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Moving On - part three of a three-part series with outgoing Missoula Mayor Mike Kadas

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As chair of Montana Public Power, Inc., Missoula Mayor Mike Kadas has exuded a certain amount of confidence about the prospects of having five cities buy NorthWestern Energy and turn it into a public utility.

Kadas said that confidence is genuine, to a point.

"Back to my comments about opportunity," he said. "It is one of those things where there is an opportunity now for us to step in and really stabilize this part of our lives - the provision of natural gas and electricity. I believe very strongly that the company will be sold and if we don't buy it it may be sold again and again, and it may go through bankruptcy as part of those things.

"I think the overall environment nationally for utilities is very difficult right now," he added, "and I don't see it improving significantly over the longer term other than that you will see lots of consolidation. And I think that in the long run is bad for Montana."

Kadas thinks Montana needs to be able to control its future when it comes to natural gas and electricity and should make every effort to acquire NorthWestern Energy "at a reasonable price."

Kadas also talked about the ongoing ups and downs in the process. The Montana consortium of cities, along with NorthWestern management and shareholders, now are dealing with a competing potential buyer from South Dakota. While company managers say they don't want to sell to any buyer, shareholders are urging a sale and currently are leaning toward Black Hills Corp., meaning it's a dynamic process.

"What I think is important for folks to understand is that 'A,' it's gonna be sold, there's gonna be a transaction," Kadas said, "and 'B,' the (Montana) Public Service Commission is going to have a huge role in this and they are gonna ultimately have to approve who it gets sold to.

"When it gets down to brass tacks, we've put together a proposal that is doable, it provides good value to shareholders, and it can be executed," Kadas said. "We need to make our case to the Public Service Commission that for Montanans, this is the best deal.

"And then we need to make our case to shareholders that given what the PSC is gonna have to do, we offer the best opportunity for getting your value."

Kadas said it may be another year or more before the results are known.

Kadas also has other projects he wishes were farther long. One is the mill site revitalization project, the old Champion Mill site adjacent to Play Ball Park that has 45 acres in the heart of the city next to the river that have been vacant for more than 15 years. A partially local group has an option to purchase the lease and is interested in going forward with environmental remediation.

"Great parks opportunity, great urban revitalization opportunity, housing, businesses," Kadas pointed out. "I had hoped that by this time we would have a master plan adopted and have it cleaned up and we'd know what was going to get built and we'd know where we're gonna have parks. At least it's moved forward."

The other project Kadas wishes was completed and "has taken too long" is the Russell Street corridor enhancements, particularly a new bridge, something he says really needs to happen.

"We've been involved in an EIS process now going on three years," he noted. "That shouldn't have taken longer than a year."

Kadas said once the EIS is completed Missoula is facing another three or four years before the bridge actually is built

"That's a key urban arterial and we need to make sure that it functions effectively," Kadas said, "and right now we're backed up on it for a mile or two most days."

Kadas said his biggest frustration leaving office is not meeting the demand for affordable housing caused by Missoula's growth.

"The fact that we haven't been able to build new housing opportunities as fast as our community has grown has caused the price of housing to increase dramatically," Kadas said. "So we've seen close to a tripling of median sales price over the last 10 or 12 years and that really ends up having huge impacts on the fabric of the community. People owning their own homes really helps a community and I think we really have to find a way to build more houses to meet the demand that continues to happen whether we like it or not."

Kadas sees this as a key to viability and stability in Missoula, but there has been a lot of resistance because so many people don't want to see anything change. No matter where you build housing it ultimately is in someone's back yard and impacts other people.

"I think we have to begin to get used to the idea of seeing that kind of change and trying to help guide it rather than just saying 'no.'"

Kadas has shown a calm demeanor throughout his term as mayor and while he has been angry about things or people at times he said it's essential to squelch that anger.

"As mayor you have an obligation to be calm and to be settled," Kadas explained. "If you can't do that you're not doing your job very well. It doesn't matter how mad you feel inside, you really have to be able to show people that, okay, we're gonna hear this out, and regardless of how I feel personally I'm not gonna explode."

As with John Engen, Missoulian.com gave Mayor Kadas the opportunity to play the word (or phrase) association game.

PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL IN MISSOULA - "A great opportunity to create a civic place where lots of people get to gather and meet. Also a great opportunity where this community is able to come together and raise the funds to do something big."

THE BROADWAY DIET - "Slow people and fast cars don't mix very well. You have to find ways to manage that so both can co-exist and you have to do that in an environment of mixed jurisdictions. The Montana Department of Transportation, it's their road and what we do on it they have to agree to. We ended up with a solution that wasn't our first choice. We're gonna see how well it works and give it some time. We may change it as time goes on but we can't continue on with the situation where one or more people are getting killed every year. We have to be a better community than that."

