by William Skink
John Engen was reelected to his 3rd term as Mayor in 2013. Getting elected three times means that Engen has a lot of support in Missoula, so if someone else wants the job they better bring their A game.
Harlan Wells, elected to represent Ward 2 last year, is so excited to run for Mayor he has already filed to run. So far, if I were to ascribe a letter grade to his efforts, I’d give Wells a D, and that’s being generous.
Harlan Wells made his first mistake when he exposed his ignorance for all to see regarding council processes after failing to get a referendum on the ballot in November for Missoulians to vote on the city’s effort to acquire its water system through eminent domain:
City councilman Harlan Wells introduced a referendum to city council to put the buyout on November’s ballot for the public to vote on. The referendum was referred to the Committee of the Whole to review at their meeting Wednesday. However, the agenda item was never present. The city council said Wells never submitted the proper ballot language for the committee to vote on.
“The constitution and the statutes require that you must allow a reasonable opportunity for public participation before any decisions are made,” said Missoula City Attorney Jim Nugent.
Another problem that will face Wells as he tries to make his case for why he deserves to be Mayor of Missoula is the fact he’s already established the worst attendance record of any council member. Not showing up regularly for the job Wells was elected to do is bad enough, but making excuses like the one below only amplifies how apparently tone deaf Wells is. From the link:
“Showing up to argue for two hours over something I’m just going to argue about on Monday night is just redundant and painful,” Wells said.
Plus, going to meetings isn’t required, according to the city clerk. And it isn’t the only way in which councilors can be effective – ward representatives also present and steer legislation, respond to constituents’ concerns and shape the the city budget.
Instead of just showing up to argue, Wells may want to consider doing some listening first. Or he could look at how Adam Hertz conducted himself while on council, conduct even I felt compelled to commend him for 2 years ago for making a tough vote that probably saved Missoula from being sued by the ACLU.
What Harlan Wells has done is to immediately transform his council position into a platform for his bid to become Mayor. When KGVO first reported Wells’ intentions to run for Mayor, Wells was quoted saying this about his reasoning for announcing so early:
“It is an announcement of an announcement because there are some legal restrictions I have to follow for the next year, but yeah let’s just say I am 99.9% sure I will be running for mayor next year.”
Wells says he’s announcing his intentions early, so that people can watch the votes at city hall carefully with a contrast in mind. He hopes the impending election may change the voting habits of the other city council members.
“By announcing that I am probably going to run for mayor, they now have to realize every action they do is going to have an opposite and equal reaction with the voters,” said Wells. “My hope is that over the next 18 months, with this looming over them, they will be more measured in their direction.”
Harlan Wells doesn’t appear to be very politically savvy. Missoulians now have 18 months to watch him make a fool out of himself if he chooses to continue with the ill-informed shenanigans he’s already pulled.
I’ll be especially curious to see how Harlan Wells spins his day job as the property development coordinator for the Missoula Housing Authority, an odd job for a conservative so concerned about city budget issues. For those who don’t know what a housing authority is, here is the wikipedia description:
A housing authority or ministry of housing is generally a governmental body that governs some aspect of the territory’s housing, often providing low rent or free apartments to qualified residents. The existence of government agencies specifically concerned with ensuring that housing is available to people living in the country is a comparatively modern development, with the first such agencies being established in U.S. cities in the 1930s, the height of the Great Depression.
A conservative who gets a paycheck funneling Federal HUD dollars to subsidize low-income housing in Missoula? I’m sure that will play well.
All that said, I do think Mayor Engen is politically vulnerable if someone who isn’t a political joke decides to counter Engen’s vision of making Missoula unrecognizable in 10 years. While I commend the Mayor for digging in to get our water back from corporate raiders, I think the proposed development that will radically alter this town is reckless when we are already facing so many critical issues that needed to be addressed yesterday.