Missoula city voters weighing whether to endorse or reject recommendations from the Local Government Study Commission can be forgiven if they’re a little confused.
The commission that’s struggled to maintain decorum has also recently been at odds over how to explain and promote its four recommendations, which will appear on November’s ballot. As a result, in coming weeks voters shouldn’t be surprised to find the commission’s five-member majority and two-member minority appearing at separate meetings and spreading conflicting messages about the commission’s work and proposals.
At issue are the commission’s four recommendations: to reduce City Council’s size from 12 members (with two representatives in six wards) to nine (with one representative in each of nine new wards); institute partisan elections wherein candidates declare party affiliation, as opposed to the current nonpartisan format; amend the city charter so neighborhood members besides residents (business owners and the like) can participate in Neighborhood Councils; and amend the charter so city employees (aside from council members and the mayor) aren’t required to reside in city limits. The commission says the tweaks would improve local government, though its minority says they won’t address deep-seated structural problems. Public debate picked up at the Sept. 11 council meeting, where three aldermen publicly referenced the proposals.
The commission’s majority and minority went separate ways in their efforts to engage the public after an Aug. 18 meeting where a public outreach committee containing two majority and two minority members was disbanded in favor of a new outreach committee with just majority members. After the first committee was scrapped—following debate about a proposed voter education pamphlet that would have contained rationales both for and against the ballot items—the new committee has created a new pamphlet offering only arguments in favor of its recommendations. The minority has been offered a page in the pamphlet, commission Chairwoman Sue Malek says, but firebrand minority member Jane Rectenwald says that isn’t enough.
Malek will discuss the commission’s recommendations at City Club Missoula on Friday, Sept. 15, from 11:30 to 1 p.m. Both the majority and minority reports can be found online at www.ci.missoula.mt.us/lgsc.