City Club of Missoula presented it's annual State of the Community luncheon on Monday at the Doubletree Hotel by Hilton, featuring Mayor John Engen, County Commissioner Jean Curtiss and Interim President at the University of Montana, Sheila Stearns.

Missoulian newspaper editor Kathy Best was the moderator, and first introduced Commissioner Jean Curtiss who took about 15 minutes to outline the chief accomplishments of county government. One topic was the coming special election on May 25 to choose a replacement for former Congressman Ryan Zinke.

"As we look at this special election coming up, which was not budgeted for, we need to replace aging voting equipment," Curtiss said. "Voting technology is changing and we need to be able to keep pace. Our 1990's technology machines are nearing the end of their useful life, and we must figure out how we're going to replace this necessary equipment. We currently have 28 polling places across the county, more than any other in Montana. Replacing ADA voting equipment is likely to cost about $140,000. To replace the precinct tabulators will cost about $552,000 for all 28 polling places."

Interim University of Montana President Sheila Stearns seized on the topic of budget issues when relating plans to economize on the UM campus.

"In terms of short term response to budget alignment that we need to do, one of the things that we need to do, we must and we will reduce the percentage of our budget devoted to personnel and related benefits that is over 80 percent of our budget," Stearns said. "We will get that gradually down to 79 or 78 percent. We want to get that down to the right percentage where we can invest properly and strategically in recruitment, information technology, opportunities to study abroad, scholarships and waivers for students."

Mayor John Engen began with a humorous threat to show seven hours of slides featuring all the potholes the city street department has fixed so far this spring, then, focused on the concept of intentionality.

"When we thought about how our water system would be bought and sold and bought and sold, we decided that we needed to buy it," Engen said. "And, now, today, we just received a ruling as we were walking into this place from Judge (Karen) Townsend that said the folks who bought and sold our water system were overcharging you all for legal services and fees to the tune of 30 to 40 percent, and that is a good ruling for us, and just a reminder that these folks don't have our best interests at heart. The people that have our best interests at heart are sitting right in this room."

Following the panelists' comments, Missoulian editor Kathy best told the crowd that the paper has changed its policy, and will no longer include online comments from readers. Mayor Engen had joked that he had stopped reading the comments section in the paper, but that there was always someone who was willing to tell him what was said.

The meeting continued with members at each table putting together a single question to present to the panel.

The above video features the opening comments of all three panelists.

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