Mayor Hess bids farewell to City Council, praises Missoula
(Missoula Current) In what would be the last City Council meeting of his tenure as mayor, Jordan Hess praised Missoula's city employees, its innovation and the accomplishments it has notched over the last decade, most of which he spent as one of Missoula top elected leaders.
Regardless of his role, Hess was at the table for a period of time that saw Missoula grow from a town into a city, one that owns its own water system, is alive with growth, and is making headway on some of its top challenges.
“We aren't a great place by accident,” Hess said. “That's because there's a lot of people in this community that care a lot, and work to make sure Missoula remains a place that cares about people and cares about place – a place that invests in itself and its future, and I think that's the role of local government all day long.”
Hess won a seat on City Council roughly 10 years ago and rose to chair the Land Use and Planning Committee. In 2022, he was named vice president of City Council by his peers. When former Mayor John Engen was diagnosed with cancer and passed away shortly after, Hess was appointed as the city's mayor.
While he ran to keep the job in this year's election, he wasn't successful. But his efforts and his approach to the work hasn't gone unnoticed by his peers.
“Thank you for your willingness to step up at a difficult time and for your selfless service,” said council member Amber Sherrill. “Mayor Engen used to regularly say that Jordan is the smartest person in the room, and he would never let you know it. He was right, and I appreciate that you never gloated about it. Your quiet intelligence, your humanity, you humility, your clear and thoughtful consideration of issues, and your deep understanding of municipal government will be sorely missed.”
In many ways, Missoula was a different place a decade ago. It didn't yet have a housing crisis, the median price of a home was roughly $210,000, and the city's water system was owned by a global hedge fund that had neglected the system for years while passing profits off to shareholders.
As Hess noted, the city's stock of open space was smaller, Fort Missoula Regional Park was just a dream, and the city didn't yet have a housing policy. Hess played a role in ticking many issues off the list, including the purchase of Mountain Water Co.
He has described the water system as one of the city's biggest achievements.
“It matters today, it matters tomorrow and it really matters 200 years from now. We don't know what water in the West will be like, but we know it'll be less plentiful. The last thing we need is a multinational hedge fund bottling our water and selling it for profit instead of keeping it in our community for the benefit of the residents we serve.”
When Hess took the office of mayor, he inherited a number of issues that couldn't be solved in the year he was given before the election, from homelessness to housing costs. As a result, he faced a frustrated electorate that was looking for change.
Hess acknowledged that challenges remain and he cited a tech leader who said it's easy to overestimate what you can accomplish in a year, and easy to underestimate what you can accomplish in 10 years.
“There's a lot of stuff over the last year we didn't get done, and a lot of stuff I hope you all will keep working on,” he told council members. “There's a lot of loose ends over that last year, but looking back over the last 10 years, it's really incredible and remarkable what we've been able to accomplish.”
Other council members, both tenured and new, praised his dedication to Missoula and his efforts to make it a better place.
“You're kind and thoughtful, intelligent and hard working. You also have a very giving heart, and I think that's why you're the wonderful person you are,” said council president Gwen Jones. “I know you're truly a public servant underneath it all. At some point, you're going to circle back to public service in some form or capacity.”
Comments from City Council members
“Thank you for your time and discussing issues that I know sometimes were probably a little tedious. You were supportive in helping me help constituents, and I want to thank you for that. And I want to thank you for being supportive of me when I had some personal stuff going on, and for being very private and very professional and very supportive.”
“Thank you for all you've done for Missoula. I've appreciated your professionalism and your thoughtfulness. You've handled yourself with the utmost professionalism. I appreciate it and I wish you luck.”
“You became mayor shortly after I came on council. You were always very open to my questions. You are the epitome of a public servant. You serve graciously and calmly, and that's not always easy to do.”
“I appreciated you when I came on council and truly had no idea what I was doing. You were very helpful to me. I've always appreciated that. I really love you use words like 'nomenclature.' I think that's one of my favorite things about you. We're all going to miss you very much.”
“I will continue to thank you for stepping into the position (mayor) with humility, commitment and dedication. You also got me to step into public office. I will continue to call you for your wisdom and thoughts on how to move Missoula forward.”
“It's been fun getting to know you. You're not exactly one those guys who announces himself when he comes into a room, and I appreciate that. Listening to you, it was clear pretty quick how intelligent you are. Not just intelligent, but you have a concern for people, and I think that's what this job is all about. Not only doing your best, but taking people into consideration. I admire the way you stepped into the mayor's off. You've got a bright future ahead of you.”
“You and I disagree on a lot. It's always been great to have those discussions with you. You've always been willing to try and most often succeed in seeing things from my point of view. We were able to discuss it and still have our own opinions regarding it. I really appreciate those conversations with you. If you ever want to see things from a different perspective, feel free to call me.”