Havre Daily News/Lindsay Brown
Republican Debi Rhines, candidate for Hill County commissioner, speaks during Thursday night's candidate forum while moderator John Ita and Democratic candidate Mark Peterson listen.
The two candidates for Hill County commissioner said Thursday night that if elected they would seek job-creating businesses for the county and would work more closely with the Havre city government.
Democrat Mark Peterson and Republican Debi Rhines both said they would consider creating a unified police force for the county.
Peterson said he would consider a countywide ban on driving while operating cellphones. Rhines too said she would look into the idea, but was clearly skeptical.
The candidates spoke at the Havre Daily News Candidate Forum at Havre High School.
The winner of the Nov, 6 election will join Democrat Mike Wendland and Independent Jeff LaVoi on the three-member board.
Peterson, who had been in Medicine Hat earlier in the day attending a Ports to Plains meeting, a group of public officials and business leaders from Texas to Alberta, said he is hopeful that eventually Havre will become a stop on a north-south corridor transporting goods and oil. Extending hours at the Port of Wild Horse is a key part of that, he said.
Rhines too said she would work hard to extend hours at Wild Horse and would work to improve the situation for the business community. For a small town, she said, Havre has a rather large business community.
She said the area should plan for growth that is expected because of the oil development in the Bakkens.
She also called for gas exploration in Hill County.
The candidates said they would work harder to improve relations with the city, which have been tense at best in recent years.
Peterson said better communications was the key to improving relations.
The proposed annexation of land into the city would create some financial difficulties, they said. But if it meant less in revenue, it would also mean fewer expenses for the county.
“I’m in favor of annexation, especially in areas that are already getting city services, ” Rhines said.
A stronger Havre is good for Hill County, she said.
Both said they would study the idea of a joint city-county police force, but they said a lot of questions needed to be answered, such as how calls would be handled.
Peterson wondered whether the next step might be “a city-county or county-city government. ”
When moderator John Ita asked candidates what they thought of a ban on cellphone use while driving, he said Peterson said it wouldn’t affect him.
“It wouldn’t hurt me one bit, I can’t get cell service in the country, ” he said, laughing.
He said he was concerned about the safety problem created by people driving while texting, but he was also concerned with excessive government dictates.
“I don’t know if I would support it, ” he said. “But I don’t think I would fight it. ”
Rhines said she has used the cellphone while driving.
“I’m as guilty as anyone, ” she said.
She admitted being concerned with youth using driving with cellphones and may favor a law that would limit that. She admitted that ideas would be unpopular with the many young people in the audience, students from Ita’s government classes.
In the end though, she said she was worried about government overstepping their bounds.
The city of Havre, in a controversial move, banned drivers from holding cellphones while driving. The Montana Legislature had declined to pass a similar law.
“I don’t believe I have the right to take away your rights, ” she said.
Ita asked the candidates to say something nice about each other.
“She’s very pretty, ” Peterson said.
He said he had been impressed with the way she ran her campaign. If elected, he said, “Maybe she will do it differently than me, but she would do a good job. ”
Rhines said she didn’t know Peterson until she met them at the Fourth of July picnic in Pepin Park.
She said he was treated her well and is “a very nice man. ”