Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Missoula's current mayor kicked off his election campaign on Tuesday, pledging to move forward on housing, regulatory reform, carbon neutrality and a push for tax reform.

Jordan Hess, who was the city's most tenured member of the Missoula City Council at nine years, was appointed mayor by a council majority in August after the death of former Mayor John Engen.

This November, voters will elect a new mayor to complete the last two years of Engen's term. Council member Mike Nugent also announced his intent to run.

“I align with Engen in a lot of ways. We're similar in ideology,” Hess told the Missoula Current on Tuesday. “But one thing I'd emphasize more is climate. Climate change is the biggest threat to our well being and way of life, and there's a lot the city can and should do around climate change.”

During his tenure on City Council, Hess played a role in helping spearhead many of the city's current climate goals, including a push toward carbon neutrality by 2035 and a separate goal of achieving 100% clean electricity by 2030.

While neither will be easy, Hess said, it's achievable with deliberate decisions made through the city's new climate lens.

“It's another one of the issues that's outside the realm of what city's typically do,” Hess said. “We have a 100% clean electricity goal by 2030, and we'll meet that goal. It will be hard, but we'll meet that goal through deliberate work, deliberate action, partnerships and collaboration.”

While on City Council, Hess also chaired the Land Use and Planning Committee - a committee that's long been considered the most challenging and contentious in city government.

As mayor, Hess plans to lead the city's current efforts toward code and regulatory reform.

“It's probably the most impactful thing we can do in our community for the next generation,” Hess said. “Our land-use and code reform process is going to have a big impact on the development industry, and also on small businesses. It's where local government can make investments in infrastructure, and things like that can make it easier for businesses to make a go of it here.”

Hess, who was born into a small business family in South Dakota, announced his campaign at the Big Dipper in the Midtown district. The location was chosen for two reasons, Hess said – to signal his support for small businesses and to showcase the promise of the Midtown area, which is on the verge of change.

“That's a success story I want to cultivate in Missoula – businesses like the Big Dipper being successful into the future,” he said. “We're also in Midtown and there's a lot going on here. There are businesses investing in Midtown. There's public investment in Midtown.”

Missoula Mayor Jordan Hess. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)
Missoula Mayor Jordan Hess. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

The city is set to begin a $900,000 federal grant to plan the future of Midtown, which will center on the Brooks Street corridor. Hess, who brings a transportation background to the city, said the effort to address Brooks Street goes back to 2015 in a process he helped lead.

Brooks Street, like the city's other transportation corridors, must become safe for all users, he said, and set the stage for infill development.

“We have been working as a group for (Brooks Street) for a number of years, and it's now bearing fruit,” Hess said. “That's how local government works. It is difficult, complex and time-intensive work that takes years and decades to see results. The work of local government takes a steady hand, focus, commitment, collaboration and problem solving. That's what I bring to this race.”

Hess cited the city's years-long legal battle to acquire Mountain Water Co. from the Carlyle Group as an example. At the time, Missoula was one of the only cities in the state where a private company owned the local water system.

In a District Court decision that withstood state Supreme Court scrutiny, Missoula won the acquisition battle by “taking on Wall Street to acquire our water system from a nasty, multinational hedge fund,” Hess said.

“We were building a resilient community where in 50 years or 100 years, we weren't going to have a private equity firm controlling and potentially bottling our water as we're dealing with water scarcity,” Hess said. “It was a decision that was difficult, took resolve and years to play out. I bring that up as the types of things local government can do when we have a vision and work together.”

Hess also noted the city's efforts on the housing front and described housing as the “issue of the day.” While the crisis isn't unique to Missoula and is facing cities across the West, he said Missoula has been deliberative in tackling the issue and will continue to do so.

“The City of Missoula was the first in the state to create an affordable housing trust fund, the first in the state to adopt a housing policy, and the first in the state to open a housing office that was exclusively dedicated to the creation of housing Missoulians can afford,” Hess said.

He added, “In challenge we grow. In challenge we find strength and we become resilient.”

All three Missoula County Commissioners, along with City Council member Amber Sherill, attended Hess's campaign announcement. Commissioners gave Hess glowing endorsements.

“The collaboration between the City of Missoula and Missoula County government has never been stronger,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “That's in no small part due to the hard work of Mayor Hess and the collaboration with Missoula County. To be a mayor in Missoula, or anywhere, ought to include a sense of vision and inspiration about what the future might mean. Mayor Hess embodies of all of those attributes, and more.”