Q and A with new Commissioner Josh Slotnick

Josh Slotnick hit the ground running as Missoula County’s newest commissioner at the beginning of the year. He took a break from his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his experience so far and what he hopes to accomplish in the future.

Josh Slotnick headshot
Josh Slotnick

Why did you want to run for public office?

I came here 30 odd years ago, to go to college and quickly fell for Missoula. Every time I left, I ended up coming back, and I came back because of Missoula’s special combination of landscape and culture. We’re straight up not like everywhere else, we’re better. Eventually, the greater world found that out, and with our popularity has come ever more vexing challenges. We’ve seen mad growth and a concurrent rise in housing costs and development pressure, and an intensifying of use of some of our most fragile and loved places. While we’re busy wrestling with all that, our climate has become ever more volatile, and smoke, fire and floods are now nearly seasons unto themselves. In the face of these challenges we must be tremendously thoughtful in how we set the stage for the future. I want to help make sure the next wave of people who come here have the same opportunity I did to fall for this place and build a life. Given my deep commitment to Missoula, the position my last workplace afforded me, and the skills I’ve picked up from decades of community work, I feel a sense of obligation to service.  I also have one more big chapter’s worth of energy to give. I added all that up and it equaled running for office and working with the county.

What does a typical day look like for you so far?

I listen a lot. The BCC meets with staff to do the peoples’ business, and often this means talking through thorny, complicated issues and making decisions, and sometimes it’s the perfunctory workings of local government. The diversity of issues before us reflects the diversity of concerns in life here, and that makes for interesting, if not sometimes information-stuffed, days.

What do you think are the most pressing issues facing Missoula County?

Planning for future development – that means considering affordable housing, preservation of natural resources, transportation and resiliency in the face of climate change in how we make all planning decisions. The growth I mentioned earlier has not brought everyone along; we must care for those left behind and work to make sure we all have a solid chance. We must also continue to protect and enhance the cultural amenities that make this place what it is. Our economic development depends up on our character and landscape. In this way economics, job creation and our general vibrancy are knit tightly to how well we care for this place and each other.

What are some of your goals for your first year in office?

I would like to be part of the following:

  • Real, tangible and practical steps towards remedying our housing crisis.
  • Bringing zoning and subdivision regulations in line with the land use map we’re in the process of updating and making possible conservation development where we construct needed housing while protecting our best ag soils and most vulnerable landscapes.
  • Real efforts to make decentralized renewable energy production a possibility for residents of Missoula County.
  • New approaches to property taxes and revenue generation for the county.

What has surprised you most since you started your new job?

The great diversity of issues, the size and scope of the work of the county and the tremendous depth of experience and knowledge of staff.

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How can Missoula County help you?

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PHOTO: Andrew Kemmis Photography

Though our operations can affect your day-to-day life, navigating county government can be confusing. After considering the input you provided through our online survey, we’ve made a few changes to our website that will help connect you to the information and services you need.

First, we streamlined our Help page to more clearly direct you to useful information. From here, you can search the site, browse frequently asked questions, locate a county building and find department contact info, among other things.

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Second, we launched a customer service request form you can use when the other options come up empty. After completing a short questionnaire and providing any additional details, your request will be forwarded to the appropriate department and reviewed within three business days. Easy peasy!

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Do you have any other suggestions on how we can better serve you? Feel free to comment below or send an email to communications@missoulacounty.us.

We look forward to helping you!

New Seeley ice rink, other county parks benefit from Matching Grants Program

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PHOTO: Betty Vanderwielen, Seeley-Swan Pathfinder

On the otherwise sleepy Saturday between Christmas and New Year’s, around 200 kiddos and their families laced up skates and took to the ice – slipping, falling and, eventually, gliding – during the grand opening of a new open-air rink in Seeley Lake.

The event served as the community’s introduction to the ice rink, which has been in the works for about a year. Located at the elementary school’s athletic fields, it’ll provide a new way for families and others to get out and about during long Montana winters.

