As the saying goes, the new broom sweeps clean, and Monday night’s City Council meeting gave a slight hint of which direction the dust is likely to fly in 2000. The first City Council meeting of the new year was rather short on substance, with councilmembers voting to adopt various emergency changes to the Missoula Municipal Code, all of which have already been adopted into state law and have been in use by professional builders and architects for at least two years now.
Nevertheless, despite some routine legislative housekeeping, Monday night’s meeting was an opportunity for council watchers to size up the new guys and get a sense of how the municipal axis of power will likely realign itself in the coming year.
There were few surprises to emerge Monday night. Councilmembers nominated Ward Five’s Jack Reidy, Ward One’s Lois Herbig and Ward Two’s Jim McGrath as candidates for council president, whose job it is to chair the council-wide Committee of the Whole, preside over City Council meetings in the mayor’s absence and, on rare occasions, cast a tie-breaking vote. That position was vacated when former council president Chris Gingerelli chose not to run for re-election in Ward Three and was replaced by John Torma.
The new Ward Six Councilmember Ed Childers, who took over the seat vacated by Andy Sponseller, expressed his early support for Reidy.
“I will support Jack Reidy for president of the council,” said Childers, a former Missoula city treasurer. “I’ve known him for a long time. I’ve worked with him, depended on him and always found him to be open, honest and forthright, and I think he will be a good anchor to the City Council and the community.”
However, not all the members were as enthusiastic about Reidy’s political tendencies or leadership style.
“I won’t be able to vote for someone who has voted against neighborhood councils, a lot of growth management stuff, the smoking ordinance I believe, and always voted against the budget,” said Ward One Councilmember Dave Harmon. Harmon did, however, concede that Reidy will probably do a good job of keeping the mayor/council relationship in balance.
But Childers’ sentiments were shared by new Ward Four Councilmember Jerry Ballas and a majority of the new council, who easily elected Reidy over Herbig in an 8-to-3 vote. Both Torma and Harmon voted for Herbig, with McGrath, who was absent Monday due to a broken arm, receiving no votes.
“It went just the way I thought it would,” Herbig said afterwards. “I don’t think Jack is a unifying force at all. He’s been against neighborhood councils [and] he’s paranoid about the New Party, very paranoid about that.”
“I think that we have to get rid of the idea that we’re all left or right, try to get together and take that image off,” Reidy said later about his appointment. “A lot of people call me conservative, but I think I consider myself more in the center of the road. … I’m going to try to avoid those labels. They create nothing but dissention. I think that I can work with every side. I don’t think I’ll have any problems.”
But as political commentator Jim Hightower once noted, there’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos. Reidy’s voting record has been anything but middle of the road, with a history of almost invariably voicing—and voting with—the most conservative positions on the council.
Despite his strong support for labor issues (Reidy is a former Teamster), he has been a staunch opponent to the living wage ordinance, the smoking ban, growth management efforts, and on more than a few occasions squared off with Mayor Mike Kadas.
As for those occasional run-ins with Kadas, Reidy said, “As long as he knows his job and we know ours, this is a strong council-type government. I’ll remind him of that when he needs to be reminded, and I’m sure he’ll do the same for me.”
Reidy has already expressed a willingness to break from the stronger leadership style of his predecessor. When asked how his turn at the helm will differ from Gingerelli’s, Reidy said, “I’m not a driver. I’d like to just facilitate the whole council to get things done.”
Reidy was more vague about charting his priorities for the coming year. “Get to work and get the legislation done that needs to be done,” he said. “Growth is a big thing, as you know. Whatever comes down the line. I can’t tell exactly what’s in the future.
“I don’t believe in long meetings,” Reidy added. “You lose interest.”
The newly elected vice president, Ward Three’s Lou Ann Crowley, who was easily approved by a 9-to-0 margin (with Herbig and Harmon abstaining), says she’s looking forward to working with Reidy, despite his past opposition to many issues Crowley has supported.
“I’m hoping that I can work with Jack,” Crowley said. “My goal is to help the image of the council and focus people’s attention more in a positive way.”
“I think the ones who voted for Jack, except Lou Ann Crowley, will always be in a bloc,” said Herbig, of the new council make-up. “I’m just going to try to keep the big picture in mind.”