Missoula municipal races draw robust field of candidates

Missoula voters will have plenty of candidates to choose from in selecting a mayor, City Council members and a municipal judge in November. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Missoula, get ready for a robust municipal election season. When filing closed late Monday afternoon, all but two races featured anywhere from two to four candidates vying for the right to govern Missoula.

Mayor John Engen has two opponents in his quest for a fourth term in office: Lisa Triepke, who announced her intentions in April, and Madison Schroeder, who filed last week.

Triepke has already launched a campaign focused on hitting at Engen for Missoula’s impending purchase of Mountain Water Co., increasing property taxes and what she believes is a lack of transparency in local government.

She is a former Target Range and Missoula County Public Schools trustee, and previously ran unsuccessfully for Missoula County commissioner. She is director of marketing and outreach for CostCare, a Missoula medical office, and a part-time server at Desperados bar.

She has been involved in a number of local nonprofit groups, including Five Valleys Land Trust, the UM Foundation and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Engen went to work as Missoula’s mayor in 2005, after serving on the City Council. He was previously the co-owner of a small business and, before that, a journalist for the Missoulian.

Among the accomplishments he touts are passage of the 2006 open space bond, updating and reforming zoning regulations, and the launch of a continuing and aggressive campaign to provide more affordable housing.

Concerned about the city’s lackluster economic development efforts, he worked with leaders in the public and private sectors to create the Missoula Economic Partnership, helping to bring a variety of new businesses to the city and to help existing businesses expand.

In recent years, Engen has led the legal and political effort for Missoula to own its drinking water system, which later this week is expected to result in the city’s purchase of Mountain Water Co.

Engen has said part of his reason for pursuing a fourth term is to help lead the new Missoula Water Co. and to build its agenda for the years to come.

Schroeder has not yet launched her campaign and has no election website. Her LinkedIn profile lists her employer as State Farm Insurance. She attended Missoula’s Sentinel High School, and is a 2008 graduate of the University of Montana in arts, entertainment and media management. She also played on the UM golf team.

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Municipal Court Judge Kathleen Jenks also has a challenger in her bid for re-election. Brendan McQuillan filed for the post on Monday afternoon and made it official with an announcement on Facebook.

McQuillan works for the Lake County Attorney’s Office as a special prosecutor in domestic violence cases. He is the former legal director of the Montana Innocence Project. He is a Hellgate High School and University of Montana political science and law school graduate.

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Four of the seven Missoula City Council races on November’s ballot have contested races. Unchallenged are incumbent Ward 2 councilman Jordan Hess and newcomer Ward 6 candidate Julie Merritt. Incumbent Marilyn Marler is not running for re-election, instead opting to run for the Montana Legislature. She has endorsed Merritt, a water resource specialist for WGM Group, a Missoula development firm.

Here are the contested races for City Council, listed by ward:

Ward 1

Incumbent Bryan von Lossberg faces challenger and 2017 Hellgate High School graduate Jamelet Laursen. Laursen is enrolled to begin classes at UM in the fall.

Ward 2

Incumbent Ruth Ann Swaney was appointed earlier this year to fill a vacancy created by a council member’s move to Helena. A UM professor, she is running for the remaining two years of that term, challenged by Jack Metcalf, who manages Real Good Art Space and tends bar.

Ward 3

Incumbent Emily Bentley is not running for re-election because she recently became development director for the Missoula County Fairgrounds. Three candidates want her seat: Heather Harp, who has Bentley’s endorsement, Thomas Winter and Jon Van Dyke.

Harp is a financial adviser for Valic, Winter is interim manager at a Missoula senior care company, and Van Dyke is the general manager of Missoula Community Radio.

Ward 4

The central Missoula ward has the most crowded field of candidates, which will be narrowed in the Sept. 12 primary. Longtime incumbent Jon Wilkins is seeking re-election. A retiree, Wilkins faces challenges from blogger Greg Strandberg, builder Chris Badgley and financial services advisor Jesse Ramos.

Ward 5

Incumbent Annelise Hedahl, a Missoula real estate agent, is not running for re-election. Two candidates want her seat: Stacie Anderson, the executive director of Carol’s List, and Cathy Deschamps, a surgery inventory specialist at Providence St. Patrick Hospital.

All of the positions begin in January 2018.