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Guest column

Opinion: Mayoral candidates should gain experience

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First, let me say that I appreciate and applaud the three challengers running for mayor for wanting to serve, but to be truly effective as mayor they should run for, and serve on, Missoula’s City Council first to gain experience and a basic knowledge of how the city’s administration actually works.

It never ceases to amaze me how people with no experience — zero, none — want to step into the highest position in an organization as their starting point. Jacob Elder admits he has no political experience. Greg Strandberg also has no political experience. Shawn Knopp is the third contender with — you guessed it — no political experience.

To quote a friend: “The position of Missoula’s mayor is no place for OJT (on the job training).”

It seems from what I read they all think the mayor is the primary decision-maker. Missoula has a strong council-weak mayor form of government where very little is done without the approval from a majority of the 12 council members — most of the time after debate in one committee or another. Changing membership on the council has affected the city in many ways over the years, sometimes without the mayor’s agreement/approval. The same could happen in the future.

Simply saying, as Elder has, “a fifth term is too long,” is meaningless. So is “Missoula isn’t how Engen remembers it from 15 years ago.” Engen has participated in making it better and wants to do more. Without fully understanding tax increment financing, who puts money into them, who benefits from the expenditures, etc., it’s inappropriate to criticize in broad terms how the money is spent, as Strandberg has done. Give specifics if you have a concern. Reappraisals being done every two years are not controlled by the mayor, as Knopp thinks — it’s a state responsibility. Work is already underway on de-escalation and crisis intervention training for law enforcement (wonder who wants to take credit at the end). If you “hate public speaking and hate meetings,” then being mayor is not for you. And, by the way, in contradiction to some who think they may have some say with Missoula’s schools as mayor: You don’t. They are separate and have their own elected boards.

The city manages the sewer system and should be able to manage a similar operation such as Mountain Water, which it bought and has kept millions of dollars in Missoula instead of it going to the Carlyle corporation. When purchased, the water system was leaking nearly 50% of its water. Repairs are being made but water costs have not gone up.

The city spent money on the park at Fort Missoula, which has seen a nearly 400% increase (5,200 hours) in use since the upgrade in 2017-'18. This brings money into the county; people stay in hotels and eat in restaurants.

The mayor is not the reason for median housing prices to be $110,000 more than last year. Yes, housing costs and homelessness are two important issues, which the city, in collaboration with a multitude of private and nonprofit organizations, has been working on for at least a decade. While permitting fees may be a part of the cost problem, there are other issues. People who live and work here simply cannot afford houses being built here. One construction company is building several houses with labor brought in from out of state, in part due to labor shortages. Building material costs have soared in the past year. Etc. Most of this is outside the control of the Mayor’s Office.

Overall, Engen has served Missoula well and I encourage you to join me in supporting his run for another term.

C. Burt Caldwell is a retired director of manufacturing in the automotive and space industries, a member of local boards and councils, and has been active in Montana politics for over a decade. He lives in Missoula. 

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