By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT
A candidate running for a seat on the Missoula County Board of Commissioners released his five-point plan on Thursday, outlining his platform ahead of June’s primary election.
Dave Strohmaier filed to run for the seat in March and will face fellow Democrat and incumbent Commissioner Stacy Rye. Strohmaier named leadership and conservation among his top priorities, along with economic development, public safety, planning and social justice issues.
“These really represent my core values and the low-hanging fruit of what I’d like to accomplish right out of the shoot,” said Strohmaier. “Clearly, there’s plenty of other things on people’s minds, plenty I’ll learn in the campaign. As I’ve discovered serving on the (Missoula) City Council, it’s important that you bring to the table a core set of values and priorities that represent a broad range of issues.”
Among his initial goals, Strohmaier looks to adopt an open-door policy with both county staff and the public, and nurture what he described as a “sense of respect and teamwork,” even when differences occur. The issue of leadership prompted Commissioner Jean Curtiss to endorse Strohmaier when he filed to run for the seat.
Strohmaier, a professional historian and advocate for restoring passenger rail service in southern Montana, also looks to tackle planning issues. County leaders continue to work through a new growth policy, and with an estimated 140,000 residents expected to call the county home in the next 20 years, the issue will remain a pressing one.
“There’s is a great need for the city and county to collaborate and maybe work more closely in terms of regional planning over what might have been going on in the past,” Strohmaier said. “One of the very specific areas we need to attend to is food security in western Montana and Missoula County, and that means making sure we have land-use regulations that recognize certain areas have prime agricultural soils, and it needs to be considered in our planing process.”
To deal with growth, Strohmaier acknowledged the reality of climate change and pledged to move the county closer to becoming carbon neutral through smart growth and conservation. He also vowed to protect public lands and improve infrastructure, including efforts to establish a broadband network to help businesses compete in the 21st century.
“I think one appropriate role for local government is to provide the infrastructure bones, the foundation upon which thriving economies can be built,” he said. “That means livability, it means making sure we have the amenities to attract businesses to the community and help businesses grow.”
Rye, who has held the position as commissioner since September, brings her own agenda items to the campaign. Among her goals, she looks to position the county as a stronger community partner. She also envisions a more open and transparent county government.
Commissioners Curtiss and Cola Rowley appointed Rye to the interim position after former Commissioner Bill Carey retired.
“Citizens have to be able to meaningfully participate in their government,” said Rye. “To do that, you have to know what’s going on. It benefits all of us to make sure our business is clear, open and accessible.”
Rye aims to establish a stronger county partnership with the city of Missoula and other large organizations. Issues of housing and homelessness cross jurisdictional lines, she said, and no single entity has the resources needed to tackle the challenges alone.
“There are things the city can’t do alone on housing and homelessness, and the county can work together on those,” she said. “I’m happy to have good working relationships with the mayor and the Missoula delegation to accomplish those partnerships, whether it’s housing or financial planing.”
Rye said area residents would also benefit from stronger financial planning between city and county government. Voters have approved a series of bonds over the past few years, though additional bond initiatives are expected to surface in the coming years, including funds for a new Missoula Public Library and a possible new open space effort.
Rye also looks to make the county more proactive in tackling local initiatives. The county recently adopted a new parental leave policy, though it could do more as one of the region’s largest employers, she said.
“There are other initiatives we can do as a large employer that benefit working families,” she said. “Maybe it’s around early childhood education, which the state declined. We don’t need to go and fund all of it, but we should be driving those initiatives at the county level.”