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Missoula councilman questions board member's appointment

Missoula City Council. Photo: NBC Montana
Missoula City Council. Photo: NBC Montana
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Monday night the Missoula City Council reappointed Melanie Brock to the Missoula Redevelopment Agency. But her close ties to Mayor John Engen have some people questioning if there’s a conflict of interest.

The MRA board oversees a number of projects in the city. They’re tasked with spending millions of dollars from special taxing districts. But taxpayers do not have any say in who sits on the board.

“First and foremost, I don’t like some of the spending decisions the MRA has been making over the last four years, and (Brock’s) been a part of that board. She’s voted for a lot of these projects that I think are a slap in the face of taxpayers,” said Missoula City Council member Jesse Ramos.

Some community members question the projects too and voiced concern at this week’s city council meeting.

Ramos has other objections, too. One we found in Engen’s 2017 campaign finance reports -- Brock’s consulting firm ran Engen’s last campaign.

The documents show the campaign paid her $3,000 a month during the 2017 election cycle.

“She obviously did a great job running his campaign, but I think she needs to be independent of spending decisions when he's the one who appointed her,” said Ramos.

But Brock is not the only MRA board member we found in the report who helped get Engen re-elected. The records show they all have. Ruth Reinking and Natasha Prinking Jones each contributed $300. Nancy Moe donated $150. Karl Englund gave $200 and MRA director Ellen Buchanan, though not appointed, donated $100 to Engen's 2017 campaign.

“It's just the mayor making all of these decisions under the mask of it being the MRA board,” Ramos said.

Engen sent this statement about Brock’s reappointment: “Based on her experience, personality, intelligence, I'd have appointed her whether she supported my campaign or not. Voting for me or being a campaign donor are never a consideration in my recommendations for board appointments.”

NBC Montana spoke with MRA Director Ellen Buchanan in December about board members contributing to the mayor’s campaign.

“The mayor is very thoughtful about who he puts on this board. He understands the importance of this agency. We're basically the economic development arm of the city” said Buchanan.

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Brock’s new term will end in four years. She’s one of five members who help chart Missoula’s economic future.

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