New city manager melds experience, passion
POLSON — When Ed Meece steps into his new job as Polson city manager on Oct. 1, he returns to the work he most loves: working in small-town government.
Meece is no stranger to city government, having spent nearly 30 years working in communities large and small. “The first 90 days will be spent building a whole lot of relationships,” he said in a recent interview. “I plan to spend a lot more time listening than talking.”
Meece, who currently manages the parking program for the City of Bozeman, was hired Sept. 16 by the Polson City Commission to fill a post vacated nearly two years ago by Mark Shrives. Police Chief Wade Nash has served as interim manager during a lengthy and often stalled search for his successor.
Meece sports a soft southern twang, the residue of a childhood and adulthood spent in Kentucky punctuated by high school years in North Carolina. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Northern Kentucky University, and was city manager for Taylor Mill and Bardstown, KY, before becoming assistant manager for public works in Louisville.
His children helped spearhead his career move to Livingston. The family had visited Yellowstone National Park a few times, and when they decided they preferred small-town living, “the kids went looking, and found a job they thought would be really cool,” says Meece.
He served as the community’s city manager from 2006-’15. “It was a good move for our family,” he said.
Tragedy upended his life and career when his daughter died of bacterial meningitis – a fast-moving illness their physician told them was as rare as “a lightning bolt hitting an airplane.”
“You just get up, move across the floor, and take one breath at a time. You never get over it – you just manage it,” he says of grieving. Eventually, “you allow yourself to be happy, to enjoy life and your family.”
The loss has shaped him both personally and professionally. “It leads to more patience and more compassion in your relationships,” he says.
It also adds perspective. “Very few things in life carry the weight of personal tragedy,” he says. “Family and their safety always need to come first.”
The couple’s son, Edison, recently graduated from Montana State University. “He’s a constant blessing to us,” says Meece.
He describes his wife, Karen, as “my better three-quarters.” A primary school teacher for over 30 years, she’s “big-hearted, very compassionate and very patient.” They were married in 1989 and “we’ve been on an adventure together ever since.”
The couple looks forward to their next adventure in Polson – a community they’ve often traveled through and to for kids’ soccer games, cherry festivals and recreation.
Meece praises Polson’s considerable natural beauty – “you can enjoy life in the mountains and at the lake” – and the work ethic of its citizens.
These assets help spur growth, as evidenced by “opportunities already being hatched and opportunities still to come forward in terms of commerce and economic development.”
He sees his two biggest strengths as an administrator as “deep experience and a passion for building and leading teams to good outcomes.”
Working in smaller towns has given him a breadth of practical knowledge, from running parking lots to managing a city-owned cable TV company that eventually added fiber optics to its services. “That kind of hands-on operational experience provides insights and expertise to draw on,” he says.
Over his long career in city administration, Meece has learned not to micro-manage employees. Instead, “I understand how to build and support really good teams.
He starts work Oct. 1 with several goals in mind: educating the public on the resort tax that will appear on the ballot in January; repairing streets, which is a public priority regardless of the outcome of the resort tax; and developing a capital improvement plan to fund new projects and maintain existing facilities (including the new waste-water treatment plant).
He’s also an advocate of a customer-focused approach, although “when it comes to city government, I prefer to think about folks as citizens instead of customers because citizens own their government,” he says. “I believe there’s a different level of respect, courtesy and service owed to owners.”