As Missoula Mayor John Engen prepares to begin treatment for pancreatic cancer in the coming weeks, city officials have dusted off the city charter that details who would act as mayor if necessary.
It also details steps for succession and how a new mayor would be appointed if Engen chose or was unable to complete his current term, which runs through 2025.
“If John decides he needs to step back for a certain period because he’s unable to be the mayor, then the City Council president steps in as acting mayor,” Ginny Merriam, the city’s communications direct, said Wednesday. “That would be Gwen Jones.”
Jones was elected by her peers on City Council to serve as president, given her tenure on the governing body. The last time the City Council president had to act as mayor for a brief time was roughly five years ago when Marilyn Marler filled in while Engen was ill.
In the event Engen chose not to finish his current term or was unable to do so for health reasons, the City Council would select a replacement.
“If something happened to him permanently, then City Council picks nominations and elects someone to fill the rest of the term,” Merriam said. “There’s not an allotted time that I know of. But you have to have a mayor and they would have to act pretty quickly. It doesn’t necessarily have to be someone from the council.”
That occurred in the mid 1990s when Mayor Dan Kemmis resigned to take a job at the Center for the Rocky Mountain West. The City Council looked outside of City Hall and appointed Mike Kadas to serve as mayor. Kadas had experience on the state Legislature and brought a background in economics.
Engen on Tuesday announced that he’d been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and will begin treatment as early as next week after consulting with a doctor.
In a press release, the city said Engen had been tired and suffering from abdominal pain now for several months. An MRI conducted last week, followed by a Friday biopsy, confirmed that he had carcinoma on his pancreas and a cancerous tumor on his liver.
On Wednesday, Merriam said Engen was in good spirits.
“If anything, he’s energized and has things he wants to accomplish,” she said. “We’ll get more of a sense of it when he goes to the oncologist on Monday. We have the strongest management team that we’ve had in a long time. We’re going to be okay.”
Jones was in committee meetings Wednesday and couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.