Havre Daily News
Incumbent Mayor Bob Rice and Democratic challenger Pam Hillery, speaking before about 100 people at a candidate forum Thursday, said they would bring very different leadership styles to the mayor's office.
“I lead by example,” Rice said. “Some people don't like how I lead, but I lead. The rule in my office is lead, follow or get out of the way.”
Hillery, a Havre City Council member, said she has a more inclusive style than Rice, and would solicit the opinions of those involved with an issue before making a decision.
“Action is important, but we need to plan our action,” she said. “We need to know what we're doing before we do it, and get it right the first time.”
The forum, sponsored by the Havre Daily News and New Media Broadcasters and broadcast live on 610 KOJM-AM, gave residents a chance to hear from the two mayoral candidates, along with four City Council candidates. Incumbent Democratic City Council member Allen “Woody” Woodwick appeared alongside his Ward 4 Republican challenger, Shane Ford, and Ward 3 Republican candidate Bob Kaftan debated the issues with Democratic candidate Bob Kaul.
Voters will make their choices in the Nov. 8 general election. That ballot will include incumbent City Judge Joyce Perszyk in a nonpartisan race with Rozan Kerr. Two other City Council candidates are unopposed.
In their opening statements, Hillery and Rice spoke about how important community service has been in their lives.
“God gave us a lot of things, and we have to give back,” Hillery said. “That's why I contributeto the community.”
Rice, a Republican, talked about his 30-year career in the U.S. Navy.
“It's been an honor for me to serve as your mayor,” he said. “I've had a lot of criticism, but I've also had a lot of accolades.”
Rice said infrastructure improvements top his list of plans if he is elected to a second term. He will continue to work with the Montana Department of Transportation to ease the city through a massive proposed reconstruction project along First Street, he said.
“We are preparing for the worst,” he said. “If the worst doesn't come, we're in good shape.”
Hillery said she would encourage City Council members to speak with the people in their wards and air the public's concerns during the project. She said a similar project on 10th Avenue South in Great Falls should be looked to for examples.
“It's not just the businesses that will be affected,” she said. “We can learn from (Great Falls') mistakes and their successes.”
Rice said he accepts “part of the blame” for strained relations between the city and Hill County.
“There has been some strife,” he said. “We have dealt with some very difficult issues. We're going to have to communicate on these issues. We're going to have to work together.”
Hillery said the city's relationship with the county is “one of the most critical issues.”
“For some reason, communications between the city and county have come to a not very good point, and that's a nice way of putting it,” she said. “People are guarding their turf.”
Both Hillery and Rice said Havre needs to deal with racism in the community. Both referred to a U.S. Department of Justice mediator who invited a handful of area residents to a meeting Wednesday to discuss solutions, including forming a local human relations commission.
“One of the good things about Havre is that, because we are sandwiched between two reservations, we have some cultural diversity,” Hillery said.
Hillery added that she thought more people could have been involved in the mediator's discussions. “I'm a little concerned with how the Department of Justice is dealing with this. I don't think they're including everybody,” she said.
Rice said the commission that will be created to deal with the problem will increase in size as time goes on, and that the mediator will be back in December for another visit.
“I think it's a valid issue,” he said. “I'm encouraged by the fact that we all came to the table yesterday.”
Candidates were given three minutes for an opening statement, and then took turns responding to questions compiled by the Havre Daily News and New Media Broadcasting.
When asked about the possibility of Havre formulating a charter for self-governance, Ford and Woodwick both said it is a good possibility.
Ford said he would advocate for a switch to nonpartisan elections.
“(City issues) have to do with you and me,” he said. “They don't have to deal with a D, an R, or an I.”
Woodwick said a charter could be a “very valuable tool” for the city, but it also could pose a danger.
“It depends on the way it is written,” he said. “It could completely upset the balance of power.”
Ford said he would try to find ways to hire more officers for the Police Department.
Havre Police Chief Mike Barthel has said he's been asked not to fill a vacant police officer position this year and that his department is suffering as a result.
“I believe we could use more police officers,” Ford said. “It would be nice to see some extra money in there.”
Woodwick said the city can't afford another police officer and said that if the city had agreed to consolidate dispatching services with Hill County, it would not be in a budgetary bind.
“I think the best solution would be to utilize the staff we have the best we can,” he said.
After much debate, a city-county board decided to locate the primary e-911 call center at the city, with a backup at the county jail.
Kaul has repeatedly said that a resolution passed by voters in 1996 to build the Hill County Detention Center specified that emergency dispatch should be consolidated there. He said Thursday he also disagrees with having two enhanced-911 dispatch centers in the county.
“I hate to see duplication of any service, because it costs us money,” he said. “That's not necessary.”
Kaftan said duplication of services may be the best thing for residents.
“If the city controls the 911 call service or the county does, it doesn't make any difference to me ... but I want to see the best service possible. If that duplication provides better service, then I'm still for it,” he said.
Kaftan said he thinks Havre should form a volunteer force to supplement the city's police force.
“I like the idea of having some kind of reserve force that would be available in times of great need,” he said.
Kaul said the city needs to better utilize the officers it already has.
“I think we need to schedule our people better, so that we have the number of people on the street that we need at any given time,” he said.
In his closing statement, Rice said he fulfilled the promises he made in his first campaign. He admitted that he has a problem at times with communication.
“The promises I made were met,” he said. “It does require leadership. Maybe sometimes I don't communicate quite as well as (Hillery) does, but I do communicate and I get the job done.”
Hillery said she will continue to work to improve the city and improve communication in government, regardless of whether she is elected mayor. She has two more years left on her City Council term.
“I think the city of Havre can be an even better place than it is,” she said. “This is my home. I'm going to make it as good a place I can make it for my children and the children around them.”