Missoula City Council selects Mirtha Becerra as new Ward 2 representative

Ward 3 Council Member Gwen Jones nominated Mirtha Becerra to fill the Ward 2 vacancy created by Councilwoman Ruth Ann Swaney’s resignation. (Missoula Current)

Mirtha Becerra, a professional land use planner and former board president of Homeword, was selected as the new Ward 2 Missoula City Council representative on Monday night.

In the second round of voting, Becerra received eight votes, enough to win the seat being vacated by Ward 2 Councilwoman Ruth Ann Swaney. She will serve the remaining two years of Swaney’s term.

In her application for the job, Becerra said she has lived in Ward 2 for 12  years and in Missoula for 15 years.

“I have witnessed the changes in our community and would like to use my professional experience as a tool for guiding future development in Ward 2 and the community at large,” she wrote.

“I believe Ward 2 is a unique and diverse area that has and will continue to face issues regarding transportation, natural resource conservation, business and affordable housing development. Working more closely with the community on these issues is something I have always been interested in.”

Councilwoman Gwen Jones nominated Becerra as the City Council began its deliberations Monday, touting her “extremely impressive resume.”

Becerra has a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from the State University of New York at Buffalo and a master’s degree in urban planning with an environmental planning minor, also from SUNY Buffalo.

She worked as an intern with the National Park Service in the Rivers and Trails Conservation Assistance Program, and for the city of Buffalo on affordable housing issues during graduate school.

In Missoula, she works as a professional land use planner and has served as a board member and board president for Homeword, which helps lower-income residents become homeowners.

In her application for the Ward 2 opening, Becerra said: “I am a land use and transportation planner and have worked for 10 years in Missoula. I am knowledgeable about the federal, state and local regulations that govern land use and transportation development. Working as a planner in Missoula allowed me to become familiar with the main issues regarding development in our community.”

Jones told her fellow council members that Becerra’s background makes her “a great addition to the council” and is pertinent to “so many existing, relevant issues in Missoula.”

To win the seat, she needed seven votes, which she did not receive in the first round of voting. On the second round, though, several council members changed their vote and Becerra emerged with eight votes.

Two council members were absent Monday: Swaney, who has moved to North Dakota to accept a job with the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in the tribal education department; and Michelle Cares.

In all, there were nine applicants for the Ward 2 opening, and all were thanked by council members earlier Monday evening.

Ward 2 Councilman Jordan Hess marveled at the sheer number, but also at the quality of the applicants. Interestingly, Hess is unopposed in Tuesday’s municipal election. Councilwoman Marilyn Marler called the pool of applicants “amazing,” adding her thanks for their commitment to public service.

Monday night’s appointment process began with Mayor John Engen going around the council table, allowing each representative to nominate one person for the vacancy.

Then he went around the table and asked each council member to vote for one of the nominated applicants. That process would continue, he said, until one applicant received seven votes.

Other applicants receiving votes in Monday night’s voting were Jack Metcalf, Jason Krumbeck, Madison Schroeder and Ron Barker.

Becerra will be sworn in on Tuesday afternoon. She is the third person to hold the seat in 2017. Swaney was appointed to the seat after Ward 2 Councilman Harlan Wells accepted a job in state government and moved to Helena in January. Her name will appear on Tuesday’s municipal election ballot because she decided to move too late to withdraw from the race; her resignation, however, negates the election results. She was unopposed.