Missoula County commissioners Jean Curtiss and Cola Rowley each wrote one name on separate sheets of paper Thursday morning, and handed them to Commissioner Bill Carey.
Carey considered each ballot.
“There is consensus,” he said. “It’s for Stacy Rye.”
Rye, a former Missoula City Council member, was selected by Curtiss and Rowley on Thursday to replace Carey, who will retire mid-term in September.
The county will officially appoint Rye next week, and she’ll take Carey’s seat on Sept. 18. She’ll also prepare her campaign in hopes of keeping the seat in the 2016 election.
“I need to do a lot of reading and talking to a lot of people about agricultural policy, because that’s going to be tough,” she said, noting the county’s leading issues. “I have to turn around and run in my spare time.”
Curtiss and Rowley opened the meeting in a tightly packed room at the County Administrative Building. The county’s senior staff was present, along with Rye and fellow candidates Shantelle Gaynor and Jim Parker.
Curtiss and Rowley each spoke briefly about the attributes desired in an interim commissioner, and how they reached their decision. They both wanted a commissioner who was ready from Day 1, and the choice, they said, wasn’t easy.
“After reading the applications and listening to the debate at the Democratic Central Committee, and our interviews on Monday, I’ve come to the decision that (Rye) is the one who is the most ready on Day 1,” Curtiss said. “She has served as an elected official for eight years, has experience with public policy, has knowledge of local government and understands the challenges of the (agricultural) policy.”
Rowley said she wanted a commissioner who would treat others with respect. Before she announced her choice, she said snap decisions, digging in and getting defensive served the county no purpose.
After considering the skill sets presented by each applicant, Rowley said, qualifications emerged as her measuring stick. She considered intangible skills as well, and said humility would serve the position well.
“I looked at these intangible things, and I feel very comfortable with my decision,” Rowley said. “I feel that the person (Rye) who is most qualified on paper for an elected position most closely held these intangibles in the interview process.”
Curtiss and Rowley reached consensus from the start, eliminating the need to lobby for their individual choice.
Rye emerged as the Democratic Central Committee’s top choice as well, garnering 18 votes in balloting to 12 votes taken by Parker and Gaynor’s five.
Both Gaynor and Parker supported Thursday’s decision. All three applicants were present when the choice was announced.
“All along, I’ve said if the county chooses someone who’s a strong leader and is good for the county, then I’m not going to run against them in the primary,” Gaynor said later. “I wanted to offer a different perspective in this round. I think (Rye) has skills and experience and brings a lot to the commission.”
Gaynor said she’ll remain as the division manager for Relationship Violence Services.
“We still haven’t ended sexual and domestic violence, so we should probably get on that,” she said.
Parker also supported the commissioners’ decision, and said he’d continue running his business, WestRidge Creative, and stay active in local and state Democratic Party politics.
“I’m engaged deeply in a lot of Democratic politics in our community and statewide, and I’ll continue that,” he said. “I think the commissioners made a good decision. I’ll look forward to supporting (Rye) during the interim.”
Parker said he hasn’t decided whether he’d help Rye run her campaign in 2016. He most recently served as Sheriff T.J. McDermott’s campaign manager.
“I have a choice to make, and I’ll consider that very well once I consider who the candidates may be that are running,” said Parker. “I respect (Gaynor) and (Rye) very much. They’re very strong women leaders, and they bring a lot of strengths and support for our community needs. That’ll be a decision we get to all make soon enough.”
Rye, along with Gaynor and Parker, spent the past two months studying the county’s major issues and interviewing for the job.
They’ve answered questions before the Missoula Organization of Realtors and the Missoula Democratic Party. The party selected the three applicants from a pool of six for consideration by the county.
Rye said she got to know and respects the other applicants.
“As we travel on the campaign circuit, the forums, questionnaires and interviews, you get to know the people that you run with,” said Rye. “I just want to say thank you to (Gaynor) and (Parker) for being smart and making me work really hard. I will try to live up to your expectations.”
On a historical note, Missoula County was the first U.S. county managed by an all-female commission. That distinction ended around 1994, but with Rye’s appointment, the body will again be made up of three women.
“We have strong women leaders in this community,” said Curtiss. “It’s probably not a surprise that there might be three strong women in this role.”