By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

The Missoula City Council on Monday night named Ruth Swaney to fill a vacant seat in Ward 2, replacing conservative councilman Harlan Wells, who left the post to take a state job in Helena.

Swaney becomes the second Native American appointed to an interim opening on the City Council in the last two years.

The last citizen appointed to the council – Patrick Weasel Head – was also Native American, though he went on to lose the general election to council member John DiBari.

“She would be the first Native American woman to sit on the council,” one woman implored before the final vote. “Having a Native American woman to sit on this council, it would provide a progressive change in our communities.”

Another woman encouraged the council to support Gail Gutsche, a former legislator and member of the Montana Public Service Commission.

“When I talk to Republicans and ask how they work with (Gutsche), they say she has always been open and listened to ideas in a very respectful manner,” the woman urged. “She's always had this knack of bringing people of all political persuasions together.”

In a closed round of voting, council members nominated a single name from a field of eight applicants. Six of them went on to the final round of voting, and three emerged as finalists, including Swaney and Gutsche.

After hours of other city business, the voting wrapped up at 9:40 p.m., with little comment from council members and Swaney as the chosen applicant.

“This is a short-term appointment and will ultimately be decided by the voters,” said Ward 6 council member Marilyn Marler, noting that Swaney must win election this November.

Wells announced his plans to resign late last year to take a job in Helena opened by changes in government resulting from November's statewide elections. His resignation took effect on Jan. 7

Swaney works as the Native American natural resource program coordinator at the University of Montana. The program is located in the College of Forestry and Conservation.

She received her associate's degree in 1997 at Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College in Environmental Science and her bachelor's degree in Elementary Education in 1999 at the University of North Dakota.

In 2010, Swaney earned a master's degree in organismal biology and ecology at UM, followed by a Ph.D in forestry and conservation sciences.