The county’s squeaky wheels 

The guest of honor at the Missoula County Local Government Study Commission (LGSC) meeting on Monday, Jan. 23, was pollster John Baldridge of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER), a department within UM’s School of Business Administration. Baldridge talked with the LGSC—seven residents of Missoula County who have been studying the form and powers of Missoula County’s government since late 2004—about Questionnaire Draft 1 of the 2006 Missoula County Government Study Commission Survey. Questionnaire Draft 1 is a 28-question survey to be conducted by BBER to test some possible LGSC recommendations before those recommendations go on the November 2006 ballot.

The draft survey questions reflected citizen input, the overwhelming majority of which came from rural areas, about what one LGSC member characterized as a “cookie-cutter mentality” toward administration of the County. To take one example, Seeley Lake and Condon “can’t burn [woodstoves] just because Missoula has an inversion.”

Several draft survey questions—those asking if the number of County Commissioners is high enough, if County Commissioners should be elected from districts or at-large, if at least one member of the County Commission should be elected from a district outside the city, and whether regulations such as those governing land use, building or air quality should be “tailored to particular areas within the County or…the same throughout the County”—reflect efforts to redress grievances about monolithic county policies with structural changes to government.

The draft survey also asks about attitudes toward a county charter, which would give Missoula County “the ability to pass any ordinance or regulation that is not prohibited by Montana state law,” and not just those specifically authorized by existing statutes. Another question asks about creating a “citizen advocate” position—and two more inquire about attitudes toward higher taxes, one to fund road maintenance and the other to pay for parks maintenance.

One survey question, about whether executive positions such as Clerk and Recorder, County Attorney and Sheriff should be elected or appointed, was stricken from the survey because, one member said, “it’s not an issue we’ve been hearing over and over about.”

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