With a goat skin on the wall, Missoula County Commissioner Juanita Vero raised her right hand and stared into her computer screen on Tuesday, becoming the first elected official in the city to take the oath of office virtually.
Missoula County Clerk and Recorder Shirley Faust also was sworn in for another term. The ceremonies lacked the celebration of past events, which often come complete with hand-shaking, back-slapping and wide congratulations.
This time, there was hand-clapping and whistling.
“Is this the first ever virtual swearing in ceremony in Missoula County history?” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “There you go.”
“Once again, leading the charge,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “We’re packing it in to squeeze the last ounce of oomph out of 2020 today.”
Vero was appointed to the board in the summer of 2019 to fill the seat vacated by former Commissioner Cola Rowley, who took a different job in Bozeman.
Vero ran for the seat this November and was elected with 60% of the vote.
“We’re so fortunate to have you here in our midst and to work with you,” Slotnick said. “The citizens of our county are even more fortunate to have you at their service.”
Also on Tuesday, as per state law, commissioners elected a new chair for the next year. Slotnick has held the chair for the past year and Strohmaier will hold the position in 2021.
Strohmaier also held the chair in 2019.
Each year under state law, and prior to the first meeting of the new calendar year, the Board of Commissioners must elect a presiding officer. It’s mostly a title that sees the chair run the board’s meetings.
But the chair also has the authority to declare a disaster or state of emergency without the board. The chair can also restrict access to certain areas of the county under certain circumstances.
“While most of those duties are perfunctory – simply chairing the meetings – ever now and then there’s the rare opportunity where one of you gets to act alone as the chair,” said Chris Lounsbury, the county’s chief administrative officer.
If the rotation holds true, Vero would likely assume the role as chair in 2022.