Thanks to Article XI, Section 9 of the Montana constitution, Missoula voters will have an opportunity in the June 4 primary election to decide whether to launch formal examinations of the form and structure of either their city or county governments.

Since the adoption of that constitution in 1972, Montanans have answered that decennial question five times. Here are a few highlights of that history in Missoula:

In 1974, both city and county voters having said that they did want a study, the two resulting commissions decided to combine their efforts.  They proposed the consolidation of city and county government, but the voters rejected that recommendation.

In 1984 both city and county voters, by wide margins, opted not to do a study of either the city or the county government.

In 1994, county voters chose not to study their form of government, but city voters did, and ended up approving a new city charter with self-governing powers, under which we still operate. In 2004, county voters opted to examine their government structure again, but when the study commission recommended that the county adopt a charter, the voters soundly rejected it.

In 2014, both city and county citizens voted two to one against doing another study.

Now, another decade later, we have the opportunity to decide once again whether to rethink either the county or city form of self-government. These are questions about which reasonable people can legitimately disagree.

There are some among us who feel that having been given the chance to examine our forms of local government, the most democratic choice is to do just that. Others will say that, unless there are pressing reasons to conduct a study, it’s not worth the expense to elect and staff a study commission. Whichever way you lean, we urge you to think about it and discuss it with your family and neighbors so that you can cast an informed vote in June.

Having said that, we will offer our own thoughts. On the county level, while we feel fortunate to have three good commissioners caring for the county, the form of county government under which they operate is so outmoded that it’s a miracle we do so well with it. We would favor having a county study commission consider separate executive and legislative branches elected by the voters in the county. At a minimum, we should eliminate the requirement that commissioner candidates have to live in a particular district.

At the city level, we do not support commissioning a study. While our city government certainly faces some major challenges, those are either of a national scale (as with homelessness) or the result of poor state policy (as with property taxes.) Changing the form of city government will not solve these problems.

If anything, we fear that any change is likely to weaken our ability to govern ourselves well. Our city charter has generally served Missoulians well by empowering citizens and holding officials accountable.

Daniel Kemmis, Mike Kadas, Mae Nan Ellingson, Lisa Davey, Janet Donahue, Christine Littig, Marilyn Marler and Johnathan Karlen