Helena leaders still split on city commission candidates; McGee, Shirtliff advance

Helena City Commission Selection
Posted at 10:16 PM, Aug 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-24 00:16:27-04

HELENA — After talking it over for roughly an hour on Tuesday night, Helena city commissioners still couldn’t come to a consensus on who they want to fill a vacant position on the commission. Instead, they decided to return next week to choose between two candidates: Troy McGee and Andy Shirtliff.

At Tuesday’s special meeting, commissioners interviewed four finalists for the seat formerly held by Eric Feaver:

  • Brianne Harrington, owner of the Painted Pot, an arts studio and business downtown.
  • Kim Mangold, a consultant and former deputy director of the Montana Department of Agriculture.
  • McGee, retired after 23 years as chief of the Helena Police Department.
  • Shirtliff, a business engagement specialist with the Montana Department of Labor and Industry.

They asked the candidates about their experience dealing with complex issues, and their philosophy on how they would approach the job.

After the interviews, each member of the commission initially identified their top two candidates, but that left all four finalists with two votes each. They then selected their number-one choice, with Mayor Wilmot Collins and Commissioner Melinda Reed supporting Harrington, Commissioner Emily Dean favoring Mangold and Commissioner Sean Logan supporting McGee. No one received a majority of first-place votes.

“I knew, I just knew, it was going to be this way,” said Collins.

At that point, the commission instead began discussing which of the finalists could receive three favorable votes. Dean and Logan were not willing to advance Harrington, and Collins and Logan were unwilling to advance Mangold. That left only McGee and Shirtliff still in consideration.

Saying they wanted a chance to “sleep on” the issue before making a final decision, commissioners agreed to put off the final vote to a special meeting on Monday, Aug. 29, at 5 p.m. – one hour before the newly appointed commissioner is scheduled to be sworn into office.

As they have throughout the process, leaders again said Tuesday that they were impressed with all the candidates. However, they remained split on which qualities were most important in the next commissioner.

“I don’t think the candidates are the problem right now; I think we’re the problem, because we can’t come to a consensus on who we want and why we want them,” Collins said.

Logan said he saw McGee as the best choice because Helena faces immediate challenges and he wanted someone who could hit the ground running. Dean said she valued Mangold’s experience in addressing housing – one of the top issues in the city – and as a certified mediator. Reed said she saw Harrington as someone who could bring a new perspective and help the city move into the future.

As they wrapped up the meeting, commissioners said the back-and-forth of this process was a show of how government works.

“I know, Mr. Mayor, that it’s frustrating that we’re here, but I also find it very refreshing that we could discuss it,” said Logan.

“I’m glad that we’re taking this as seriously as we are,” said Dean. “Commissioner Feaver would want us to take it this seriously, and he would probably get a kick out of the negotiating that has been happening tonight – he was the best negotiator that I’ve ever known.”