Commissioner Strohmaier: Progress in Missoula County, and more to come
I count it an honor and a privilege to have represented the 120,000 residents of Missoula County for the past six years. Serving as commissioner is all about teamwork, and teamwork means working collaboratively with not only Commissioners Vero and Slotnick, but also the eight other independently elected county officials and the nearly 1,000 county employees who work across 30 different departments, providing them the tools they need to deliver the services that Missoula County residents want and deserve.
Indeed, I can’t think of a better, more cohesive team than the one currently comprising Missoula County government. Over the past two years, we’ve navigated the greatest public health crisis in a century. We’re working hard to develop strategies to address the global climate emergency and figure out how to preserve this place we love when thousands of others have also found Missoula County and fallen in love with it. In addition, we’ve restored our treasured fairgrounds, strengthened government-to-government relations with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, garnered recognition for innovative public engagement, and led the way in creating the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority focused on reestablishing Amtrak service through Missoula County. To keep working on these issues and more, I’m running for reelection.
It's always a little uncomfortable ticking off accomplishments because too many elected officials and candidates these days lack any sense of humility and are prone to self-aggrandizing.
Nonetheless, leadership and experience do matter, and I’m proud to have the endorsement of every Missoula County elected official (notwithstanding judges, who can’t endorse), former governors Steve Bullock and Brian Schweitzer, Missoula Mayor Jordan Hess, former Mayor John Engen, Montana Conservation Voters, and Montana Rural Voters. For two years in a row, we’ve won National Association of Counties achievement awards—first for establishment of the rail authority and then for launching our commissioner podcast, Tip-of-the-Speer.
I also represent Missoula County on multiple boards and commissions, chairing the Missoula Transportation Policy Coordinating Committee and the Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, and serving on the Lolo National Forest Resource Advisory Committee, the Parks and Trails Advisory Board, the Local Emergency Planning Committee, Missoula Economic Partnership Board, and others.
This level of participation did not emerge overnight but grows out of 19 years with the BLM and U.S. Forest Service, 13 years in the private sector as a public historian, two terms on the Missoula City Council, six years on the Board of County Commissioners, and my love for this place.
I got into public service to give back to my community, not to grind axes. Let’s face it, politics in Montana and across the nation at the present time is not one of our better moments. Too many of us fail to give each other the benefit of the doubt. We expect the worst not the best from one another. We demonize one another. We default to simplistic, intellectually lazy arguments and slogans instead of fessing up to the complexity of our world. And we can’t even follow the Golden Rule or put into practice the lesson of the Good Samaritan.
The pandemic has brought out the best in our community and it’s also brought out some of the absolute worst. I believe we can, and must, rise above that. Thankfully, the team I work with at Missoula County shows up every day wanting to do its level best to think boldly and creatively about how to leave this place better than we found it.
My philosophy of governance is pretty simple: treat others how you want to be treated, provide staff the tools they need to succeed, be willing to try new things and make mistakes, and figure out ways to get to yes rather than defaulting to no. As one of my colleagues has said, you can’t roll up your sleeves when you’re wringing your hands, and your county government is over hand wringing.
The state of Missoula County is strong, but work remains. I look forward to implementing our recently adopted Missoula County housing plan, tackling houselessness through innovative programs such as the Trinity Project and the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space (something that folks just a few years ago didn’t think possible but has proven successful).
We secured a $13 million federal grant that is, as we speak, paying for infrastructure in the area between Mullan Road and West Broadway that will support thousands of additional homes. We recently updated our zoning and land use regulations to create innovative options for housing without degrading our quality of life and values we cherish. We’ll soon begin updating our county growth policy.
Through the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund job creation grant program, Missoula County has helped numerous existing businesses expand and attract new businesses to our community.
And part of thinking broadly about our community means valuing and investing in the arts and culture, which is why I represent the state of Montana on the National Association of County’s Arts and Culture Commission. As the sign hanging on the side of the Fort Benton Elementary School says, “Industry is Useless Without Culture.” Cultivating a civil society and a healthy community requires resisting myopic, single-issue approaches to governance and community leadership. Art and culture are not mere window dressing; they strike at the heart of what it means to be human, and I’m proud to have played a role in such efforts as the dedication of Beartracks Bridge, supporting the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, the COVID-19 Documentation Project, and valuing our cultural landscape and historic preservation.
Finally, none of this makes a bit of difference unless we’re good stewards of the land, including mitigating and adapting to climate change (achieving 100% clean electricity by 2030 in the Missoula urban area), protecting our air and water quality (such as remediating mining waste in the Ninemile and pushing the EPA for a full cleanup of the Smurfit-Stone site), creating fire-adapted communities and fire-resilient landscapes, and ensuring that proposed developments (such as at Holland Lake) are scrutinized for their impacts to the natural and human environment.
I look forward to serving the residents of Missoula County for another term, and you can learn more about my campaign at strohmaierforcommissioner.com. Let’s keep Missoula County the brightest star in Montana’s big sky!
Missoula County Commissioner