The East Helena City Council welcomed its newest member this week, after the November election failed to fill one of the seats.
The other three members of the council unanimously appointed Joy Bowen to fill the open position, representing Ward 1 – the area south of Riggs Street. She was officially sworn in at a council meeting Tuesday night.
“I’m really excited to serve the people of East Helena, and I welcome anybody who has opinions or ideas for this city to reach out to us,” she said.
Bowen works for Dynamic Health Technologies in Helena, and also operates the Great Ape Crepes food truck with a partner. She says she has lived in Lewis and Clark County for about six years, and in East Helena for about three.
On Friday morning, East Helena Mayor Jamie Schell and city staff took Bowen and another new council member, Kelly Harris, on a tour of city water infrastructure in the McClellan Creek area.
In last year’s election, no candidates filed to run for the Ward 1 council seat – either on the ballot or as an official write-in candidate. When the write-in votes were counted, the top candidate was incumbent Kit Johnson, who had decided not to run again and declined to serve another term. That meant the seat became vacant, and the council had to appoint someone to fill the position.
The unusual result drew national attention, as an article from the Wall Street Journal highlighted East Helena as an example of the difficulty some cities are facing in finding people to serve.
Bowen was one of a number of candidates who received write-in votes in November. She said she first came before the council to ask them to add stop signs and sidewalks on Montana Avenue and consider building a city dog park. While the council was already planning improvements on Montana and declined to move forward with the dog park idea, Bowen said Schell told her about the open council seat and encouraged her to put herself forward.
“At first I just sort of thought, ‘Well, I don’t have any experience; who am I to go and be serving on the council?’” she said. “And then the more I thought about it, the more I thought, ‘Well, if nobody else is going to do this, somebody in the seat is better than nobody.’”
After the inconclusive election, Bowen was one of three candidates who applied to be appointed to the seat. The other council members selected her after public interviews last week.
Bowen said she believes anyone who lives in a community can provide an important perspective, whether as a candidate for elected office or in another role. She says they shouldn’t feel intimidated about getting involved.
“You know, the Creator doesn’t always call the qualified; sometimes the Creator qualifies the called,” she said. “And I do feel called to serve my community, and to feel like there is something I can contribute.”
Schell said he’s excited to see new faces like Bowen and Harris joining the council.
“It’s really nice to have a younger member of the community interested in everything about the city,” he said.
Bowen said, while on the council, she still wants to pursue the idea of a community dog park, because she wants to make sure there are places in East Helena where people can come together. She hopes her story will encourage other people – especially young people – to get involved in their own communities.
“I really hope that other young people look to me and – whether they like me or not – you know, if they think that I’m awful, I hope they want to come and do better,” she said. “If they think that I’m great, I hope that it inspires them to go and find their way to be great.”
Because Bowen was appointed to the council, she will serve for the next two years. She said she then plans to run in the special election that will be held for the last two years of the term.