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Perfect fit

Stacy Rye looks to new challenges on county commission

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On a hot afternoon, Stacy Rye sips a bottle of water and apologizes for not being photo-ready, though she looks perfectly cool and collected. She's just spent the morning helping move boxes of donated school supplies as part of her job as a community relations manager at United Way of Missoula.

Rye will soon be leaving United Way for her new gig serving as an interim Missoula County commissioner, filling the vacancy left by Bill Carey as he departs after 17 years on the board. Commissioners Jean Curtiss and Nicole "Cola" Rowley selected Rye from the pool of three applicants on Aug. 12.

Rye, who served as Ward 3 city council member from 2004-2012, takes her new seat Sept. 18.

"I always wanted to get back to local government," Rye says.

One of the biggest issues on the commission's plate is the revitalization of the century-old Western Montana Fairgrounds. The county will soon review a recently completed marketing study for suggestions on how to attract more events and business to the property. "It doesn't get used as much as it could, so how could it be used better, more often and more frequently?" Rye says. "I don't know exactly what that looks like yet, but I think it could use another ice rink and maybe more agricultural or exposition-type events that happen at the fairgrounds."

Commissioner Rowley says the fairgrounds actually hosted 546 days' worth of events last year, because multiple events can coincide on the 48-acre property. "There's still this misconception that nothing happens at the fairgrounds," she says.

Rowley says the county's ultimate goal is to remodel the fairgrounds into a more pedestrian-friendly space, remove the large border walls and integrate it with the nearby Playfair Park. The commission is also requesting that the fairgrounds be added to the city's Urban Renewal District III to help pay for some of the improvements.

In September, former City Councilwoman Stacy Rye will start her new position as interim Missoula County commissioner. - PHOTO BY LOUISE JOHNS
  • photo by Louise Johns
  • In September, former City Councilwoman Stacy Rye will start her new position as interim Missoula County commissioner.

Once this year's fiscal budget is finalized in early September, the county will hire a new events coordinator to join the fairgrounds' staff. Rowley expects the events coordinator to keep things running smoothly throughout the year and help free up the fair director's time to work on promoting the grounds and raising public support.

Besides the ongoing discussion about the fairgrounds, the commission is also gearing up for an impending rewrite of the county's subdivision regulations and growth policy. Rye is also hoping to initiate talks about broadband Internet service and wireless connectivity in rural parts of the county.

"It used to be [local government's] job was to make sure that there were transportation networks that were efficient, that could move people, goods and services efficiently across this county," she says. "It now includes things like broadband. That's a piece of infrastructure now that is really important and critical to economic development."

Rye earned the appointment in part because of her desire to run for a full six-year term on the commission in 2016. She plans on launching her campaign while also preparing to contend with a much more diverse constituency than she served as a city council member. The day after her selection to the commission, for example, a rural resident approached Rye and asked whether she'll be able to watch out for his needs.

"So making everyone happy is probably not possible, but making sure that constituents get needs met from their local government is important," she says. "It will be challenging for me to learn."

Rye's arrival also marks the first time Missoula County has been run by an all-woman board since the 1980s. She gives kudos to Missoula's "strong women" leaders and says she looks forward to working with Rowley and Curtiss. It's a sentiment shared by Curtiss, who's served on the board for 15 years.

"I think Stacy's going to fit in well," Curtiss says.

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