HELENA — This week marks a transition for the Lewis and Clark County Commission, as the newest member comes in and an outgoing member steps back.
On Tuesday morning, the county held a swearing-in for newly elected Commissioner Tom Rolfe, of Helena. Rolfe won a seat representing the county’s District 2 in last month’s election.
“I’ve spent a lot of time going to meetings, trying to understand budgets, trying to understand the operation of the county, talking to people who have concerns,” he said. “Now I get to take those areas of concern and the background that I’ve developed and put it to work for the people of Lewis and Clark County.”
Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, a longtime friend of Rolfe, administered the oath of office.
Rolfe had a long career in the Helena area as an auto salesman. While he was a Republican state legislator in the 1970s, he is the first Lewis and Clark County commissioner elected without an official party label. Voters approved a switch to nonpartisan elections for county officials last year.
Rolfe thanked the current commissioners for working with him and helping smooth the transition. He said, once in office, he plans to work on mental health issues and on coordinating with local businesses.
He said he’s honored to be serving the public.
“I’d like to hear from them, as much as possible; I’d like to hear what their concerns are,” he said. “Whether they think they agree with me or not, I’d like to hear what they have to say.”
Tuesday’s public meeting was also the last for Commissioner Susan Good Geise. Though her term extends through Thursday, she had already cleared out her office.
“It’s a prospect I anticipated with some amount of dread in the past, but now that I’m here, I am content that I have left nothing on the table,” said Geise. “Anything that I thought needed to be done or that I could have a positive impact on, I’ve endeavored to do that.”
Geise was appointed to the commission in 2013 and elected to a full six-year term in 2014. She chose not to run for reelection this year.
During her time on the commission, Geise was a prominent advocate for a number of county initiatives, including the expansion of the county detention center and the switch to nonpartisan elections. This year, she was the lead proponent of the county’s controversial plan to implement zoning across the Helena Valley.
Geise had been out of the political arena for years before her appointment. She was elected to the state House in 1989 and served as chair of the Montana Republican Party in the early 1990s. However, in recent years, she had increasingly vocal disagreements with the party, even briefly filing as a Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate this year.
Geise said she hoped she and her fellow commissioners had shown leaders can work together even when they disagree. She called public service a “noble profession” and said she was grateful for her time in office, but that she is ready to move on.
“Leaving is a little bit bittersweet, in that I have adored the work, I love the work, but – you know what, I’ve had my turn,” Geise said.
Rolfe’s first official meeting as commissioner will be next Tuesday, Jan. 5.