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Missoula Board of County Commissioners

Commissioners will continue to appoint elections administrator

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Rebecca Connors

Missoula County Elections Administrator Rebecca Connors, center, earlier this year led a tour of election facilities.

They all came to the same conclusion: There just isn’t enough of a reason to change it, and even more reasons to keep it the way it is.

So said the Missoula Board of County Commissioners during Thursday’s public meeting, where they voted 3-0 to keep the elections administrator as an appointed position.

A fair, transparent, accurate election can only be run by someone who is judged solely on their qualifications, rather than political ones, Commissioner Cola Rowley said.

“I’ve heard no convincing arguments that … a problem exists with the current scenario,” she said.

In 2014, the commission decided to test appointing the elections administrator, removing elections from the purview of the elected County Clerk & Recorder, on the recommendation of former Clerk & Recorder (and current county chief administrative officer) Vickie Zeier.

Elections would be run by the administrator, who is appointed by the three-member commission, and answers to the CAO.

The commission gave themselves a three-year deadline to review the decision, which coincided with Elections Administrator Rebecca Connors’ announcement she’d soon be stepping down to move to Helena.

Two weeks ago the commissioners heard public comment, including from a state legislator and the current Clerk & Recorder, Tyler Gernant, who thought the position should at least be directly overseen by an elected official.

The commissioners disagreed Thursday.

The administrator’s basic qualities should be competency and accountability, Commissioner Dave Strohmaier thought, which he said were possible in the current framework.

There’s often little correlation between competency and being able to get elected, Strohmaier said.

“There might be an inverse correlation sometimes, present company excluded,” he said. “This is even more true for positions that require specific technical expertise.”

And the administrator is accountable to voters, as the position is appointed and overseen (though not directly) by all three commissioners.

The commissioners, Rowley pointed out, have firing power in the case of a problem that’s more direct than a recall would be. That's faster than waiting a few years to elect a new person, she said.

In the current hyper-partisan political environment, Strohmaier continued, it was probably a good idea to shield the elections process from politics.

There was no public comment in the final hearing, compared to the busy first hearing; however eight written comments were filed with the commissioners, Zeier said, with seven in favor of the appointed position.

Missoula is the ninth county in Montana to have an appointed elections administrator.

The process for choosing Connors' replacement will start in the next few weeks, according to county Communications Coordinator Katie Klietz.

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