Commissioner Angenie McCleary’s understanding of government has evolved in her decade on the Blaine County board. But the reason she’s there hasn’t changed.
“My background is integral in everything I do,” said McCleary, a former social worker who worked in local schools before her appointment to the board in 2008. “One of the premises of my training is looking out for social justice. It’s about identifying resources, and figuring out how those resources can help solve problems. I think that comes into play whenever I think about how people interact with government.”
McCleary stays in touch with many of the people she met as children during her social-worker days, most now adults old enough to vote themselves.
This November, the Ketchum Democrat will be banking on their backing to keep her District 3 seat against a familiar opponent, independent candidate Mickey Garcia.
McCleary has defeated Garcia three times before, in 2010, 2012 and 2016. She’s never earned less than 75 percent of the vote.
With each term, she says, she’s developed a clearer picture of how county government gets things done—and gathered more connections to the people who can help.
“I recognize now that we’re part of a larger system,” she said. “It takes cities, counties—all interests coming together to get things done. As a county commissioner, I see myself as a facilitator. As someone who can bring people together to address complex issues.”
The interests dearest to McCleary are certainly some of the most complex, reaching well beyond the borders of her jurisdiction. But she sees the county as uniquely suited to addressing them.
Not only does county government serve its constituents directly, she says, but it also serves as connective tissue, bridging smaller cities to the larger state and federal levels.
“I think Blaine County has the ability to work on all levels,” she said. “We work with the federal government on forest fires and disaster mitigation, with the state on behavioral health, with the cities on housing. That to me is the best part of the job—the diversity of issues you get to work on, and the people you get to work with.”
McCleary’s approach to that work is, again, informed by her training. She makes a conscious effort toward civility, and staying calm in an increasingly heated, partisan climate. Next to Garcia—a proud provocateur—it’s a study in contrast.
But according to McCleary, her even head helps when it comes time to pick up the phone and get people to the table.
“In today’s culture, more than ever, it feels like civility is going out the door,” she said. “I think I’m someone who can maintain it, restore it and recognize all that we do have in common. I try to remain respectful to our diverse community, and value all the people who live here.”
If re-elected, she’ll carry that reputation into her next term, and the problems she hopes to address.
There are many, starting with housing—something the county has struggled to address prior to and during her tenure. As a sitting commissioner, she can’t talk about pending applications or ordinances, though, in general, she supports a deed-restriction tactic coordinated through the public and private sectors with an emphasis on infrastructure.
She wants to buttress Blaine County against the effects of climate change through fire mitigation, flood prevention and educational workshops.
And, she’s concerned about the high rates of suicide in the county, and hopes to continue work to bolster mental-health support in the community and its schools.
“The role of county government is diverse,” she said. “It isn’t going to be able to solve all problems, but it can make a difference in a lot of things.”
The election is Nov. 6.