The monthly City Talk seminar was held for the first time via ZOOM with the public having access to community leaders like Mayor John Engen, County Commission Chair Josh Slotnik and University of Montana President Seth Bodnar.

Host Jill Valley with MTN News asked the questions of the panelists that dealt primarily with issues surrounding the COVID 19 pandemic and its effects on Missoula.

After opening statements, Valley then began asking questions submitted by the press and the public.

One of the questions directed at Mayor Engen revolved around the purchase of the Sleepy Inn Motel.

“We purchased the Sleep Inn Motel due to an emergent need from the health department for a facility to house people who have been tested for COVID 19 who need to be quarantined and may have the illness,” said Engen. “If there were not a safe and secure place for those people to be housed they would be out among the community and possibly spreading the virus and putting us all at risk.”

Commissioner Slotnik said the purchase was timely and beneficial for the city and the county.

“We responded to an emergency,” said Slotnik. “I was excited for us to be a part of it, proud of the creativity of all involved to make this happen quickly. If everything goes well, as it should, we’ll all be made financially whole in the end, and we will have kept people from spreading illness in our community and treating people with dignity in the short term. This is a lot of wins for us.”

One question asked where the County Health Officer, Ellen Leahy, receives the authority to make sweeping decisions that have affected so many people and businesses during the pandemic.

Engen said the short answer was ‘statute’.

"The statute provides in counties and the state of Montana that provides for health officers to be appointed,” he said. “They report specifically to a health board, an appointed group of citizens, and that health officer has the authority to make these complicated decisions surrounding closures, openings, and etcetera.”

Slotnik also weighed in on the question regarding the health officer.

“Add to what the mayor said, in the latest announcement by the governor where he specifically asked local health officers to adjust his recommendations according to the needs they saw on the ground. So, Ellen is doing as she was asked to do.”

One question that was asked twice of UM President Seth Bodnar revolved around whether Grizzly football games would be played inside Washington Grizzly stadium this fall given the current coronavirus pandemic.

“The key word here is going to have to be flexibility,” said Bodnar.  “What we would need to do here to host a game while ensuring the health and safety of our community, and also what would it mean for other teams to travel here, or for the Grizzlies to travel somewhere else. There is no hard and fast deadline. It’s going to be later in the summer, and we’re going to have to be pretty flexible here, and that’s what we’re working through right now.”

The entire conversation will be available soon on Missoula Community Access Television.