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Meet Lisa Triepke, the candidate who wants to unseat John Engen

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Lisa Triepke is distracted. She won't mention it until after the end of the interview, but one of her high school-age children totaled his car that morning and he, and she, are understandably shaken (fortunately, he's otherwise fine). Yet she keeps her appointment, because she said she'd be there.

Much of Missoula doesn't know the woman challenging John Engen as he runs for his fourth term, or why she wants to be mayor, and what she would do once there. Briefly: Triepke, raised mostly in Maryland, and with a communications degree from Ohio's University of Dayton, moved here in the early 1990s, originally thinking she would study wildlife biology at the university. She instead got a job at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and embarked on years of work in Missoula's nonprofits, serving as director of the Missoula Convention and Visitors Bureau and working at Five Valleys Land Trust. Then she had four children in the span of four years and spent time as a full-time homemaker before running for the Target Range School Board, where she spent seven years. She served one year on the board of Missoula County Public Schools before resigning in July 2015, when her impending divorce meant she would be moving out of the district in which she had been elected. In 2013, she ran in the Democratic primary for Missoula County Commissioner, coming in second to Jean Curtiss. For the last seven years, she has also worked at CostCare as the director of marketing and community outreach.

For Triepke, following through on commitments is paramount. She's devoted to structure and process. Doing things right. And while she's new to running for city office, her long background of community involvement has informed her ideas about how a governing body should operate. She thought Missoula's could be doing better.

"When John [Engen] came out and said he was going to raise taxes every year and then he said he was mayor for life—I picked up the phone and called a friend that I thought was running, and they couldn't run because they lived in the county and not the city," Triepke says. "That conversation led to some other conversations and people came to me and asked if I would consider running based on my past experience."

And while she had been raising her family outside the city limits for years, she says she always felt tied to the city.

"I've always had a huge passion for how Missoula works behind the scenes and what makes it tick and what makes it special to all the people that live here," Triepke says. "I was in Missoula every day that we lived in the county anyway."

COVER PHOTO BY AMY DONOVAN
  • cover photo by Amy Donovan

The two comments she attributed to Engen, that he would raise taxes yearly and be mayor for life, have their roots in two different interviews from earlier in the year. Triepke says that the taxes part comes from a KGVO appearance, and the "mayor for life" comment from a City Club meeting. The actual quote from the former is: "As long as I am mayor, I can almost guarantee you there will be an annual tax increase," which Engen has said is simply straight talk about the fact that services have a cost. The latter, which is available on MCAT video, shows Missoulian editor Kathy Best jokingly calling Engen "mayor for life" at a City Club meeting. Engen responded, "With regard to the 'mayor for life' thing, to some of you, I'm sure it feels that way. I hope that it does not." Regardless of the actual original wording or intent, the comments were interpreted by Triepke as a sign that Engen was too comfortable in his position.

Triepke spent some time talking to community members, and what she heard indicated that it was possible to run a successful campaign against Engen. The slogan that's on her yard signs, "Enough is Enough," is the one she says resonated the most with potential voters. What have they had enough of?

"Obviously taxes. The frustration with the red tape and additional fees that nobody knows where they're coming from for building and for starting a business. And I would say lack of transparency," Triepke says.

Some of those voters who have had enough attended a September meet-and-greet for Triepke at Westside Lanes, in a private bar room that's generally used for Shriners meetings and the occasional wake. It was a crowd made up almost exclusively of women. Including Westside Lanes owner Norm Carey, who was upset with city requirements that he says stymied an expansion of his business, and the husband of the manager who showed up with a scene-stealing Saint Bernard puppy, there were four men present.

There was a Triepke logo photo backdrop and a podium at the front of the room. A good dozen round tables that seated eight each provided plenty of room for the 25 or so attendees who were welcome to help themselves to hot food from chafing dishes. The podium was never utilized, since Triepke was easily able to give everyone in the room face time.

Among the power players present were Denise Moore, who ran for the Montana House in 2006, and who is now volunteering for the Triepke campaign; CostCare co-owner Lesley von Eschen, who said she would miss having Triepke in the office; and Chris Spiker, of Spiker Communications.

Chris and her husband, Wes Spiker, were early Triepke supporters, and their business has received half of the funds that Triepke had raised by the end of September. The services purchased with those funds are listed simply as "advertising" in campaign finance reports, and the alleged vagueness of that itemization is among the grounds listed for a campaign finance complaint filed in September by Missoula attorney and state Rep. Ellie Hill Smith.

In a Sept. 13 guest column in the Missoulian, Wes Spiker provided a prime example of "enough is enough" messaging, writing "I'm tired of being told that bicyclists have more rights than me on Missoula's streets. ... I'm tired of seeing the transients who come to town year-round for free handouts ... I'm tired of being told that my property taxes will go up every year." He mentions the high cost of air travel to Missoula, residents who question the environmental impacts of rail shipments and university salaries as other things he's tired of, before endorsing Triepke for mayor.

The Missoulian piece did not mention that Spiker was in the employ of the campaign, as reported by the Independent's Derek Brouwer. The day after his Missoulian column was published, Spiker sent an email to the Independent's editor: "Sir, I'm reaching out to you to schedule a meeting with you and the Lisa Tripeke [sic] campaign team on a confidential basis." The email continued, in part: "... we would like to have the Independent be the surprise media to bring John Engen down by exposing him and his administration for their illegal activities, the way he treats people, his vindictive style of management."

PHOTO BY AMY DONOVAN
  • photo by Amy Donovan

We replied that we would be happy to meet with Triepke's campaign team and hear what they had to say, but that they would be treated like any other source. Spiker declined. Triepke later said she was unaware of the email, and that Spiker speaks for himself. She repeatedly states that her campaign focuses on the issues, not on personal attacks. Asked to clarify his role, Spiker re-affirmed that he is "not the campaign manager" and that his email "was not sent by the candidate."

Triepke says it's time to step back and re-evaluate how Missoula is handling its problems, and it's not hard to get the sense that she literally means to begin with "how," as in procedure, not tactics or desired outcome. Is it done in a City Council meeting? With input from public outreach? Behind closed doors?

This becomes most apparent when she references the workings of the school board. Asked about her biggest policy passion in that role, she replied, "The part that I enjoyed the most was the policy and procedures of getting through the process. It was a fascinating experience, because there's a system set in place to make a process easier, and so in my position on the school board, everything wasn't always transparent. That's kind of what I'm finding similar here, is it's a push to follow the policies that are in place and have the balance of being transparent at the same time."

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