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Helena City Commission selects interim city manager, advances Beattie Street trailhead

Posted at 11:55 PM, Mar 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-10 01:55:55-04

The Helena City Commission has approved a contract to make the former executive director of the Friendship Center the interim city manager.

Commissioners voted 3 to 2 Monday to name Melinda Reed as interim manager. Her contract will begin Tuesday and extend through Nov. 30, or until a permanent city manager takes over.

Mayor Wilmot Collins said he decided to bring a recommendation for Reed, after having discussions with commission members about what they wanted from an interim manager and looking through the candidates who had shown interest in the job.

“I have been impressed with Ms. Reed’s experience running the Friendship Center here in Helena, her management experience, and her commitment to building strong relationships in the Helena community,” he said.

Reed led the Friendship Center from 2013 to 2017. She said she recently returned to the Helena community after being abroad for more than two years.

“I’m honored to have been asked to consider this position,” she said.

Commissioners Emily Dean and Sean Logan voted against the contract with Reed. They raised concerns over whether the selection process had been sufficiently transparent. Several public commenters, including Lewis and Clark County Commissioner Susan Good Geise, raised the same issue.

Dean and Logan said they had wanted to have a public discussion about the potential candidates for the interim manager job, either during last week’s administrative meeting or Monday’s regular commission meeting. They questioned why the selection of a finalist wasn’t made in public.

“This is not transparent governance,” Logan said. “For me, the bigger question this evening is, is this how we are going to do business, where some members of the commission are privy to decisions and others not?”

Collins and Commissioners Andres Haladay and Heather O’Loughlin supported the contract with Reed. They said Reed was a strong candidate and that it was time for the city to fill the position.

Haladay said he was surprised by Dean and Logan’s reactions. He said, based on previous conversations with them, he believed they were supportive of Reed.

“I’m excited for Ms. Reed to take over,” he said.

Most of the opponents said they did not have an issue with Reed specifically, but that they had concerns about the process.

The commission also took two major steps to move forward with the plan to expand a trailhead at the south end of Beattie Street.

Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to award the contract for the trailhead project to Helena Sand and Gravel, for a bid of $314,697. They also approved an amendment to the city budget, to appropriate $450,000 from the city’s streets and open lands funds for the project.

The project would create 18 paved parking spots at the Beattie Street Trailhead, along with other improvements. In addition, it would include traffic calming measures and other improvements on the street itself.

The city had initially planned to appropriate $900,000 for the project, including $400,000 from the general fund. However, commissioners amended that amount down after the bids for the work all came in well below what was expected.

City staff had initially estimated the work could cost $650,000, with contingency funding. City Engineer Ryan Leland said they received four bids, all lower than $400,000.

Supporters of the trailhead project say it will improve access to trails in the Mount Ascension area, address growing trail use in the area and give snowplows and emergency vehicles a place to turn around.

Opponents said the project would have too much impact on the surrounding neighborhood. Many also argued it was too expensive – even after the lower bids came in – and that the city had more pressing infrastructure needs that should be addressed first.

“Mayor and Commissioners, I end this with a question to each one of you: Based on your own personal financial situations, and what you know about the financial situations of facing the city, would the Beattie Street project be one of your top priorities for city funds at this time?” asked Lynne Boone.

Commissioner Healther O’Loughlin said the trailhead project has been discussed for a number of years, and that they have scaled the project down in order to address some of the neighbors’ concerns.

“The fact that we are, with this amendment, will not be taking any funds from the general fund is certainly positive,” she said. “I think this is an important investment of the open lands fund, an important investment in the street, in Beattie Street itself.”

Collins, Dean and Haladay also voted to approve the project bid and budget amendment. Logan opposed both.