“Kids here don’t have as much opportunity to be active during the winter months,” says Garry Swain, a board member of the Regional Outdoor Center for Kinetic Sports (ROCKS), which spearheaded the project. “This gives them another outlet to get down there and just have a ball, for free.”

The rink will be open during daylight hours, with a crew of volunteers committed to keeping the ice clear and flooding the rink to smooth it over whenever necessary. ROCKS also keeps about 40 pairs of skates in various sizes at the rink, free for anyone to borrow.

The organization, which provided $7,000 in seed money to kick-start the project, was able to put the finishing touches on the rink, including purchasing a snow blower to help clear the ice, thanks to a $10,000 matching grant awarded by the Missoula County Parks and Trails Advisory Board.

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PHOTO: Betty Vanderwielen, Seeley-Swan Pathfinder

The Parks and Trails Matching Grants Program leverages partnerships with local nonprofits and community groups to maintain county parks and other public recreation areas. In these partnerships, the Parks and Trails Advisory Board provides planning assistance and funding, while the partner organization matches those funds through a combination of project expenses, in-kind donations and volunteer service hours.

Four other grants, which range from $1,500 to $12,000, will help fund critical capital and maintenance projects to improve parks, trails and recreation areas  in 2019:

  • $1,500 to perform maintenance on the playground and double tennis courts located in Seeley Lake Community Park (Sponsoring organization: Seeley Lake Elementary School District No. 34)
  • $12,000 to install wayfinding markers, benches and/or tables, and finance placement of portalets along the Bitterroot Trail (Bitterroot Trail Preservation Alliance)
  • $4,500 to apply weed and feed lawn treatments and install an irrigation system for the play area east of the barn at Hellgate Lions Park in Bonner (Friends of 2 Rivers)
  • $8,800 for general maintenance of East Missoula Lions Park (East Missoula Lions Club)

“Awarding the matching grants is always an exciting time of year, because we get to see what types of recreation projects county residents are prioritizing,” said Parks and Trails Coordinator John Stegmaier. “It is truly remarkable what our community partners are able to achieve through the use of these matching funds.”

Is there a park or other public recreation site in your area in need of a little TLC? The Parks and Trails Matching Grant Program could help! Applications typically become available in late August, with a mid-October deadline. You can find more details on the ins and outs of applying on the Parks and Trails website. (A quick note: Only sites outside the City of Missoula are eligible for these grants.)

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PHOTO: Betty Vanderwielen, Seeley-Swan Pathfinder

 

New leadership on horizon for Community and Planning Services

The new year brings with it new leadership for the Community and Planning Services department, affectionately known as CAPS here at Missoula County.

After a decades-long career with the county, including the last seven as chief planning officer, Pat O’Herren is hanging up his hat at the end of the year. During his tenure, O’Herren built partnerships with other agencies, nonprofits and private property owners, helping Missoula County evolve as a leader in protecting and enhancing our cultural, economic and conservation resources. He’ll leave some pretty big shoes to fill.

Chet Crowser
Chet Crowser

Stepping into those shoes will be Chet Crowser. Crowser comes to Missoula County from Fish, Wildlife and Parks, where he served as the regional parks manager for Montana State Parks in Missoula. He’s well-known for his leadership skills – just ask anyone who’s had him as a boss – and that’s exactly why county commissioners chose him to fill the role.

“As CAPS evolves to focus more on broad community issues and services, we are thrilled to bring on someone with Chet’s relationship-building skills and knowledge of the public engagement process,” Commissioner Nicole “Cola” Rowley says. “We’re confident Chet will provide the leadership necessary to successfully guide the department as it fulfills the many roles it plays in our communities.”

Those roles include land-use planning, zoning, parks and trails management, and grant administration, just to name a few. Engaging a leader who can manage such a diverse array of responsibilities is key.

Having worked in a variety of city, state and federal recreation programs throughout the West, including his experience overseeing 10 state parks while at Montana FWP, Chet has an extensive background in parks management. He’s also participated in many planning, visioning and policy-development efforts while with the agency, and he looks forward to bringing this experience to CAPS.

