Stacie Anderson is passionate about politics, both professionally and personally.
That heartfelt fervor is part of the reason Anderson is one of three finalists to fill the Missoula County Commission seat being vacated later this month by Nicole “Cola” Rowley, who is leaving for a job in Gallatin County.
Anderson currently represents Ward 5 on the Missoula City Council, and said the skills she’s learned in that role, along with her social justice work, make her an excellent choice for the position. She’s also spent the past decade in politics, managing a successful campaign for former U.S. Congressman Adam Smith of D.C.; fundraising for the Montana Conservation Voters; helping women get elected while executive director of Carol’s List; and most recently directing the non-profit A Better Big Sky, which brings together donors and political campaigns in Montana.
“I have demonstrated the ability to build and foster working relationships. I can find compromise when dealing with complicated issues. I always try to remember that people are why we are in this work and the community we are in to make sure we don’t tell them what to do, but invite them into the decision-making table and work collaboratively,” Anderson said.
“I know many people feel this person (for District 1) should be a rural person, but I disagree with that. The issues we face aren’t about urban or rural.”
Instead, city and county residents share concerns about housing costs, climate change, and transportation, Anderson said. They’re worried about unprecedented growth, low wages and devastating wildfires. They’re troubled by high child care costs and dwindling mental health care services.
Anderson doesn’t pretend to have all the answers. But she believes that by working collaboratively and bringing the government to the people, Missoula County can set an example for other Montana communities to follow on these difficult issues.
“Someone needs to know how to work together on these things, which are all interconnected. I’ve shown the energy and passion for the community and public service, and will try to reinstate the trust in the community at a time when it’s easy to downplay the importance of public service,” Anderson said.
On economic development
Anderson wants Missoula County to take the lead when it comes to better-paying jobs, in part by incrementally raising its own employees’ minimum wages to $15 per hour. Anderson isn’t sure where the money would come from for the higher wages, but noted that the city managed to do it.
“I know people feel tax-burdened, but if you can tie in the services that we are getting — that comes back to taking the government to the people — you can see the value you’re getting from your tax dollars,” Anderson said.
She supports incentives for companies to relocate or start businesses in Missoula County, but is quick to add that they also need to pay the living wages found in larger communities.
“We came out of the recession with the mindset that anything was welcome. Now we’re at the point where we need to lay out expectations of what it means to be in our community and be a good partner,” Anderson said. “… They should let their employees participate in community service projects when they don’t have to take paid time off, and invest in child care centers for their employees. We can’t mandate a lot of those but should lay out our expectations in the hope they will do a lot of them.”
Anderson isn’t worried about the county making requests that might push businesses to relocate to Montana counties with fewer regulations, noting that there’s enough development taking place for everyone to share.
She would like to use incentives to repurpose old industrial sites throughout Missoula County into manufacturing incubators, perhaps teaming with Missoula College graduates to create opportunities for entrepreneurs. That also could create good-paying jobs in the more rural areas of the county.
Anderson is well aware of the stigma some county residents attach to the “Z-word,” also known as zoning. But as people flock to Missoula County, growth has to be directed into appropriate areas, Anderson said.
She’s a strong proponent of the county’s recent land use map update, which will be used to guide growth for the next few decades. It includes 15 land use designations like agriculture, rural residential and commercial center, and is meant to drive decisions as the population increases from about 117,000 people now to an anticipated 140,000 by 2040.
Yet Anderson also is aware of Montanans’ strong support for private property rights, which can come into play when a “land-rich, cash-poor” rancher or farmer wants to sell or subdivide their property.
“How do we balance the needs for working agriculture lands as well as the needs for more land to building housing upon?” Anderson asked. “We want people, especially in rural communities, to live the lifestyle they want. There should be options.”
She adds that when people build homes in the floodplains or next to forested areas, it can affect their neighbors during high water or wildfire events, which is another reason for the county to institute some development constraints.
On climate change
Universal recycling, with curbside pickup in the county, and easier ways for individuals to reduce single-use plastic bags, are two small steps Missoula County can take to reduce the amount of materials going into the landfill.
Anderson isn’t sure how the curbside pickup could pencil out for the company that performs the service in the city, but said perhaps people who want to encourage it could pay a little extra on their own bills — similar to what’s done with energy bills — to be pooled into a general fund to cover the costs.
“I think enough people in our community understand that climate change is real and needs to be addressed. Recycling is one low barrier people can get into,” Anderson said.
She also wants Missoula County to evaluate the Zero by 50 policy adopted by the City Council to see if some aspects make sense for the county.
Anderson is encouraged by the one-year interim zoning for cryptocurrency mining operations the county adopted in April, in part over concerns with their high energy use and electronic waste recycling.
Instead of using energy from NorthWestern Energy or the Selis, Ksanka and Qlispe Dam (former Kerr Dam), Anderson would like to see bitcoin and other cryptocurrency mining operations use solar-derived energy.
“We need to know what the consequences are of using energy from the Kerr Dam,” Anderson said. “Bitcoins are still a huge consumer of that energy, which could be spread out to other consumers. They can offset how much they pull from the dam by putting solar panels on the nice, flat roof out there.”
Some Missoula County residents have complained about recent voter-approved bonds, saying they feel railroaded by the larger number of urban dwellers. They’re upset that their property taxes are paying for the Fort Missoula sports complex while they’re not seeing any of the economic benefits experienced by city residents. That also goes for the new library bond, as well as the open space bonds, even though some of those dollars helped pay for conservation easements on rural properties.
“I know they feel their voices are being drowned out, but that’s our democracy, where everyone gets one vote,” Anderson said. “They may not see the direct correlation (with economic development) in Seeley Lake, but people traveling to tournaments at Fort Missoula may stop by to get gas on their way through or back. It’s hard to say it’s a direct line, but there is a dotted line. At the same time they seen a boom in people going to their area in the summertime that other areas of the county don’t.
“I don’t like trying to put the rural and urban areas against each other, because we are all in this together. But we need to hear their voices and give them space at the table.”
One way to do that is to bring the government to the people by holding Missoula County meetings in places like Seeley Lake, Condon and Lolo, and possibly in the evening so people with day jobs can attend, Anderson said.
She also believes the county needs to put more pressure on the Legislature to allow communities to institute local options or resort taxes, instead of relying on property taxes to fund services. In addition, Anderson wants the Legislature to restore more of the funding for social services, including mental health care.
ON OTHER ISSUES
• Seeley Lake’s 20-year effort to put in a community sewer system needs to happen quickly before the individual septic systems pollute the area waters.
• Move forward with the South Avenue Bridge project that will replace the Maclay Bridge.