Juanita Vero will spend the next two weeks getting to know county staff and the workings of her future job as Missoula County’s newly appointed commissioner.
Vero, who will fill outgoing Commissioner Cola’s Rowley’s seat for the remainder of her term, plans to bring a rural perspective to the job she’ll assume on July 1. It’s that rural outlook that helped her rise above the other two competitors who also were considered for the seat.
“There’s a slowness and authenticity to us folks out in the rural area,” Vero said Thursday after her appointment. “We may not be so quick and so sure of ourselves. That authenticity requires a significant amount of vulnerability and is kind of needed in this position.”
Commissioners Dave Strohmaier and Josh Slotnick unanimously chose Vero to replace Rowley, who is moving to Bozeman to pursue a new career opportunity.
When considering the urban-rural representation discussed by Strohmaier and Slotnick, Vero said the position requires a closeness to the place and the people she will represent, something she’s accustomed to as a resident of Greenough.
“You can impact people’s lives, positively, and you’re very close to the people,” she said. “As a rural person, I can’t vote for mayor or a city council person. Commissioners are really all we have. I’ve respected and admired the commissioners I’ve been involved with and their time and humanity.”
Vero and her future peers admit that she has big shoes to fill in assuming Rowley’s seat. When Rowley announced her resignation in April, it came as a surprise.
Since taking office in 2015, Rowley has spearheaded a number of measures, including criminal justice reform. She also advocated for better land-use planning, stronger collaboration with city government, public heath and climate change, and she supported local businesses.
“You’ve carved out a niche for yourself in Missoula County,” Strohmaier told Rowley on Thursday. “I fully intend to collectively, among the three commissioners, make sure we follow through on what you’ve set in motion.”
Rowley’s departure also leaves the board with less longevity. Strohmaier emerges as the county’s longest serving commissioner. He was elected in 2016 and took his seat the following January. Slotnick was elected in 2018 and took his seat this year.
Vero plans to learn on the job.
“I think I need to check in with staff and they’re going to tell me what my next two weeks will look like,” she said. “I plan on learning more about the county and how to make it successful. I really want to know what people want out of their commissioner and I hope I can deliver that.”
Vero said the time was right for her to present herself for the seat, saying she had the “capacity to serve, the tools and the partnerships and relationships.” Stepping up was the right thing to do, she added.
She named a wide range of issues when asked what the county must work to address, from the South Avenue bridge to a sewer system in Seeley Lake.
“It’s housing, it’s climate change, it’s how you’re going to maintain sustainable businesses, and how we’re going to be business friendly without losing who we are, the soul of Missoula,” she said. “What are we going to do with Smurfit-Stone? The whole list are all issues everyone’s concerned about.”
Vero said she plans to run for the seat in next year’s election.
“I need to be worthy of their vote, and I do plan to be worthy,” she said. “I don’t have a chip on my shoulder or an ax to grind. I just want to be worthy.”