Havre Daily News
Democratic City Council member and mayoral challenger Pam Hillery thinks there are ways to improve work done by the mayor's office in Havre, and she believes she has the skills to do it.
“Having sat on City Council for two years, I have seen some ways that I think the office of mayor can be improved,” she said.
Hillery thinks she can do a better job at communicating with both residents and those in city government, than her opponent in the Nov. 8 city election, Republican incumbent Bob Rice.
“I believe I bring a set of skills that will be very good at improving those relationships,” she said.
Hillery moved to Havre in December 2000, after working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Helena for 10 years. She and her husband are raising two children, ages 12 and 5.
Hillery, a homemaker, serves as treasurer of the Havre PTO, is a board member for the Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line, the Hi-Line Concert Association, and Crime Stoppers, and has coordinated vacation Bible school for both Catholic and Lutheran children.
“My service to the community is a huge part of my life,” she said.
Hillery said she has concerns with how incumbent Mayor Bob Rice and city management have been leading the city's workers.
Since she was elected to City Council, she has received a lot of “unsolicited contact” from workers in multiple city departments who are concerned with how they are being managed, Hillery said.
“I think there's an undercurrent of discontent that borders on reallylow morale,” she said. “And I don't understand why that feeling was instilled in people. I think there's hands-on management and then there's micromanagement, and I think the micromanagement that's been occurring has really created a very low spirit among city workers.
“I like to think that, if I were elected, that people would understand that the assumption is that people are doing their jobs until proven otherwise,” she added. “I do not go into city government thinking things need to be cleaned up. I don't need to stand over street workers or water workers and see if they're doing their job right. That's why we have managers.”
She said she is concerned with the “turnover of experienced personnel,” and claimed that some workers left two years before receiving full retirement.
“I don't think any one thing drives somebody to make that decision, but something triggers that decision, and I think there have been a lot of triggers in the last four years.
“It's got to change,” she added. “We can't have workers filing grievances all of the time.”
If elected, Hillery said, she would strive to improve communication between city government and residents.
“I'm a very inclusive decision-maker,” she said. “I like to hear what people think. I don't see that from (Rice). I'd like to see more discussion before action, bringing in as many parties as we can.
“Maybe (Rice's style) is what people want,” she added. “That's the beauty of the electoral process. I have one style that is very inclusive, ... and he has a style that is ‘Let's go out and get things done and talk about it later.' You couldn't have a clearer choice between styles.”
Some have questioned Hillery's relationship with Bear Paw Development Corp., a nonprofit economic development agency that serves as the city's planner. Bear Paw's executive director is Paul Tuss, who is her husband.
She said her marriage does not create a conflict of interest.
“In terms of the legal definition of conflict of interest, none exists,” she said. “I do not see a personal benefit. If Bear Paw gets or does not get a contract, it doesn't affect the paycheck Paul brings home.”
Hillery said she understands there is a perception of a conflict.
“I understand people think the relationship between me and the executive director of Bear Paw is more close than any other mayor or council member has had. Paul and I have had this discussion over and over. Neither one of us is willing to limit our service to this community because of a perception.
“My relationship with Bear Paw can only enhance what Havre can get in terms of service,” she said. “It doesn't hurt us. It won't benefit me personally, but it will certainly benefit the city of Havre. Is it enough to make me the better mayor? Probably not. I think I bring other things to the field. But it's a perk.”
She also has received some criticism for campaign fundraising outside of Havre and for her friendship with Gov. Brian Schweitzer and others in Helena. Hillery, who lived in Helena before moving to Havre, said those relationships can only benefit the city.
“I think it's important for the mayor of any city to have access to the higher levels of government,” she said. “So often, people in Helena look at Helena or they look at (western Montana), but right now they are looking at Havre. That's a huge benefit for this city.”
Hillery said the donations she has received from those in Helena stem from both her party affiliation and personal relationships she has developed over the years.
She added that she is “really proud” of the support she has received from Havre citizens.
Hillery has several intiatives in mind if she is elected mayor.
She said the city is not doing enough to manage growth and needs a fair and comprehensive plan for future expansion.
In the spring, City Council member Terry Schend brought up the issue of annexing properties outside the city limits. Since then, the city has been gathering information.
“We think of annexation is terms of increasing our tax base,” but it's also a question of fairness, Hillery said. “People who utilize ... city services on a daily basis should have a responsibility for paying for part of it.”
The city has been “fortunate” to have some growth on the southeastern edge of town, but developers there are not putting in curbs and sidewalks, she said.
“We are growing as the individual developer wishes the city to grow,” she said. “In order to make a town a liveable place, we need to have curbs and sidewalks. Every town needs to have a sense of where they're going. We need to be able to sustain what we have and also have the ability to grow in a thought-out manner. I don't see that happening right now.”
She said she has a problem with Rice's practice of using fuel tax funds to pay for some of the cost of paving gravel streets within the city.
“The issue of spending $10,000 on that is problematic,” Hillery said. “That is maintenance money, and we have streets that need maintenance.”
Special improvement districts - in which bonds are sold to pay for projects and the cost is assessed on property owners' taxes - have additional costs associated with them, she said, but that is why the payments are spread over a decade or more.
“Bonds are spread over time for a reason, so people don't have a $4,500 hit all at once,” Hillery said. “I think we should go back to the SIDs.”