Bozeman City Hall File

The sun sets on Bozeman City Hall on Feb. 3, 2021.

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Just two people applied to fill the seat left vacant by resigned Bozeman City Commissioner Michael Wallner.

It is a much smaller pool compared to the last time commissioners had to appoint someone to join them — 20 people applied for a commission seat last fall after the resignation of former Mayor Chris Mehl left a vacancy.

Christopher Coburn, one of the 20 who applied in the fall, put his name in the hat this time, as did former state legislator Tom Woods. The deadline for applications closed Monday morning.

Pending a routine confirmation of their eligibility as candidates, Woods and Coburn will both be up for consideration by the commission next week.

According to the city, commissioners may make a decision as early as their meeting on April 6. The seat has to be filled by April 11, 30 days after Wallner’s resignation.

Coburn announced earlier this year his candidacy for the November commission elections. Woods said last week he is considering running in November as well.

The appointed term would run through the end of the year. The seat will be on the ballot in November, and voters will decide who fills the rest of the term, which runs through 2023.

Both Coburn and Woods are familiar faces to many in Bozeman. Coburn is on the Gallatin City-County Board of Health and works with several community organizations. He is the system manager for community health improvement and partnerships at Bozeman Health.

Woods served four terms in the Legislature and unsuccessfully ran for the Public Service Commission in 2020. He teaches physics at Montana State University. While in the Legislature, he worked on bills related to Medicaid expansion and holding utility companies more accountable to ratepayers.

In an interview last week, Woods said affordable housing, recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, growth and climate are key issues of his.

“We’re faced with a Legislature that seems to not want us to fix our own problems, which I hope I can help with, we’re faced with a community that is going to be facing water shortages in the future, we’ve got planning difficulties as growth explodes,” Woods said. “It’s complicated but I like complicated.”

When announcing his candidacy for November, Coburn cited affordable housing and pushing for inclusion and racial equity as important issues for his campaign. He also said he would want to incorporate a public health perspective into the commission’s work.

“Obviously we’re growing very quickly in Bozeman and there’s a lot of need for planning. And I think as a public health professional ... there’s this truth that planning and growth are at their core really rooted in public health expertise, because what we know is that we can’t really have a healthy community unless we plan for it,” Coburn said. “And we can’t really have a community that is equitable, that is strong, that meets the needs of everybody if we don’t plan for it.”

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

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