City Council’s conservative members fail to block reappointment of MRA chairman

Missoula Mayor John Engen saw two of his nominees to various boards approved by the City Council on Wednesday, including Karl Englund to the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. (Missoula Current file photo)

The Missoula City Council embarked on the routine approval of various board members on Wednesday, though the council’s trio of conservative members attempted to block the mayor’s nominee to the Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s Board of Commissioners.

Council members Jesse Ramos, Sandra Vasecka and John Contos voted against the reappointment of MRA chairman Karl Englund, the later doing so despite asking who Englund was and what he did.

In the end, Englund was reappointed on an 8-3 vote.

“(Englund) brings a lot of institutional memory and dedication to public service and intelligence to that board,” Missoula Mayor John Engen said in making his nomination. “He has served on that board for many years and has done so with distinction.”

Englund, appointed in 2016, is currently the longest service member of the Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s Board of Commissioners. The five member board oversees redevelopment projects in the city’s urban renewal districts and has discretion over the allocation of tax increment financing.

The program is authorized under state law and is used as a revitalization tool in a number of Montana cities. In Missoula, the program has been credited for revitalizing certain parts of the city, including the downtown district, and for fostering economic vitality and job growth. It also has provided affordable housing.

But the use of tax increment financing has become controversial in recent years, led largely by council member Jesse Ramos’ opposition to the program. Ramos also leads the council’s conservative voting block, and as he votes, Vasecka and Contos generally follow.

“I’ve heard great things about Mr. Englund and I have no doubt he’s a thoughtful man,” Ramos said. “But at the end of the day, I do not agree with his philosophy on TIF and many of the purchases he’s voted for. As council members, this is our only chance to have any control of that money that’s not a land purchase or a bond.”

Most members of the council supported Englund’s nomination and reappointment.

“I’ve attended, as have other council members, many MRA board meetings,” said council member Bryan von Lossberg. “Karl chairs that board effectively. He’s conscientious with respect to good questions and eliciting input from other board members. He’s conscious of the law around TIF and runs an effective board for the community.”

Also on Wednesday, members of the council unanimously approved the mayor’s nomination of Scott Stearns to the Business Improvement District Board.