Maintaining a high quality of life tops my list of core values for two reasons: Economic prosperity and the character of our lived experience here. For decades people have come to the Missoula area seeking a way of life not found just anywhere; we enjoy easy access to beautiful public land, a vibrant local culture and a humane pace of life. Desiring intensely to live here, people have moved in, rolled up their sleeves and created ventures of all types. It's no wonder that we're 9th in the country in entrepreneurship.
Our unique qualities drive prosperity and growth. People, and businesses, come here to be here, not for tax breaks. While many other places in Montana suffer from the exodus of youth, our best and brightest strive to return after forays into the greater world. The quality of life we enjoy propels our economy and can perpetuate itself.
Given this situation our social and economic responsibility to each other is two-fold:
1) We must strive to include those on the economic margins in Missoula County's prosperity.
2) We have to preserve, enhance and grow the features of the Missoula area that make this place special.
Earlier this winter my wife Kim and I went skiing up at Pattee Canyon, on the Crazy Creek trail, but because the parking lot was full we parked above and walked down to the trailhead, carrying our skis. On the way back I walked back up to get the car. Three cars stopped in a 1/4 mile walk to ask me if I needed a ride. I felt like I was in a Portlandia skit -- my walk was slowed down by people asking me if I needed help! Most anyone across the county would help anyone else, walking up a snowy road. We enjoy a great generosity of spirit in our Missoula culture.
However, a whole host of issues -- social, environmental, and economic -- require more complex solutions than simply lending a hand to a stranger stuck in the ditch. Local government is the mechanism by which we work together to tackle issues greater than any one person could do on their own. Local Government is us. We must strive first to work with those who need it most, and like hiking up a steep slope, the sturdiest among us should carry the heaviest load. Anything less is morally indefensible. We need to apply the same generosity of spirit we feel as individuals to our work in county government. We are in this life and place together, and we have an obligation to help one and other, because quite literally, we are one and other. We are the moms pushing their kids in strollers at farmers' market, the elders enjoying lunch at the Senior Center, the guys riding their bikes out of pre-release, and everyone in between.
Our happiness demands we exercise freedom over our lives, freedom, however, calls for action, not just options. When we take no action the course of events alone determine the character of our future -- whether we like it or not.
Right now we face a handful of thorny issues related to growth and development, and climate change, these all come with a host of possible responses. Unfortunately, we have faced some of these very same issues for decades, and the global as well as the local issues -- affordable housing, sewer/zoning, ag land preservation, have only become more acute. Not taking action (a form of response) has passively allowed change to come, but these were not changes of our own design. Freedom means action, not just having choices.
We must work together, listen to each other, and make some hard choices, so the future resembles our aspirations, and is greater than "just how things turned out."