On Monday, three of Missoula’s highest profile public officials, County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier, University of Montana President Seth Bodnar and Mayor John Engen appeared VIA ZOOM at the annual City Club State of the Community Forum.

Host Jill Valley, award winning anchor of the MTN News provided each leader approximately 10 minutes for an opening address.

Commissioner Strohmaier began by stating that the state of the community was strong, but fragile. After addressing several pandemic issues, Strohmaier issued a passionate advocacy for diversity and inclusion within the government and the community.

“Justice, equity, diversity and inclusion must be at the center of everything we do in this county,” said Strohmaier. “Yet it's an aspiration we have yet to fully realize. We've created a new Community Justice Department and I'm excited to say that earlier this year we hired our first Diversity Coordinator Jamar Galbreath. With the help of our county auditor, we're re evaluating how even bone dry procurement policies of all things, can be enlivened to address equity.”

University of Montana President Seth Bodnar began by stating that living and working through the pandemic was akin to combat, something the former Green Beret had extensive experience with. Bodnar acknowledged the changing world of higher education and having to strike a sometimes uncomfortable balance.

“Historically in higher ed, there's been a heated debate about what's most important; career specific training or a broad based liberal arts education,” said Bodnar. “Now, we see that actually as a false dichotomy. We believe that our students need to be both broadly educated and specifically skilled, and I'm confident that as we move forward, this is something that's going to set UM apart from other universities. Young graduates are going to have both the job specific skills employers are looking for today, and the core foundational competencies needed to live a fulfilling life in a rapidly changing world.”

Mayor John Engen stated the obvious about 2020.

“It has been a rough year,” said Mayor Engen. “And it wasn't just the pandemic. We had social unrest; we had electoral unrest, political unrest, and we have survived all of that and I think learned some lessons from it. In some cases we under reacted and in some cases we over reacted, but what I believe now is that we are perched on what I will call a Missoula Renaissance. The opportunities before us are remarkable.”

One of the first questions asked by Jill Valley was about the legislation about to be passed in Helena that would curtail the powers currently allocated to local health officers throughout the state, as it pertains to the pandemic.

“What we have tried to do here through communication really early on is ensure that the power vested in the health department through statute is also tempered by communication and conversations with elected officials,” he said. “So between Dave's colleagues, Seth and his colleagues at the University of Montana and other community leaders who began communication early on in this pandemic, those decisions from the health department did not happen in a vacuum. They were largely collaborative. Those decisions were based on both scientific facts and evidence that was before us at the time, as well as a sense of community need and the idiosyncrasies of a place like Missoula and so we were in the business of trying to strike that balance.”

City Club presents a different topic monthly via ZOOM.

Click the links above to hear each presentation.


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