“I’m excited to join CAPS and take part in the great work that staff do every day to maintain and enhance the quality of life we all value so much in Missoula County,” Crowser says. “I look forward to working with the commissioners, county staff, partners and the public to address the important issues our communities face now and into the future.”

A new boss isn’t the only change in store for CAPS in 2019: The department will soon move from its current building on West Alder Street to a new location at 127 E. Main St., Suite 2. That transition is expected to take place in mid- to late January.

 

Missoula County Elections FAQ

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With Election Day one week from now, the Elections Center and other Missoula County staff are getting lots of questions from voters. Though some answers may depend on a voter’s particular circumstances, here are responses to a few commonly asked questions. 

What should I do with my absentee ballot application? Can I drop it off at the courthouse still?

At this point, voters should bring their absentee ballot application to the Elections Center at the Fairgrounds to ensure they get their ballot. The Elections Center is located in Building 15, and drivers should enter through the Russell Street entrance or the west entrance on South Avenue (the east entrance on South is closed due to construction).

How frequently are you mailing out ballots for those with new absentee requests?

The Elections Center mails out absentee ballots every day. However, starting Wednesday, Oct. 31, they are strongly encouraging voters to come to the Fairgrounds to pick up their ballots.

What is the last day for voters to get their ballots in the mail to ensure they’re counted on Election Day?

The Secretary of State’s office recommends allowing a week for mailing to the Elections Office. The Missoula County Elections Center recommends that voters sending in their ballots from Missoula put them in the mail, with sufficient postage (two Forever stamps) by Thursday, Nov. 1. Absentee ballots must be RECEIVED at the Elections Center by 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 6. If your ballot is merely postmarked by then, it won’t be counted!

You can also drop off your ballot at the Elections Center, at the Courthouse and at the drive-thru ballot drop-off at the Fairgrounds. Hours for the drive-thru are:

  • 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Nov. 1 and 2, and Monday, Nov. 5
  • 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3.
  • 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 6, Election Day

I see the Elections Center is now open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. until Friday and open Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Is the late registration cutoff still noon on Monday? What, if any, services do you offer after noon on Nov. 5?

The cutoff for late registration on Monday, Nov. 5, is noon, but same-day voter registration will be available from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 6. After noon on Nov. 5, the Elections Center will offer ballot drive-thru drop-off and will also help people find their polling place.

I’ve signed my spouse’s envelope. Can I cross out the incorrect signature and sign the correct ballot?

Yes. The ballot will be processed with the corrected signature.

The outer envelope is ripped and/or reopened. If the bar code and ballot number are still legible, can the Elections Center process it?

Yes, just use tape to “reseal” the envelope.

Will there be an Elections Office presence at the Courthouse on Election Day?

No, all services will be at the Election Center at the Fairgrounds. The Elections Center will have runners come by at 8 p.m. to pick up ballots from the courthouse.

Don’t see an answer to your question? Post it in the comments and we’ll get you an answer as soon as possible!

Missoula Votes Clear Background

With third parties bombarding voters’ mailboxes with conflicting information this election cycle, here are a few other things to keep in mind:

  • The only source for accurate information regarding the status of a voter’s absentee ballot is www.myvoterpagemt.com.

 

  • The following polling places have been relocated for this election:Hellgate Elementary School: Voters report to Montana Technology & Development Center, 5785 W. Broadway

    Cold Springs Elementary School: Voters report to Chief Charlo Elementary School, 5600 Longview Drive

    Meadow Hill Middle School: Voters report to Chief Charlo Elementary School, 5600 Longview Drive

    Hawthorne Elementary School: Voters report to Orchard Homes Country Life Club, 2537 S. Third St. W.

 

  • Your best source for up-to-date information will always be the Missoula County Elections Office. You can follow them on Facebook @MissoulaCountyElections, visit their website at www.missoulavotes.com or call them at 406-258-4751.

Hate the Missoula County website? Help us make it better!

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Have you ever spent an hour or two you’ll never get back trying to find information on our website, which may or may not have ended with you throwing your hands up in frustration?

We know. Well, anecdotally, anyway.

