By Martin Kidston

The mayor of the city of Missoula will be away from the job for an undisclosed period of time dealing with personal medical issues, the city's communications director confirmed on Wednesday.

Ginny Merriam said Missoula Mayor John Engen is expected to be out for several weeks. She declined to specify the mayor's illness.

“Mayor Engen is out for a few weeks dealing with some medical issues,” Merriam said. “He's absent from the office while he deals with these health issues.”

Merriam said Engen would likely be absent for several weeks, though she did not have a definitive timeline for his return. Missoula City Council President Marilyn Marler is fulfilling the duties as mayor in Engen's absence.

“We don't know how long it will take him to be healthy,” Merriam said. “I'm not going to talk about anyone's personal health or medical issues. He's a very candid person. He's very honest. It may be that he decides to answer that question when gets back.”

Marler, the council president representing Ward 6, has temporarily assumed the duties of mayor, in accordance with the City Charter.

According to the charter, the City Council shall elect from its members a City Council president who shall serve as acting mayor “in the absence of the mayor, or in the event the mayor is unable to discharge the duties of the office of mayor.”

“Marilyn Marler can do everything with the responsibilities of the office,” Merriam said. “She has been coming in pretty much every day to check in with us and sign things that need to be signed.”

Marler said she began serving as acting mayor earlier last Wednesday. She said Engen told her he'd be gone to address his medical condition.

"I have my job at the University of Montana, so I'm doing that and trying to make myself extra open for meetings with the mayor's staff,” Marler said. “I'm signing contracts that need the mayor's signature and chairing the City Council meeting next week. Our regular mayor is very irreplaceable.”

Engen was first elected to office in 2005 and was reelected in 2009. During his tenure, he passed an open space bond, streamlined the process of applying for building permits, and helped create the Missoula Economic Partnership to bolster economic development.

More recently, he formed a new department to address the city's housing crisis, and has undertaken the legal effort to wrestle the city's drinking water system from corporate ownership and place it into public ownership.

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at

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