Jennifer Madgic

Jennifer Madgic, Bozeman's newest city commissioner, poses with Eddy, a 14-year-old Chesapeake Bay retriever, on the front porch of the house where Madgic has lived for 20 years on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020.

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Jennifer Madgic has seen this happen before: Growing up in California’s Silicon Valley, she knows how it feels to be living in a rapidly growing town.

“I’m seeing this here in Bozeman,” Madgic said. “It’s just all too familiar.”

The experience shaped Madgic, who on Wednesday was appointed to fill the vacant spot on the Bozeman City Commission. Madgic, 58, went into a career in planning, earned a master’s degree in the subject and worked in planning for two years in Helena and for Gallatin County for a decade. She was appointed to the Bozeman city planning board in 2018, where she helped put together the draft community plan that is now in front of the city commission.

“It’s so important to be proactive to growth, and to really figure out what’s important about a community in terms of whether you want to protect the environment, provide adequate housing, focus on your downtown versus the mall,” Madgic said. “There are so many questions that can be answered and made better by community planning, so that’s where I have focused most of my career.”

Several commissioners cited Madgic’s planning experience during Wednesday’s meeting, with Commissioner Michael Wallner calling her a “technical public policy expert.” Mayor Cyndy Andrus listed Madgic’s past experience in government — she was also a regional director for Montana Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester for over a decade — as reasons she was at the top of the list.

Madgic’s term will run until Jan. 2022. She said she hasn’t thought yet about running for the commission during the next election.

Madgic acknowledged there would be a bit of a learning curve but said she is familiar with local government.

“What Jen brings … is clearly the government experience, the administrative and planning experience, which is quite significant,” said Jerry Pape Jr., Madgic’s planning board colleague. “Jen is the sort of person who carefully considers what’s in front of her, and when she speaks it carries a certain gravitas to it because she thinks carefully about what she’s going to do.”

Another planning board colleague, Mark Egge, also threw his name in the hat to fill the vacant commission position. Even though he lost out to Madgic, Egge said he believes she is better qualified for the role.

Having someone with planning board experience is key in providing continuity between the commission and the board’s work on the draft community plan, Egge said. The plan is a far-reaching document that will guide Bozeman’s growth over the next two decades.

“What we’re trying to accomplish as a city in terms of achieving affordable housing is at it’s core a land-use question,” Egge said. “Certainly Jen understands that connection between affordability and land use really well.”

Though Madgic has spent two years working on the draft growth policy with the planning board, she said the city is really at the beginning of the process. The prospect of helping implement the plan as a city commissioner was a major reason Madgic applied for the vacant position.

Madgic said she feels strongly that the plan focus on strengthening neighborhoods and emphasize a strong downtown and North Seventh Avenue. The plan also emphasizes infill, rather than sprawl, but Madgic said they will have to be careful of what infill will mean for the city’s traffic patterns and infrastructure.

“I think we just need to be careful with planning,” Madgic said. “It needs to be thoughtful and we need to be careful of unintended consequences.”

Of course, Bozeman is facing other problems Madgic wants to tackle, like affordable housing, improving community relations and dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

With housing prices continuing to rise, Madgic acknowledged there is no silver bullet to address affordable housing, but that they have to ensure planning decisions are not contributing to the problem.

“It’s just wrong that people can’t afford to buy a home in the community where they work,” Madgic said. “So to look at a variety of ways to impact and improve and come up with solutions I think is a good way to go.”

Madgic said she would also want to work on community relations and ensuring residents feel the commission hears and represents them. During Wednesday’s meeting, the vast majority of public comment were in support of another applicant, Christopher Coburn, and support for Coburn in written public comment far out-paced other applicants.

Bozeman United for Racial Justice, Sunrise Gallatin and Forward Montana released a statement Thursday condemning the commission’s decision. The groups pointed to the public comment and said the commission ignored the “wants and needs of their community and cruelly (disregarded) hundreds of members of the public.”

Before seeing the statement on Thursday, Madgic said that she was heartened by how many people applied for the position and came to public comment.

“I would like to find a way to make sure these voices and all voices are heard,” Madgic said. “I would so much rather see that kind of energy and excitement about participating in the government than the reverse, so I was proud to see that.”

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

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