For the first time, the city of Missoula has hired lobbyists to look after its interests at the Montana Legislature, bringing two veterans of local politics back into public service.
Mayor John Engen says there were two “obvious choices” for the task: Janet Stevens Donahue, who will lead the lobbying charge, and Mike Kadas in a supporting role.
Donahue, who retired in 2005 after a decade-long stint as Missoula’s chief administrative officer, is also a former Missoula County Commissioner. Kadas, a state legislator from 1983 to 1995, was appointed Missoula’s mayor in 1996 and then served two elected terms before retiring. Elected to the mayor’s post in 2005, Engen has worked with both Donahue and Kadas in his former role as city councilman.
While other major Montana cities have relied on lobbyists for years, Engen says Missoula was long spared the expense, thanks to Donahue’s and Kadas’ wide-ranging experience.
“We don’t have that luxury this time around, so the Council agreed to provide funding for my office to contract the lobbying duties,” says Engen, explaining that up to $20,000 is authorized for the effort. He’ll meet weekly with Donahue to monitor legislative action and issues as they arise.
With upward of 2,000 bills floating around the session, it’s not easy to pin down precisely where Missoula’s interests lie, but overall, Engen says, “As mayor of one of the largest cities in the state, what I’m trying to convey is that large cities drive the economy in many ways and we need some help to continue doing that.”
A local option sales tax, which would allow cities to increase local revenue by taxing certain services like hotels and restaurants, is one thing Missoula will be fighting for, Engen says. Missoula’s also interested in smaller goals like cleaning up confusing language in subdivision regulations and expanding the length of time over which property owners can finance city sidewalk projects.
“Lobbying can certainly have a troublesome connotation, but in this case it’s about communicating the city’s interests,” Engen says. “It’s less an assertion that our agenda is the only one that matters and more a conversation about how we can collectively serve our community.”