Jean Curtiss can still recall her first day in office, not because the agenda was memorable but rather, because the calendar read 01-01-01. The first day of the new Millennium had a new Missoula County commissioner.
Curtiss this week announced her intention to seek reelection to her fourth term serving the state’s second most populous county. Over the past 18 years, she has seen the county endure its share of changes, from hot-and-cold cycles of growth to a renewed focus on agriculture and jobs.
“I still really love this job,” Curtiss said Thursday. “I kind of have Missoula County in my blood. I was born here, raised my kids here and I was raised here. I feel like Missoula County needs common-sense leadership, and I still enjoy working on the economic development stuff and attracting businesses.”
On the business front, Curtiss has been involved in the Missoula Economic Partnership and the Bitterroot Economic Development District since the two organizations were formed.
With the new workforce study complete and the housing report finished, she said it’s time to implement common-sense proposals. Those include affordable housing, job development and job training, among other things.
“We need to look at how to coordinate that workforce study better so folks can hire people and those who want training can get it,” she said. “On the housing front, it’s going to take partnership and innovation, but I like connecting the dots between people and solutions.”
Curtiss said the local plan to end homelessness has made progress by solving one family crisis at a time. Protecting working farms and ranches also remains a priority.
While the county has initiated policies to address the challenge, Curtiss said, more will be done as the county moves forward with its zoning update this year.
“That will be a big part of the project,” Curtiss said. “You have to figure out how to protect those heritage farmers who’ve been farming forever, and figure out how we don’t make the last guy in line pay the whole price. It’s a community problem and it needs a community solution.”
Curtiss, who already has one challenger in Josh Slotnick, said she grew up in a family of strong women. As a result, she said, she has spent her career in local politics “paying it forward” by encouraging other women to get involved in leadership roles in their communities.
As she gears up for her reelection bid, Curtiss unveiled what she’s calling a five-point vision for Missoula County. The list includes business attraction and wage growth, attainable housing, farm preservation, conservation, and standing up for the underserved.
“One other thing I think my experience will count for is these state and federal cuts to mental health, cuts to the developmentally disabled and the foster child program at the health department,” Curtiss said. “The needs aren’t going away. To say a family with a developmentally delayed child now gets one hour of somebody’s time a month instead of eight hours is just crazy, and there’s more things coming down the pike.”