Moscow’s most experienced beginner | North West
Moscow Mayor Art Bettge is new to the top job, but by no means a rookie when it comes to city government.
Before becoming mayor last month, Bettge served for eight years on city council and served on the city’s planning and zoning commission for 10 years prior.
A scientist by training, Bettge brings to city government an analytical approach to leadership, but also the common sense of knowing that a good leader knows when to listen to others and when to “get out of the way.”
Craig Clohessy: How would you describe your leadership style?
Art Bettge: Leadership is divided into two different parts. One is leadership in the public arena, which deals with the city council and other entities — Chamber of Commerce, business groups, etc. The other is internal leadership, dealing with the various departments that provide services to citizens.
In either case, my leadership is about bringing together the people who know the stuff, know the issue of concern at the time, and then work with them to find the solution. These are the people who are really the experts.
Your average politician does not know or understand many of the intricacies that occur in running a city. The best you can do is bring together the people who know the solutions, know how to behave, give them direction, and then walk away. You provide them with the resources they need, provide them with the desired conclusion, and let them go.
CC: What is your top priority for the city of Moscow in the coming year?
A B: Launch a program on climate change. Over the past two years, issues of climate change, water use, etc., have come to the forefront for many citizens and it is the city’s responsibility to address them through the implementation of programs that the city can do, but also by setting an example of what people can do.
On April 25, we will have a climate change workshop here with the city council to establish activities and priorities that address both climate change, carbon dioxide sequestration and production and the use of the water. I see things moving forward in terms of minimizing water use especially in outdoor areas, outdoor watering, but also migrating the city’s car fleet to more electricity, which requires building of a bunch of charging stations. I also see tree plantations and carbon sequestration through tree plantations which have the benefit of eliminating heat islands.
Although the city contributes less than 10% of our city’s total climate impact, we can lead by example, show people what the city is doing, and hope they follow and implement as well.
These are long term goals. … In the shorter term, is (the goal of) providing sufficient funding to complete the new airport (terminal) Moscow-Pullman by December 31, 2023.
CC: How do you see the relationship of the city and the dress to the city and the University of Idaho?
A B: This damn COVID has put the dress-dress relationship on ice for the past two years. We have had contact with university management in many ways and we contact the city, university, county and school district once a month on Zoom.
We’re relaunching the town dress meeting (in March) which… hadn’t taken place for two years.
This is an informal chat where I would like to know what are the problems the university is facing and especially what are the problems the students are facing.
CC: As the COVID-19 numbers rise again with the latest omicron variant, do you see any policy changes on the horizon for the city?
A B: Not really. I think the whole COVID virus has turned into something endemic. And as viruses tend to do, they become more contagious but less virulent. As this progresses I think we will see a gradual return to something more normal where the (virus) is going to be akin to the flu where you get your flu shot once a year. The city conducts sewage testing on the amount of virus present in the city’s sewage. … It’s gone down a lot, so we’re on the right track.
Unless something really awful happens with a mutation or some other weird new virus pops up, I see us over the next two months getting back to something close to normal.
CC: It may be too early to ask, but do you see yourself serving more than one term as mayor?
A B: Too early. I’m 66 now and so in the next election I’ll be 70. I really don’t want to become one of those old white people running things. … Eventually the baton has to be passed on to people who are new, who have great new ideas.
CC: You began your career in the Peace Corps, serving in Niger, West Africa, from 1976 to 1978. Have you returned since then?
A B: I have returned to Africa several times for day work, but I have not returned to my small desert village of Guidimouni, Niger, which was perhaps a village of 1,000 people located in the driest part of the Sahel where, among all things, I worked on a fishing project.
CC: You continue to work as a biochemistry/wheat end-use quality consultant. Can you explain what it is and what type of information you provide in this role.
A B: Everyone is under the assumption that wheat is a monolithic seed, that all wheat is the same. Well no. Some wheats make good bread, but you can’t make cookies or cakes out of them. Some wheats make good cookies, cakes, and noodles, but you can’t make bread out of them to save yourself. And why is that? It has to do with genetics which determines the quality of protein and the quality of starch which are involved in wheat.
In the Pacific Northwest, we primarily grow soft white wheat, which is a low-gluten wheat that you use for cookies, cakes, some crackers, noodles, and things like that. Most of it is exported – 90% of Pacific Northwest wheat goes overseas, mostly to East Asia.
I go to East Asia about once a year in November and explain to the major importers there that this is the quality of wheat you can expect to see next year and that is why the quality is what it is and that’s how you test it to predict the best way to deal with those shipments of wheat that you receive.
I also do consulting in South America, North Africa and the Middle East.
CC: Do you have anything else to add?
A B: This (mayor) is a very mobile job and issues change quickly. Today’s problems may not be the same as those you will see tomorrow. You have to be able to be informed, to go around in circles and to find an appropriate solution to what is happening.
I’m hoping for a very calm tenure here where everything is nice and nice and nothing unusual is happening, but I realize that’s probably not going to be the case. … There will be other issues and that’s why the newspaper people have a job, and that is to report what these new issues are and what the city is doing about them.
Clohessy is editor of the Lewiston Tribune and the Moscow-Pullman Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] or (208) 848-2251.