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By Roger Dey
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Leaving nothing on the table

Susan Good Geise ends her tenure with Lewis and Clark County Commission

 

December 31, 2020

Roger Dey

Susan Good Geise speaks at a fire meeting during the 2017 fire season.

Susan Good Geise ended her tenure on the Lewis and Clark County Commission Tuesday morning when Montana Attorney General Tom Fox swore in Tom Rolfe as the newest commissioner filling the District 2 seat she's vacating.

Last week, Geise was looking ahead to the end of her time in office, and reflecting on her time with the commission.

"Mostly what I am is profoundly grateful," she said. "Really, really grateful because I thought my time in politics was over. I had one last chance to serve. I certainly wasn't expecting it and it came to be. I am not leaving a doggone thing on the table."

Geise joined the Commission June 4, 2013 to finish out the term of Derek Brown, who resigned earlier that year. After several months of wrangling by the Republican Central Committee and the Lewis and Clark County Commission on a slate of names to fill Brown's seat, Geise threw her hat in the ring, but didn't expect to be selected.

"Of course I said heck yeah, because I thought I'd sooner be hit by lightning," she said.

A former state legislator, chair of the Montana Republican Party and lobbyist, Geise joined Democrat commissioners Andy Hunthausen and Mike Murray, but said she came into the role without any preconceived notions.

When she got there, she took a look around to see what needed to be done.

"And holy cow. Lots," she said. "I started making myself a list about what I thought needed to be done, and those boxes are checked."

Geise was working as the librarian in Augusta when she was selected to fill the vacant seat. With the selection, she became the first person from Augusta to serve on the commission since 1906. The wife of rancher Ross Geise, she brought a rural perspective to Helena, something she feels is important for the commission.

"I lived every day with people in Helena. Best intentions, no doubt...but they would come up with solutions that just wouldn't work for the rural areas," she said.

Geise said they learned to consult with her early on to see if a plan might fly for the rural areas of the county. "I hope they will continue to do that. I hope they're going to be reaching out to Lincoln and Augusta and Wolf Creek and talking to the people who are really there on the ground."

Geise also hopes Augusta will take a page out of Lincoln's playbook and establish their own community council. "I think it's important. We don't have anybody who speaks for Augusta," she said. "You guys at least have the opportunity to have different assets of the community get together to hash things out. That's a great gift for your community."

Geise isn't shy about admitting that in her seven years with the County Commission, Lincoln has earned a special place in her heart.

"I love the heart of people there; all of those people who just are the guts and backbone of that town, and they are the engine of that community" she said.

She recalled that when she first got on the commission, Rick Dunkerley came to them with an idea about a sculpture park in Lincoln.

"I thought yeah, baby...when pigs fly," she said. "Well, holy cats! Look what you're doing!"

She also pointed to the Lincoln Prosperity Proposal, the collaborative effort to draft a legislative proposal for forest management in the Lincoln area. "That is guts, man. Writ large."

"Lincoln should be an inspiration to everybody. I really mean that," she said. "One of the greatest and unexpected blessing was getting to learn more about the community of Lincoln. You guys just keep trying and trying. You get kicked in the teeth and you get back up."

Geise has played a role in many of the successful efforts in Lincoln over the past few years, including the transfer of the historic Lincoln Cemetery from the U.S. Forest Service to the county.

"That was really something. Working with Bob Bushnell and Bonnie Shown. I loved that. We got that done," she said. "I know it took ten years from the time the county got to looking into that. I've really got to take my hat off to Michael Stansberry. He did a great job with that."

As a commissioner, Giese also supported the Prosperity Proposal, the new Lincoln Skate Park, the recent grant applications for downtown master planning and, for better or worse, the new restroom for Hooper Park.

"The scene of my greatest aggravation, of course, is the Super Duper Hooper Pooper," she said of the multi-year saga to upgrade the facility, which was beset by delays and ultimately a lawsuit. "That still isn't all the way over" Geise said the county is still wrestling around trying to get the assets from the original contractor who never delivered the concrete structure.

Although controversy surrounding Parker Medical Center reared its head a couple times during her time on the commission, and occasionally saw Geise at odds with some members of the community, she said she's very pleased that there is still a health clinic in Lincoln.

Geise also became an ardent supporter of the efforts of the Lincoln Valley Chamber of Commerce, Sculpture in the Wild and Envision Lincoln.

At the broader county level, Geise is also gratified by her role in the effort to upgrade the Detention Center in Helena and improve mental health services.

Despite her Republican bona fides, Geise also counts non-partisan county-level elections among her top accomplishments. After just a short time on the commission she realized partisan politics don't really play a role at the county level. Geise promoted the change to non-partisan elections ,which was approved by voters in 2019. Her seat, won by Rolfe, was the first to be filled in a non-partisan Lewis and Clark County election.

Most recently, Geise spearheaded zoning efforts for the Helena Valley, which didn't set well with a lot of people and actually led to threats against her.

"Zoning was huge. It has probably needed to be done for 50 years. I've been dropping down over that hill into Helena from the time I was in the legislature from Great Falls, and I have seen the explosion of growth out there," she said. "When I got to the commission I was agnostic about zoning and if I'd had a position, it probably would have been opposed, but as I listened to people who've lived there for a long time...that water is unreliable out there, you can't keepacting like its fine."

Last week the county commission named 12 people to a Zoning Advisory Panel that will recommend zoning rules for urban and suburban districts in the Helena Valley.

Geise also faced personal challenges over the last seven years as well.

"Since I've been on the commission, my husband Ross has almost died three times, she said."

In 2013, he had a twisted gut that nearly killed him. In 2017, he had a heart attack on July 4th, and in 2019 he survived a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm, which Geise said has a survival rate of less than 10 percent.

"I love him. He makes me laugh every day," she said. Nevertheless, she said she was elected to serve 24-7, so she "kept working that whole damn time."

"When I was growing up, I was taught that to enter the religious life was a person's highest calling. The next highest calling, a sacred responsibility, was to be in public service. I really believe that."

Geise isn't likely to be idle in retirement, however. She began splitting her time between Augusta and Sandpoint, Idaho, to help out her son and daughter-in-law, who are both ER doctors, with childcare.

She's also been accepted as a Red Cross volunteer to drive blood to Great Falls from community blood draws, and she'll be joining the board of the Helena Area Habitat for Humanity to focus on helping working families who need a bit of help finding affordable housing.

"These are the people who pay the bills for everybody else," she said. "My goal is to bring that again to Lincoln and Augusta."

Geise is also considering a request to be on the Citizens Advisory Council and plans to work on developing the Friends of the Augusta Library. She also hopes to help Lincoln Librarian Kate Radford with programming for the Lincoln Library.

"I've had my turn. I guess I'm ready to be done," she said, "but I still have lots to offer.

 

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