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Missoula County

The race to fill the term of Missoula County Commissioner Cola Rowley has started.

About 10 people have inquired with the Missoula County Democratic Central Committee about applying for the position, said Dave Kendall, the committee chair. He declined to name the applicants until they complete a questionnaire, which will be distributed to candidates beginning Monday, May 6.

The deadline for submitting the questionnaire to the central committee is May 24.

Meanwhile, the county commission is holding a forum for potential candidates on May 15. Commissioners Dave Strohmaier and Josh Slotnick said they’re already being contacted by people who want to discuss the position and job requirements, and have met with a handful of potential candidates.

On Tuesday, the commissioners and staff voiced concerns that those individual meetings might give an advantage to one candidate, or create the impression that a commissioner backs a particular candidate.

“If you’re at a café with person X and person Y sees you, they might think that’s Josh’s candidate,” said Dori Brownlow, the county’s development director. “I understand people want to know what you do, so if you have a forum they can learn more about the job.”

The forum is set for 5:30 p.m. in the Sophie Moiese room in the Missoula County Courthouse. It’s meant to be a public meeting where potential candidates can ask the commissioners questions, not a forum where people can ask questions of potential candidates.

“You want good candidates to apply who have a sense of what the job entails,” Anna Conley, deputy county attorney, told the commission. “But if you have individual conversations that factor into your decision making, that should be disclosed prior to making your decision.”

Conley added that she doesn’t believe there’s anything illegal in Strohmaier and Slotnick having already met with individuals to discuss the position. But to be on the safe side, she urged them to keep future contact to the forum or to be limited to general questions.

Rowley announced last week that she is taking a job as deputy county administrator with Gallatin County on July 1. Her term was set to expire on Dec. 31, 2020.

The Missoula County Democratic Central Committee will provide a list of three names to Strohmaier and Slotnick, who will appoint someone to fill her term. The pay for a starting commissioner is $83,990.

Kendall said the Democratic committee will hold a candidates’ forum for all of the applicants at 7 p.m. May 28 in the Sophie Moiese room. Afterward, the central committee will nominate the three candidates.

If the commissioners don’t like any of the three names that are submitted, the central committee will submit three more names, and the commissioners can choose from all six.

The new commissioner can run for the open seat in the November 2020 election, with the winner then serving the standard six-year staggered term after Rowley’s expires.

Anyone interested in pursuing the vacancy may send an email to communications@missoulademocrats.org or leave a message at 406-541-2602.

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