Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) With one member of City Council selected to serve as Missoula's new mayor, members of the council will now turn their focus on filling the open seat in Ward 2.

Jordan Hess held the seat for nearly nine years and has now stepped into the role as the city's mayor. Candidates looking to fill his seat have until Sept. 22 to submit their application.

“This is a process we used in the past. It's pretty much ready to go, but the issue is timing,” said City Council President Gwen Jones. “Because we're side-boarded of having to do this within 30 days under Montana state law, and our rules spell out a certain format, it will be very difficult to do that.”

As a result, the City Council Committee of the Whole voted 10-1 on Wednesday to suspend Rule No. 31 to meet the state deadline and to give the city clerk the time needed to fully vet the applicants.

The timeline was further challenged by the Montana League of Cities and Towns convening later in October and Indigenous People's Day – a holiday slated for Missoula on Oct. 10.

Under state law, Hess' seat must be filled by Oct. 14, and the city clerk must vet all applicants to ensure they qualify for the job. Applicants must be a resident of Ward 2 at least 60 days prior to appointment and a U.S. citizen. They also must be eligible to vote and be 18 years of age.

Applicants looking to fill the vacant seat in Ward 2 must living within Ward 2, as pictured on this map.
Applicants looking to fill the vacant seat in Ward 2 must living within Ward 2.

City Clerk Marty Rehbein said several applicants for the job of mayor were eliminated from the candidate pool after the clerk's office vetted their residency and voting status. One lived outside city limits and the other wasn't registered to vote at his current address.

Rehbein said that altering the timeline would reduce the time she had to vet the applications and still have the city meet the state-required deadline.

“If you do that, it does shorten our ability to verify with the Elections Office that they're qualified,” she said. “It's something I'm required to do by your rules. I would appreciate more time to do that work for you.”

All council members but Daniel Carlino agreed and voted to move the process forward as presented on Wednesday.

“I don't like the idea of reviewing candidates that haven't been vetted,” said council member Heidi West. “I feel like people are aware of the process. If they're intending to apply, I bet they already have their eye on this.”

Council member Amber Sherrill agreed.

“While I'd like this timeline to be longer, we need to vet the candidates and make sure they're eligible for this position,” she said.

The process of filling a vacant seat on City Council has played out twice in the last decade, and the process set for the next 30 days will be similar.

Applications are due by Sept. 22 and members of the City Council will select the candidates they want to interview on Sept. 26. Interviews will then be conducted on Sept. 28 and the final vote will be held on Oct. 3.

The winning candidate must receive six votes from City Council – not the seven votes required for the office of Mayor. The council struggled on Monday to reach that seven-vote threshold and only did so after one of the leading contenders conceded his nomination to add the seventh vote.

“It's important to get this ball moving because we're under a lot of sideboards,” said Jones. “We have our process in place, and that application period will be opened today. We're going to need someone good from Ward 2 to fill some pretty big shoes.”