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Engen: ‘Interesting’ election results reaffirm city’s goals around housing, homelessness

Missoula Mayor John Engen plans to hire a new chief operations officer and meet with the new members of the Missoula City Council. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

With the election now in the rear-view mirror, the City of Missoula has turned its focus back to its plans and policies on issues around housing and homelessness, and it’s gearing up to train a new crop of City Council members for the job.

But the first order of business may be the hiring of a new chief operations officer, a position Missoula Mayor John Engen said will help the city achieve a number of initiatives moving forward.

“We’re getting close to wrapping up a recruitment for the chief operations officer. We have a good candidate and with any luck, we’ll be able to make an announcement in the near future,” Engen said.

During talks of reorganizing, Engen said the city examined its needs and settled on creating a chief operations officer position. The job will be responsible for a number of items within Central Services including finances, Internet technology, the city’s vehicle fleet, and the clerk’s office.

A candidate is currently being considered, Engen said.

“We’ve had good recruitment and I spoke with the finalist on Monday,” he said. “We’re wrapping up some reference work. It’s a great opportunity for us to tackle a long list of initiatives moving forward.”

This year’s election saw two incumbent City Council members hold their seat against challengers while new candidates will fill four open seats on the council. Two of those candidates align with the Democratic Socialists, marking a small change in the council’s composition.

Engen described the election outcome as interesting.

“I haven’t looked beyond big round numbers, and I hope to get more analysis in regard to neighborhood precincts to understand a little more about what’s going on,” he said. “But in terms of a cohesive working group, I think we’ll have some very energetic, civic minded souls who will bring talent and perspective to the good of the order.”

As is the case after every municipal election, the city will bring the new members through an on-boarding process. The workshop prepares them for the job and the council’s order or decorum.

Engen also plans to meet with the newcomers.

“My practice has been to offer all members of council a regular meeting, and that can be on a weekly basis or on whatever cadence they prefer,” he said. “I’ll make that offer and get a sense on where their particular interests lie. I’ve got some speculation in some cases, just watching their campaigns and paying attention to that.”

Engen said the election results suggested that Missoula voters believe the city is moving in the right direction, but wants to see more progress on issues around housing, homelessness and quality of life.

“They appreciate the leadership that’s in place and expect us to continue that and provide more of it,” Engen said. “I also read it as a confirmation that they want us to address issues of housing and homelessness, maintain and improve services and quality of life. All of that is consistent with our strategic plan and goals.”