On a unanimous vote, members of the Missoula City Council approved Mayor John Engen’s newest appointment to the Missoula Redevelopment Agency’s Board of Directors on Wednesday, one to replace longtime board member and former mayor Daniel Kemmis.
Natasha Jones, an attorney with Boone Karlberg, helped lead the city’s protracted legal battle to acquire Mountain Water Co. Her appointment begins immediately as Kemmis steps down from a position he has held since 2002.
“The MRA board, as you know, deals with real money and real opportunity,” said Engen. “We’ve been extremely fortunate to have thoughtful, articulate, careful and community-minded members. Finding the right person to fill that seat has been challenging and has taken some time.”
Aside from her legal career, Jones has amassed a long list of community service, from serving as a board member with Spirit at Play to vice president of Missoula Youth Football. She is past president of the Western Montana Bar Association and has served as a pro-bono attorney on a number of cases regarding family law.
Engen described her as dedicated to her community and the right choice for the rare MRA board opening.
“She is extraordinarily bright, and is also extraordinarily interested in the future of our community,” said Engen. “She’s a shareholder in an office that was one of the first redevelopment projects in Missoula.
Engen said Central Square, where Boone Karleberg is based between Front and Main streets, was part of the city’s first urban renewal district and was the first to pay off its debt.
While Jones received unanimous support from members of the Administration and Finance Committee, one council member asked the mayor how he makes his board appointments.
“I have no problem appointing her, but I want to know the process of appointing people to the MRA board,” said Ward 1 council member Heidi West. “Is there a goal of certain diversity of backgrounds on all the boards? Do you pick someone, or is there an application process?”
Engen said all of the above, though in the end, he looks for someone he believes has the level of skill and commitment to the board on which they’re looking to serve.
MRA handles millions of dollars in tax increment financing to drive redevelopment in districts across the city. The effort drives additional investment and has played a significant role in Missoula’s latest building boom.
Engen’s last appointment to the board was Melanie Brock, who began her term in 2015. Karl England, the board’s current chair, was reappointed last year. Ruth Reineking’s seat expires next May.
“This isn’t a board for cutting teeth, in my opinion,” said Engen. “It requires some degree of maturity.”
Engen said he considered a number of appointments before selecting Jones.
Jones wasn’t immediately available for comment on Wednesday.
“We might be a little lawyer heavy, but that’s not a bad thing,” Engen said. “I consider gender, community experience and where a person is in his or her career. In this case, it’s one where I actively look for and recruit people rather than advertise.”