If it’s a Monday night City Council meeting, Alan Ault, 54, can usually be spotted in chambers. He sits with the spectators in the front row. He wears a University of Montana Grizzlies baseball cap to City Hall but removes it for the meeting. Underneath the cap he has salt-and-pepper hair and a deeply receding hairline. He wears a trim full beard, mostly salt. He sports tinted glasses and a gold chain. During the meetings, he makes notes in small, crisp print. He clearly wants to participate.
Ault moved to Missoula just two years ago after a 13-year career working for Saudi Aramco in Saudi Arabia. Prior to that, he worked for Atlantic Richfield Co. in Texas, South Korea, Massachusetts, Colorado, Washington and Alaska. After years spent working and traveling the world—“Name a country, I’ve been there”—Ault and his wife settled in Missoula in March 2003. When Ault talks of Missoula and its “charm,” he can sometimes sound like more of a local fixture than even Mount Jumbo or Malfunction Junction. Now that he has retired to the Garden City, his goal is to be an active, informed and involved super-citizen. If history is any indication, he believes, he will sooner or later succeed.
“I’m goal-oriented and I’ve achieved all my goals so far in my life,” he says.
Ault’s local affiliations are many. He is president of the Missoula Transportation and Restoration Museum, an educational project he is launching that he hopes will eventually combine his interest in antique cars with his concern for youth. (The collector owns a ’40 Packard, a ’42 Dodge pickup and a ’64 Ford Galaxy convertible). He is vice president of the Hellgate chapter of the Montana Pioneer and Classic Auto Club. According to his resumé, Ault also holds the following local positions: He is a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer, a Big Brother, a board member of the Missoula Senior Citizens Center, a board member of the Downtown Lions Club of Missoula and a member of the Missoula Elks.
Where city government is concerned, though, Ault’s affiliations fall short of his ambition. Currently, he holds just one city position—and that’s as an alternate. It isn’t sufficient.
“I want to be involved with anything having to do with this city,” he says.
He hopes to fill the city Local Government Study Commission seat to be vacated by Jim McGrath April 1. Earlier attempts to work with the city have been largely thwarted.
“I lived here three months, and I ran for City Council,” he says. That was November 2003. He lost.
In January 2004, he interviewed unsuccessfully for a position on the local Health Board. Shortly after, he made an unsuccessful bid for a position on the Open Space Advisory Committee. Then, last August, a position opened on the City Board of Adjustment.
“I was passed over three times,” he says. “All of a sudden, a guy from California who hasn’t been in Missoula very long…gets appointed over me,” Ault says.
Ault hasn’t been in Missoula very long, either, but he doesn’t see himself as a newcomer. “I consider myself a local,” he says.
The selection of the Californian displeased him, and he publicly chastised Mayor Mike Kadas, who made the appointment. (During the meeting, Kadas recommended candidate Michael Nave because of Nave’s expertise in law, according to meeting minutes.)
In January 2005, Ault’s persistent knocking finally paid off when he was appointed to the Missoula Consolidated Planning Board, which reviews proposed developments before they come before the City Council or Board of County Commissioners. Ault holds an alternate position, but due to a series of regular boardmember absences, he says, “So far, I’ve been able to vote every time.”
Now, Ault hopes to fill the upcoming vacancy on the city Local Government Study Commission. In order to focus, he stepped down as president of the Farviews/Pattee Canyon neighborhood council, a position to which he was elected in 2004. Getting the commission seat, though, may prove to be more difficult than Ault had hoped—he had hoped it would be his by default. In November, seven of the top vote-getters out of the 30 total candidates were seated on the Study Commission. Ault sat firmly in eighth place. But after McGrath announced his resignation, City Council voted to fill the vacancy by appointment instead of automatically seating first runner-up Ault.
“The people spoke,” Ault says. “And now I have to go through an interview process, and I have to be chosen, you know, it’s interviewing for a position.”
He makes no predictions as to whether the City Council will choose him.
Regardless, Ault considers himself at home. Whether it’s in official or unofficial capacities, Ault plans to work—hard—to keep home a great place. His concerns about growth, for instance, have led him to plan a visit with city officials in Santa Barbara this summer. “They’re up against the ocean, we’re up against the mountains. And they grew smart,” he says.
In the meantime, he takes notes and applies for advisory positions and generally launches himself into—or at least toward—city government. When he hits a brick wall, he brushes himself off and relaunches, because you don’t always get over the hump on the first try, and nobody ever said being a super-citizen was going to be easy.