Cola Rowley on Wednesday announced her plans to resign her seat as a Missoula County commissioner to take a job in Gallatin County, setting the stage for the appointment of a new nominee to finish her term.
Rowley, who is the longest serving commissioner on the board and serves as its chairperson, will start her new job as the deputy county administrator in Bozeman on July 1.
She announced her plans in a statement issued by Missoula County.
“This is an amazing opportunity to further my dedication to public service for years to come,” Rowley said in the release. “It will allow me to capitalize on my strengths and interests in data, administration and collaborative innovation.”
Under state law, the Missoula County Democratic Central Committee will provide three names to Commissioners Dave Strohmaier and Josh Slotnick for their consideration to replace Rowley.
If the two commissioners cannot reach a unanimous decision regarding one of the three applicants, they can ask the Democrat Party for three additional names. They must then select one of the six.
A similar process played out in 2015 when former Commissioner Bill Carey retired. Rowley and former Commissioner Jean Curtiss selected Stacy Rye to finish Carey’s term. Rye ran for the seat during the following election and lost to Strohmaier in the Democratic primary.
Missoula County has not yet set a timeline to select Rowley’s replacement.
Rowley’s resignation came as a surprise on Wednesday and leaves the board with less experience. Since taking office in 2015, she has spearheaded a number of measures, with criminal justice reform standing foremost among them.
She also advocated for better land-use planning, stronger collaboration with city government, public heath and climate change.
“Among other things, her data-driven approach to criminal justice reform has put Missoula County on the map and will position us well for realizing jail diversion efforts and fostering healthy communities,” Strohmaier said. “She’s smart, motivated and passionate – all attributes that will serve Gallatin County well.”
More recently, Rowley has sought to standardize county lease agreements with private organizations and she voted to place interim zoning regulations on new or expanded cryptocurrency operations.
She currently serves on several boards, including the Partnership Health Center, the Western Montana Mental Health Center and Missoula Aging Services, as well as the Housing Policy Steering Committee.
“I’m proud of the work I’ve done forwarding the redevelopment of the fairgrounds, justice system improvements, addressing climate change and resiliency planning, policy and regulatory updates and development, and transparency and efficiency,” she said in Wednesday’s statement.
Slotnick said Gallatin Count will gain a valuable employee.
“Cola’s encyclopedic understanding of local government, focus on data-driven solutions and commitment to an equitable future have made her an effective elected official,” he said. “I have appreciated Cola’s openness and willingness to pass on her knowledge, as she has been a great help to me as well as the county.”