In a whirlwind ceremony and with official business waiting, Missoula County seated its newest commissioner on Monday, launching what one official described as a new day.
Juanita Vero, nominated by Missoula County Democrats and selected by commissioners last month from a field of three candidates, took the oath with a smile and went to work shortly thereafter.
Her first order of business? A training session on family transfers.
“The process is ahead of me,” she said after the ceremony. “Fortunately, I have great partners, great staff and a great community to back me up.”
Vero replaces outgoing Commissioner Cola Rowley, who resigned her seat earlier this year to take a job in Bozeman. Vero will fill the remainder of Rowley’s term and faces her first election next November.
“I’m so deeply grateful and honored, and I can’t do this without you,” she told the audience. “Staff and citizens – I need you to help me be the commissioner Missoula is worthy of. I hope you’ll be there with me.”
While Vero finds her footing, fellow commissioners Dave Strohmaier and Josh Slotnick praised her rural perspective and track record in large-scale land conservation.
Those issues helped her emerge from a pool of qualified candidates when selected for the job. With her swearing-in, the three commissioners are now closely aligned in their values and politics.
“My big message for us all – it’s a new day,” said Slotnick. “We’ve had lots of great, strong commissioners in the past, with people who brought tremendous individual strengths. We’re on to a new day with three people who I feel are fully aligned in terms of values and a commitment to the future.”
In an interview after her selection last month, Vero named a range of issues worthy of addressing in Missoula County, including sustainability, a vibrant economy, housing and climate change.
Smaller local issues such as the sewer system in Seeley Lake and the South Avenue Bridge are also on her radar. She’s proved up to the speed on the issues, and she comes with the respect of her fellow commissioners and members of the larger community, many of whom praised her selection.
“This is a big deal today,” said Strohmaier. “From the standpoint of the Board of County Commissioners, it’s a big responsibility for us because we’re essentially acting as proxies for the voters of Missoula County to select your next commissioner, which we have done.”
Strohmaier issued nuggets of advice as Vero raised her hand and took the oath. Missoula County’s 120,000 residents range from billionaires to those living on the streets. They come from the fringes of the Bob Marshall and Selway-Bitterroot wilderness areas to Missoula – the state’s second largest city.
In other words, the issues are as far reaching as the political remedies.
“You’ll find times where you can actually accomplish meaningful things for your friends, family and neighbors in Missoula County,” he said. “You’ll probably also feel at times where you’re not satisfying the desires of all your constituents, but that’s okay. We’re in the business of trying to balance competing interests. It’s tough work and good work.”