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Missoula County Commissioners

Missoula County Commissioner Carey: 'It's time to step aside'

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Commissioner Bill Carey

Missoula County Commissioner Bill Carey said that more than 100 successful senior housing cooperatives have been developed in the upper midwest, but Montana has none.

If Bill Carey cast his votes as a Missoula County commissioner after careful deliberation, his decision to retire with 14 months left on his third term was a decision of the heart.

After 17 years on the job and staring down his 70th birthday, he knew the time had come. So this September – with no regrets – he’ll relinquish his seat on the commission and go explore.

“It’s time to step aside, it just feels that way,” Carey said Tuesday morning after a daily administrative meeting. “It feels like I’ve done my duty, so to speak, and now it’s time to let someone get in there who wants to give it a whirl.”

The photos hanging on the wall of Carey’s downtown office might explain his newfound travel wanderlust. Lakes so pure the light gleams down to the pebbly bed below, and snowcapped mountains standing tall against the blue Montana sky.

The images were taken by his son, Hugh Carey, a photographer for the Michigan press. Carey plans to get out and explore those places. He’ll start by training for a 60-mile bicycle ride he intends to undertake next year.

“It feels good, like I’m getting stronger and in better shape,” he said. “I see myself exercising more when I don’t have a commitment to go to work every day.”

Carey has been working for the county since he was first elected to office in 1998. He won re-election in 2004 and again in 2010. His current term expires in 2016, but he doesn’t plan on waiting around for an election he didn’t plan on entering.

The county will continue to function with or without his presence, he said. There’s a lot of work to be done, but that’s always the case.

“It’s a big ship and it keeps going along,” he said. “You can jump on board and jump off and it’ll keep going in the direction it’s going in. I wouldn’t be resigning right now if I didn’t think the process would work to get someone with fresh ideas and a fresh look and give them a shot.”

The process of finding Carey’s replacement will begin soon. The Democratic Central Committee will produce three names and pass them on to Commissioners Jean Curtiss and Cola Rowley for consideration.

The chosen applicant will then finish out the remainder of Carey’s term. If they want to keep the seat, the appointee must run and win the 2016 election.

“There’s plenty of good people out there who will want to take a look at it and perhaps throw their hat in the ring,” Carey said. “They’ve got a year and several months to hold the position once I’m gone, and it’s a year and several months where I thought it didn’t feel good to press it that far.”

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Before winning his seat on the commission, Carey served as director of the Missoula Food Bank, a job he held for nearly a decade. He served two terms in the state Legislature and worked as the volunteer coordinator for Missoula Aging Services.

After he retires, he plans to continue his efforts to create a senior housing cooperative in Missoula. He brought experience to his job as a commissioner, but serving so long in office has also taught him new lessons.

“The heart of it is how important it is to do what we do well,” he said. “What we do matters to the quality of life here and the future of our democracy. It seems a little odd, but it’s not something I bank on as a given. It’s something you have to earn with each generation.”

He believes he’s been effective while in office.

“I’ve enjoyed and tried to be part of a cultural climate here where people are expected to be friendly and helpful and kind,” he said. “I think we’ve made a little progress in that regard.”

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