Now, we want to figure out and quantify exactly what information you need and how we can help you find it more easily. You can let us know by taking a short survey (five to 10 minutes, tops), which is online at http://bit.ly/MCWebsiteSurvey. The 11-question survey asks for feedback on your experience using the website, including what info you’re typically looking for, how easy it is to find and understand that information, how easy it is to a submit a service request or concern, etc.

The survey will be open through Monday, Nov. 12. Once we’ve  collected and analyzed the responses, we’ll use it to remap and reorganize the information on our current website, as well as to help us develop a user-friendly customer service tool. We’ll also take the feedback into account when redesigning the site, though that’s not slated to happen until late next year.

When you take the survey, don’t be afraid to be brutally honest — we can take it, we promise. As a local government funded by taxpayers, we work for you, and we want to do so as efficiently as we can. Thanks in advance for helping us do that.

 

Long overdue restoration underway for iconic Doughboy memorial

Doughboy statue on courthouse lawn
The World War I Doughboy memorial on the southeast corner of the courthouse lawn is undergoing a grant-funded renovation, which includes cleaning and waxing the bronze, cleaning and repointing the granite base, and building a ground-level plaza so the statue is accessible to all.

Passed by the Missoula County Courthouse lately and wondered what’s going on with the historic World War I Doughboy memorial on the corner of Broadway and Ryman? You’re not the only one; the infamous chain link fencing surrounding the memorial has prompted numerous inquiries concerning the statue’s status.

Don’t worry  ̶  the Doughboy will not endure the same fate as the aging trees removed from the lawn last year. The statue, a tribute to the 39 Missoulians who lost their lives in the First World War, is undergoing a much-needed restoration, thanks to funding from 100 Cities/100 Memorials, a matching grant challenge spearheaded by the United States World War One Centennial Commission that’s funding restoration of WWI memorials nationwide.

According to the 100 Cities/100 Memorials website, the program “was created to help draw attention to WWI memorials across the United States and enables all of America to take part in the WWI centennial commemoration. Many of these WWI memorials have deteriorated due to the ravages of time, exposure to the elements, neglect and even vandalism.

“The funds will be used to conserve, restore or improve these memorials. More important, the program is designed to raise community awareness of those who served and provides a tangible connection to the profound impact this war had on local towns and cities, securing an important place in military history.”

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The bronze plaque memorializing the 39 Missoulians killed in the First World War.

Last year, the Missoula County Grants and Community Programs division, with the support of American Legion Post #27 and the Western Montana Military Officers Association, successfully landed one of these grants, one of only 100 in the country. Now, for the first time in more than 90 years, Missoula’s Doughboy bronze will be properly cleaned and waxed, so the names and language honoring the fallen servicemen will be easier to read. The county has partnered with Jackson Construction to complete the restoration, which also includes cleaning and repointing the statue’s granite base, as well as building a ground-level plaza to make the memorial accessible to all.

The memorial commemorates the significant role Montana and Missoula played in World War I. According to information provided by the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula, when the U.S. entered the war in 1917, around 12,500 Montanans volunteered for military service, and another 28,000 men were drafted, due to the federal government overestimating the state’s population. In total, nearly 40,500 Montana men, roughly 10 percent of the state’s population, served “Over There”  ̶  the highest percentage of any state.

By the time the war ended on Nov. 11, 1918, Montana had one of the highest mortality percentages in the country, with 939 servicemen killed in action, including 39 from Missoula. In 1927, the American Legion Auxiliary erected the Over the Top to Victory Doughboy Memorial Statue on the courthouse lawn to honor those killed in action. Sculpted by John Paulding, it’s one of only 55 such memorials across the country.

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The Over the Top to Victory Doughboy memorial on the Missoula County Courthouse lawn was dedicated on Nov. 11, 1927. (Photo courtesy of the Missoulian)

For the past 30 Veterans Days, Missoula’s American Legion Forgotten Warriors Post 101 has sponsored a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial at 11 a.m., and they’ll continue that tradition on Nov. 11 this year. With the restoration work slated for completion by then, it’ll be the perfect opportunity for Missoula County residents to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice during such a pivotal moment in our shared history.