Missoula City Council appoints Jones to committee chair on split vote

Council member Gwen Jones, center, was named the new chair of the Administration and Finance Committee on a 7-5 vote. She’ll replace fellow council member Heather Harp in the role. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

On a 7 to 5 vote, members of the Missoula City Council this week named Gwen Jones as the new chair of the Administration and Finance Committee, marking the only committee appointment to receive a split vote as the new legislative season begins.

Council member Heather Harp had served as the committee’s chair last year, but council president Bryan von Lossberg nominated Jones for the seat, citing the issues likely to come before the council over the next year.

“I use a particular lens, and I respect that everyone has a different lens through which they make that assessment,” von Lossberg said. “In my particular case, I’m looking at experience, strategic judgment and collaboration. It’s a judgment call on my part that I’d like to see Mrs. Jones serve in this role for that committee going forward with the work before us.”

Jones won a second term on the council last November, placing her among the body’s senior members. She also serves as council vice president and recently chaired the Parks and Conservation Committee.

While Harp remains in her first term, she brings a background in finance. She also chaired the Administration and Finance Committee last year, leading some to suggest she was better suited for the nuances of the role.

“I’ve disagreed with Mrs. Harp probably more than anyone else on this committee, but every time we’ve had a disagreement, she’s reached out to me to talk about it,” said council member Jesse Ramos, who nominate Harp for the chair. “I feel like Mrs. Harp is most suited for this role.”

Heather Harp

Both Jones and Harp accepted their nomination and spoke to their willingness to fulfill the duties of the chair. The committee plays a central role finances related to local government, from tax increment to bonding, such as that used to purchase Mountain Water Co.

“There is so much going on in Missoula these days and so much work to do on council,” Jones said. “Whether there’s a position of chair or not, there’s plenty of heavy lifting on this council, it’s just a question of spreading it around.”

Harp also described the committee as one of “great consequence” and said financial expertise is valuable in ensuring the committee runs smoothly. She questioned the push by some to replace her as committee chair.

“It seems strange you’d remove someone with the professional background,” Harp said, noting the relationships she’s built with various city departments in her role as committee chair.

“I feel I’ve developed great relationships with those departments. I’ve helped those individuals come to our A&F meeting with a better presentation time and time again, so it’s easier for folks who may not be good with numbers to understand the numbers.”

The council voted unanimously on the remaining committee chairs, including Jordan Hess, who will head the Land Use and Planning Committee. The committee oversees issues around growth and planning, including zoning and development.

“It is an incredible role. It’s one of the hardest committees,” said council member Stacie Anderson. “He’s done an excellent job and I think he’s the right person to see us through these tough issues we’re seeing in this community.”

Council member Amber Sherrill was the only new member of the council to receive a chair appointment. The council voted unanimously to place her as head of the Parks and Conservation Committee.

The Public Safety and Health Committee will be chaired by Anderson while Mirtha Becerra will chair the Public Works Committee.

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at martin@missoulacurrent.com