MALFUNCTION JUNCTION - "It's time to change the name. I think it does function. We'll call it Brooks-South Russell. I think by and large people are pretty happy with the work. It just took too long to get it there (10 years). We still have a few kinks to work out but by and large it seems to be functioning pretty well.

OPEN SPACE - "Great program. I think we've had real success over the last 10 years with the open space program. It is one of our reactions to all this growth. We're able to - through our own purchases - preserve one of the things that we appreciate the most about our community. We're not done. We've learned a lot. We have to manage these lands. There are more lands that we ought to look at acquiring."

POLITICS - "Politics is a good word, it's not a dirty word. We need to take pride in politics and recognize that the give and take that comes with dealing with the challenges of a community is important. It's that back and forth that ultimately gets a place to making really good decisions for itself. Our system works okay, it's kind of messy, but it's ultimately better than the alternative."

RESERVE STREET - "It just grows and grows and grows. We spent over $20 million just as I was coming into office to solve the problem of Reserve Street and that lasted for about two years. We can't outbuild the growth of automobiles. We've got two things that keep running over us, metaphorically. One is we have more people and sell more cars. And two is the people that we do have are driving more than they were and so that increases the amount of traffic. Reserve Street exemplifies that more than any other place in town. It also has been a really dynamic economic corridor. As Missoulians we are going to have to learn how to time our trips, combine our trips. We'll continue to find ways to make Reserve Street work better but with all of the new construction that's gonna happen out in Mullan Road we probably don't have enough money that we could ever throw at Reserve Street to make it work the way it functioned 10 years ago. The other thing we need to do in terms of our perception of congestion is relate it to other places our size and bigger as we get bigger. We really have it pretty good in relation to those places but we're headed in that direction."

PUBLIC INPUT: HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH - (Laughter) "You can always take more and we do learn from public input and we get to better decisions. It's a critical part of the process. We have to learn how to do it better. The formal public hearings we have at City Council, while necessary by law, they're not the best way to get public input. We need to experiment more with convening stakeholder groups, finding other ways of involving the community in decision making."

ANNEXATION: A DIRTY WORD OR A FACT OF LIFE - "If you're going to have a city, a fact of life. A city is not an articifial boundary in the middle of an urban area. A city is an urban area. Our urban area is getting bigger. It would be wonderful if I could live in or next to the urban area and receive all of the amenities but not have to pay any of the taxes. But the fact of the matter is the people who are inside end up paying for the services that you receive because you live right next to the urban area. I think ultimately the urban area should be the city. There's a lot of poison in the air over this issue and it's largely because of the way the state has set up annexation and water quality laws. We're gonna continue to grow and the places that are going to continue to grow are those right next to the city. It think it's important for the city to annex as areas are being developed. If we don't annex we won't have a city. We won't be able to economically support it. And then you're gonna have to have a consolidated government of some kind and then you're going to be right back to where you were in the first place."

WILL SNODGRASS AND PEOPLE LIKE HIM - "Will and folks like him have a place in the process. We have an obligation to listen to them. I think they have an obligation to be polite as they talk and I think sometimes they don't realize that and that's probably what is the most difficult is kind of the rudeness that they express themselves with. At times they face a Council that has felt like they listened to the arguments and felt like they made up their mind so they're just kind of spewing and it's not gonna change anyone's mind and they know that. And that's got to be a terribly frustrating feeling. I think Will and others would be a lot more effective if they could sit down and learn how to be part of a conversation and learn how to compromise and settle with a compromise. That hasn't happened in some cases, in some cases it has. Every community has its folks who are going to argue the extreme and are gonna stay there no matter what. In some ways that's good and important for the process. In any case as someone who's elected they have an obligation to hear them out and be polite about it."

So what will happen to Mike Kadas when he leaves office? No, he's not going to Disneyland. But he is going someplace warmer.

"In a week or two I'm going to get on a plane and fly down to Nicaragua where my family is living and has been for the last couple of months," Kadas said. "We're living in a small town - San Ramon - so I hope to improve my Spanish considerably, learn about the culture, spend a lot more time with my kids, and I've got a pile of books that I want to read."

Following some travel in Central and South America Kadas and his family will return to Missoula in time for school next fall.

"It's at that point where I'll figure out what I'm gonna do as the next step in my professional career," Kadas said. "I'm not going to make a decision until I get back."

Will that future include politics in some form? Or has he had enough? Kadas said he's ready for a break right now. But his sense of politics is bigger than most people's in that it doesn't involve only government. It involves business, families, and so forth.

"It's taking the skills and the dynamics of working with other people onto a bigger scale," he said. "I obviously enjoy doing that. I dont' know how that will fall out.

"My life - and most people's life - is kind of a series of opportunities and you take steps and make decisions kinda based on the circumstances at that moment. And a lot of times it's not something you planned, it's just something that happens, and you go with it. I like that kind of notion of fate and it's treated me really well so far for the first 49 years of my life."

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