Missoula mayoral interviews: Rice would serve as placeholder; ‘somebody else needs to come forward’
Martin Kidston/Missoula Current
Missoula mayoral candidate Fred Rice on Wednesday made the observation that no current member of the City Council has ever served under a mayor rather than the late John Engen.
As a result, he said, the next mayor must look at what was accomplished, what wasn't, and “look at what we want to be when we grow up.” If appointed to the job, he would only serve as a bridge to the next election.
You can read Rice's application by following this link.
“I'm not interested in building a legacy. I'm not interested in creating a dynasty,” he said. “I would like to suggest that we take the next year-and-a-half to three years to look at what our priorities are and plan on how to accomplish them.”
Rice has held a number of positions over the past several decades, including the health board, Missoula City Council, human resources director for Lewis and Clark County, and operations manager for the town of West Yellowstone.
He said he became interested in equity issues during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, then became interested in energy in the 1970s. He described climate change as existential, adding that “We have to deal with it personally.”
He said housing has been an issue for decades as well and will require density to address.
“Zoning has to allow us to make decisions that we're comfortable with,” he said. “We all know about NIMBY, how people complain about changes in their neighborhood, with me perhaps being just as bad as everyone else. In order to get density, you have to have a diverse neighborhood. Trying to figure out the right mix, I see that as more of a negotiation.”
If housing isn't a new problem, then issues around the state's tax structure and the pressure it places on property owners may be equally old, Rice said. As the operations manager for West Yellowstone, he said the resort tax worked, allowing the town to build streets and sidewalks and lighting while also reducing property taxes.
But such tools are only available to small gateway towns, not larger cities. A small gas tax or tourist tax could help alleviate property taxes that rise on the back of the state's appraisal process.
“We could use that money to offset costs we're currently having to assume on property tax levies,” he said. “I don't know what the ultimate game of the Legislature is – keeping the local governments from having the ability to tax themselves or their visitors. We've got to figure out a way to crack that nut and try to put together enough people to push for some local options in taxation.”
Each applicant for the job as mayor was posed 10 published questions during their allotted 50-minute interview, which was moderated by the Montana League of Women Voters. Rice took up all but two minutes of his time to complete his responses and offer his closing statement.
He said he would simply serve as placeholder until the next mayoral election in 2025.
“We'll set the table for what we want to do. In the meantime, we need those who are interested in not just having a place at the table, but maybe being the chef and preparing the meal, and learning how to adjust to the new reality, (to step forward). We just got done with 17 years with one person setting the table and directing traffic. I don't want to do it. I'm ready to go back to my garden and take care of my dogs. Somebody else in this room or somebody else needs to come forward.”