Christopher Coburn headshot

Christopher Coburn

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Bozeman city commissioners on Tuesday appointed Christopher Coburn to the vacant seat on the commission.

Coburn, who serves on the Gallatin City-County Board of Health and works for Bozeman Health, was the only applicant after former state legislator Tom Woods withdrew his bid for the seat at the start of the meeting. Coburn will take over for former City Commissioner Michael Wallner, who resigned in March.

Coburn said he brings life experience that is missing among Bozeman’s elected officials.

“I’m a young professional. I rent my apartment, and I’m building my life here and I’m confronted with the challenges that come along with that,” Coburn said. “I have a lot in common with most of Bozeman. And I feel that by making room for people like me on the commission, our city will be stronger.”

Woods withdrew his bid during general public comment at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting before commissioners considered the appointment. Woods said several recent bills at the Legislature influenced his decision, including legislation targeting transgender youth.

“The best course of action for this community is for me to step aside and have a person of color who is also a member of the LGBTQ community to lead us out of these dark times,” Woods said. “I feel, however, that the best way forward for this community and for the progressive movement to coalesce is for me to withdraw from consideration for the city commission.”

Coburn applied for another city commission seat in the fall, a vacancy left after former Mayor Chris Mehl resigned.

Commissioners instead chose Jennfier Madgic, a planning board member. The selection prompted backlash from some of Coburn’s supporters, who showed up in large numbers in the fall and submitted a slew of public comment this time around.

It was a different story for Coburn on Tuesday as he was the only candidate standing by the time commissioners considered who to appoint to the vacant seat.

“I am glad you did not give up,” Madgic said.

“Last October, you could have given up and continued the work you were doing on the board of health, your other board responsibilities and certainly your job and not come back to this body … But you didn’t back away and I give you credit for that.”

Coburn’s appointment will run through November. The remaining two years of the term will be on the ballot for November’s elections. Three other commission seats will also be up for election — Mayor Cyndy Andrus’ seat is the only one that will not be on the ballot.

Coburn announced his candidacy for the city commission’s November elections early this year, and Woods said Wednesday he is considering a run as well.

Each commissioner pointed to the perspective Coburn will bring to their body as a key reason for their vote and lauded his qualifications and experience in public health, local government and community issues.

Commissioner I-Ho Pomeroy, who is also on the health board with Coburn, said she’s been impressed with how prepared he is for those meetings.

“He works very hard and also he is very thoughtful,” Pomeroy said. “He is also very kind to other people. I really like that and then all those good qualities he is going to bring to our commission.”

Deputy Mayor Terry Cunningham said Coburn’s presence on the commission will better their work.

“I’m banking on the fact that Christopher Coburn’s, age, race, gender identity, cultural viewpoints and lived experience will make the City Commission a better team,” Cunningham said. “So we’re not doing Christopher Coburn a favor by appointing him to the commission. He did us a favor by applying for the job.”

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Nora Shelly can be reached at nshelly@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2607.

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