. The first-time alderwoman was sworn into office in 2012, and council terms are four years.
Copple has advocated for economic development in Missoula, and on the council she revived the economic development subcommittee. Members from both the public and private sectors started work on a plan for broadband Internet, and she said she's pleased Councilman Bryan Von Lossberg and Marcy Allen with the Bitter Root Economic Development District will continue the efforts.
"I'm also really excited that we were able to reduce broadband permitting fees because Missoula is not really for reducing fees very often," Copple said, noting the cut of 75 percent.
In office, Copple also described herself as the first openly LGBT council member. She helped ensure the city of Missoula had policies in place to protect employees who are LGBT – lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
Subsequently, the city of Missoula earned a 100 percent score – two years in a row – on the Human Rights Campaign's municipal equality index.
Copple said she is proud to have successfully advocated for the city budget to fund its first sexual assault prevention officer.
At one point, Copple at least temporarily alienated some allies in human rights when she backed a controversial proposal to make it illegal to sit on downtown sidewalks for parts of the day. The measure was an attempt to clear hoodlums and panhandlers from the city center, but it was gutted after a similar law proved unconstitutional in Boise, Idaho, and opponents here argued the ordinance criminalized poverty.
In her tenure, Copple has not been afraid to buck Mayor John Engen, a fellow Democrat. She has advocated the city budget be more accessible to the public, and she raised money to bring the interactive "budget games" to Missoula.
The event drew more than 100 people, in direct contrast to poorly attended budget meetings in council chambers. Engen did not attend and told his department heads they didn't have to go, either.
On Thursday, however, Engen said he appreciates Copple's energy on the council. He also said he had worked to recruit her to run in Ward 4 and remembers his conversation with her when he learned she had agreed.
"I told her once upon a time that I was turning cartwheels because she was willing to run," Engen said.
He said he did not consider her a thorn in his side on the council but an asset because of her energy and enthusiasm. The mayor said he considers her part of a diverse council made up of a mix of ages, genders, personalities, careers and interests.
"She is independent and has ideas and has the intelligence to challenge me once in a while, which I think is just fine," Engen said.
He said the "game" part of the budget event Copple organized frustrated him, but he said it's good to be forced to think about the way the city does business and consider alternatives.
"Caitlin's notion is that it's a good idea to get more people involved in the budget process. I think that is fundamentally a cool idea. So how do we implement that? The implementation is tough," Engen said.
Council members will appoint Copple's replacement, and Engen said the process is a good way for candidates to "test the waters" without having to run a campaign. Serving on the council is designed to be a part-time responsibility.
Rehbein said council members on Monday will discuss a schedule for taking applications and eventually making an appointment. She anticipates the position will be filled early this year.
The position will be on the November ballot. The appointee will serve through the election – and then pass the torch to the elected council member unless the person is one and the same.