Missoula City Council member resigns to take job in Helena

Harlan Wells

By Martin Kidston

A freshman member of the Missoula City Council announced his resignation on Monday, saying he would leave the post on New Year’s Day to take a job in Helena.

Harlan Wells, representing Ward 2, was elected in November 2015 and emerged as the council’s most conservative member. While he’d considered making a run for mayor, he’ll instead be moving to Helena to take a job in state government.

Wells said his new position would be announced on Tuesday.

“I acted more like a sea anchor than a change maker,” Wells said Monday regarding his tenure on the council. “If everyone has the same beliefs, there’s more tendency to go even more in that direction. I hope I kept the council from going too far to the left.”

Wells was often at odds with Missoula Mayor John Engen and several progressive members of the City Council. At one meeting in May, he voted against the council’s entire agenda, and he consistently opposed the city’s fight to acquire Mountain Water Co. through condemnation.

Wells also criticized the City Council for doing Engen’s “bidding.” At one point, he called them “Bernie Sanders bobblheads.” More recently, he criticized the city’s funding of Missoula Economic Partnership, saying the city’s contribution should be withheld until the organization showed success in creating jobs.

Wells called his tenure on the council “illuminating,” saying he wanted to see the city focus more on business and economic development.

“There’s definitely a very different approach to economic develop and the way a city should grow,” Wells said. “They focus more on big box stores and shiny parks and less on attracting businesses that pay a living wage. I don’t think we should be legislating a $15 minimum wage. We should be trying to bring businesses here that pay a $15 wage.”

Wells was often criticized by some council members for not participating on enough committees. He was also the target of opponents who questioned his spotty attendance record, which at one point sat at 65 percent.

City law requires the City Council to name Well’s replacement. Council president Marilyn Marler said Monday the city will discuss doing so at tonight’s City Council meeting.

“I ran as right of center, as a fiscal conservative, and I was elected as such in a contentious election,” Wells said. “The ward spoke. I won’t be around long enough to be part of the replacement, but I hope the council takes that into consideration.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com