Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) After several rounds of voting, the Missoula City Council narrowly named incumbent Sandra Vasecka to the Ward 6 seat, ending what resulted in a dead tie between voters in the November election.

While the council appeared on track to back one of its own in Sean Patrick McCoy because “that's how they would have voted” in the election, several rounds of voting gave Vasecka the seat.

“Our America is becoming a highly partisan, polarized place. That's highly concerning,” said council member Gwen Jones. “This is an opportunity to continue to have a diversity of opinion on council. It's still a strong progressive majority.”

But it's not how some on the liberal body wanted it. Ward 6 council member Kristen Jordan blamed the media – in particular the Missoula Current – and the state Legislature as the rationale behind her vote for McCoy.

While McCoy was arrested and charged with criminal endangerment in 2002 for "hijacking" a logging truck on a Missoula bridge and rappelling over the edge, requiring a fire-department response, Jordan said she too has been arrested for protesting and described it as no big deal.

“I don't think it's a big stain on somebody's history that defines their person, nor is a criminal conviction of any kind,” said Jordan. “If anybody's frustrated at anybody, it should be at the local newspapers for misleading people. By having a Republican super-majority in our Legislature, we have the conservative voice covered. In Missoula, what we're trying to do is represent a different side of the political coin.”

That's not how a number of public commenters saw it on Monday night, saying the City Council doesn't represent the state but rather, it represents Missoula and its taxpayers. As it stands, they said, council fails to represent conservative residents of the city and, at least in the Ward 6 election, they represent 50% of the vote.

After a recount, Vasecka and McCoy both netted 1,476 votes.

“In the last four years, council woman Vasecka hasn't been afraid to stand against the progressive agenda of the Missoula City Council. She consistently voices and votes to keep our property taxes from increasing,” said Missoula resident Sanya Quackenbush. “While she's often in the minority, she's a voice for the homeowner, the taxpayer and the small businessperson in Missoula. Because there's already a progressive majority on council and the progressive agenda of Missoula will continue unimpeded, it seems only right and prudent you will allow her voice to continue, which is half the voters in her ward.”

With the November election locked in a tie, state law required the City Council to break the stalemate. Initially, council intended to resolve the tie in a coin toss, but Jones said there wasn't enough support among members to suspend council rules to permit the coin toss.

Rather, they proceeded to a vote, which resulted in a 6-6 tie in first three rounds. In end, council member Mike Nugent changed his vote to Vasecka, breaking the tie and giving her the seat on a 7-5 vote.

Council members Heidi West, Stacie Anderson, John Contos, Mike Nugent, Jennifer Savage, Gwen Jones and Sandra Vasecka backed the incumbent. Council members Daniel Carlino, Kristen Jordan, Amber Sherrill, Mirtha Becerra and Sierra Farmer backed McCoy.

McCoy addressed the City Council before the vote by calling recent press over his 2003 arrest and conviction into question. In the end, it had little impact on Monday night's vote, as few council members even mentioned it.

McCoy remains head of the Missoula Consolidated Planning Board.

“I am not some radical. The problem with bad journalism is that it never paints a full picture,” he said. “I have expressed regret over the bridge action 20 years ago and to this day regret the outcome of that protest. I never had any intentions of endangering anyone that day.”

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