With county clerk and recorders mailing out absentee ballots Tuesday and the general election Tuesday, Nov. 6, the Havre Daily News will run a series of profiles in contested local races starting today with the Hill County commissioner race.
Contested legislative races will be featured in the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday editions of the Havre Daily News.
Two relative newcomers to the political scene are facing off in the Nov. 6 general election for Hill County commissioner, with similar views on several issues.
Mark Peterson, who farms in northern Hill County, is running as a Democrat, while Debi Rhines, the office manager for Schine Electric, is the Republican candidate to take the office held by Democrat Kathy Bessette.
After 22 years in the office, Bessette decided this year not to run for re-election.
Both Rhines and Peterson cited their ability and experience as part of their reason to run for the office.
“I have always had an interest in doing things for my county, as my records show, ” Peterson said. “I think I have a lot to offer to be a good commissioner. …
“The commission needs to look out for Hill County’s best interest, one person at a time, and the county as a whole, ” he added.
Rhines said her set of skills have helped her in her roles in her family, in business and in her community. She decided to run for commissioner after a conversation with her husband, Dave Rhines.
“We got to talking about it, and I realized that I was a good candidate for the position, because I like to visit with people; I like to build relationships; I like to troubleshoot, problem solve, ” she said. “My dad (former Havre City Council member Terry Schend, who died Jan. 27, 2011) once told me I have the gift of problem-solving, and he said I have always been able to see the big picture. ”
Both candidates have previously run for office — Peterson for Hill County commissioner in the 1990s, Rhines for Havre City Council in 2003 — but neither has held political office.
Peterson said, however, he has worked extensively with elected officials and government agencies over the years, as an agricultural producer and in groups and on the many boards on which he has served, including as a reserve sheriff’s deputy and emergency medical technician and on university and research boards..
Rhines also has served on boards that are involved with governmental agencies, such as Crime Stoppers and the Havre Public Schools Education Foundation.
Working as a commission
Republican candidate for HIll County commissioner
Born in Havre, 1963
Education: Graduated from Havre High School, 1981. Attended Eastern Montana College and Mesa Community College, graduated from Northern Montana College, now Montana State University-Northern with a Bachelor of Science in business technology with a minor in computer information systesms, 1993
Work experience: Worked in Havre, Billings, Arizona and Alaska before receiving degree, has worked primarily as a bookkeeper or office manager for Tempo Electric, MSU-Northern and Schine Electric since receiving her degree
Family: Married to Dave Rhines, children are Sabrina, Gregory, Nicholas and Angela
Civic or service organizations: Member Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, past member Havre Public Schools Education Foundation, board member and past treasurer and chair of Havre-HIll County Crime Stoppers, lead organizer and volunteer for Havre Youth Soccer program, Member St. Jude Thaddeus Church Pastoral Council, past chair and treasurer of St. Jude Thaddeus School Home and School, member Great Falls-Billings Diocesan Pastoral Council, American Red Cross blood services and disaster coordinator, chair for Community Thanksgiving Dinner.
Both candidates said a key to working as a commissioner will be working with the two other members of the commission.
“All decisions have to be made by the full commission, after discussion of the issue, ” Peterson said, adding that a large part of that process also is listening to the residents in the county before the discussion.
Rhines stressed that decisions would have to be made after a discussion with the full commission, as well as keeping the heads of the different county departments in the loop.
She added that, although she will get fired up over issues, she tries to build a consensus.
“I don’t like to fight about things. Let’s sit down and have a discussion …, ” she said. “At the end of the meeting, I want the people to be comfortable with the decisions that are made. ”
Peterson said one of his main goals if elected is to work to improve communications, with the Havre city government, the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation government, and the state and federal government.
Funding local government
Both candidates said they realize funding the operation of the county government is becoming more difficult, and said they would look to find ways to reduce expenses to try to help that problem, although both also said that, at this point, they don’t know exactly how that could be done.
Peterson said one of his main goals if elected would be “improving the efficiency of the county government, working smarter in all areas. ”
Rhines made similar comments.
“In business, we have that opportunity to work longer and harder to increase revenue, and I know that at the government level that’s not an option, ” she said. “We go with what we get, so managing resources will be my most effective plan of attack with that. ”
Community pool funding
Both candidates said they know little of the details in a five-year-old fight over funding the Havre community swimming pool, but also said they think the county needs to work with the city government to resolve the situation.
The county agreed in 1974 to pay one-third of the net cost in operating the pool, which opened in 1976. Since then it has never paid the full third of the cost, with, in almost all years, paying less and significantly less in the early part of the last decade.
Under Mayor Bob Rice, the city demanded in 2007 that the county pay a full third from that point on, and pay $281,320 in past payment shortfalls. In 2008, the city filed a lawsuit requesting a judge to force the county to accept that demand.
The lawsuit has not seen action since 2010, when the judge scheduled deadlines. Both parties said in briefs that year that they were working to resolve the situation.
Peterson said, as a person who used to use the pool regularly, he understands the need for and importance of the facility.
“I would like to review the past agreements before I made a decision, ” he said. “I don’t know many of the details, I just think we need to work towards a solution. ”
Rhines also said she needs to know more before she could make a decision.
“I have no knowledge of it at all, ” she said. “In the beginning, I thought, if there was an agreement they have to respect that agreement, but if it went that many years without having a conversation …
“It’s just unfortunate, ” she added. “It’s an unfortunate situation. It pits the city against the county. ”
Working with Rocky Boy
Both candidates said the county needs to maintain good communications and cooperation with the Chippewa Cree Tribe of Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation.
Rhines said she is excited to see growth at the reservation, such as the new radio station which she applauded for giving a voice for and information to the residents of Rocky Boy.
“We should maintain the communication that we have now and continue to promote them as they grow as a community, ” she said.
Peterson said the reservation is a major player in county issues and the economy.
“We need to understand the financial impact that the tribe has on the city of Havre and Hill County, ” he said. “We need to continue to find ways to partner and work with the tribe. ”
Both candidates also said more details are needed before they can talk extensively on Havre annexing property.
Peterson said the county government needs to look closely at the impacts and plan on how to deal with that, and with revenue shifted from the county to the city.
“We need to understand that Hill County, which includes the city of Havre, only has so many tax dollars available, ” he said. “When the city annexes property, it takes away from the county. We just need to understand the cause and effect of that action. ”
Rhines said she supports the city growing and expanding, although she also acknowledged that could impact already-tight revenue for the county.
She said, however, that along with the decrease in revenue, annexation would reduce the expenses of the county as the city takes over more responsibilities on the property, freeing up time and money for other areas of the county.
“It is my belief that a healthy city within the county creates a healthy county. I believe, moving forward, it’s a win-win situation for both entities …, ” she said. “It’s definitely going to reduce revenue at the courthouse level, but, in the meantime, will it reduce our liability as a county? Absolutely. So I guess I’d have to look at all the numbers. ”