About 200 elected officials, exhibitors and sponsors are expected to descend on Missoula this week for the 2018 Montana Association of Counties' annual meeting.
Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, will address the conference on Wednesday.
This is MACo’s 109th gathering, going back to the days when only 28 counties had been formed in the Treasure State. Today, Montana is home to 56 counties that are as diverse as the landscape.
During this year’s conference, counties will try to work together in developing unified goals and messages for the upcoming legislative session.
“This is the pre-legislative meeting, so there will be a lot of committee work and guest speakers focused on that,” said Eric Bryson, MACo’s executive director.
The conference begins on Sunday, Sept. 16, and runs through Wednesday, Sept. 19, at the downtown Holiday Inn. Sessions include discussion on the impacts of the I-186 initiative on mining in Montana; Medicaid expansion; and cross-system partnerships in criminal justice.
Dave Strohmaier, the Missoula County Commission chairman, said one of the more popular Missoula-centric opportunities probably will be a tour of the Northern Rockies Training Center.
“One topic on many peoples’ minds these days is forest management and fire management,” Strohmaier said. “We took advantage of the fact that the U.S. Forest Service has a fire lab here in Missoula, so we’ll have a coalition of forest counties meeting at the fire lab for those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to get inside to see the scope of what these world-class professionals are doing.”
Strohmaier said that while the MACo staff pulls together most of the events, the local commissioners also participate in organizing it. Part of that is reaching out for speakers to deliver invocations for each morning’s prayer breakfast.
“We look at our demographics and try to make the speakers representative of our community,” Strohmaier said. “We have a representative from Har-Shalom, a tribal member from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes, a chaplain from the sheriff’s office and my wife, who is an ordained minister with Holy Spirit” Episcopal Church.
Each county also pulls together a basket of local treats to be raffled off. Strohmaier said they had some fun choosing items from Missoula County. In the conference brochure, the commissioners noted that Missoula is home to eight micro-breweries “that make great beer” and two distilleries. Several of those businesses are within walking distance from the hotel.
“We opted not to put in used T-shirts from the Western Montana Fair or unused swag,” he said, laughing. “But we might be doing some sort of local (adult) beverage basket, the contents of which have yet to be determined. But we’re sure they’ll be tasty for the receiver.”