Havre Daily News
At first, Havre Mayor Bob Rice didn't want to run for a second term.
“I didn't want to because of the stress it was putting on my family,” he said in an interview this week.
He changed his mind after he was approached by a “large group of people,” he said, who implored him to run again.
The incumbent Repubican mayor is seeking a second term and will face the Democratic nominee, City Council member Pam Hillery, in the Nov. 8 election.
Rice has earned public criticisms and kudos during his first term. Often seen about town in a safety vest, picking up trash and working with city employees, he's often called Havre's hardest working mayor. He's also known for jumping into projects without enough planning, a fault he readily admits. Admirers say the mayor's missteps are easily forgiven because he gets so much done.
Rice said he has learned much about the job since he became mayor four years ago.
“I think, for the most part, I'm competent enough to know what we can do and what we can't, and where we can go to get grants, funding and things of that nature,” he said. “I think with any job you continue to learn. I'll probably be learning as long as I'm in the position.”
Rice moved back to Havre in 1995 after retiring from the U.S. Navy, where he spent 30 years. He and his wife raised three children.
Before his election, he worked for Tempo Electric, owned by fellow Republican Terry Schend, who is now a City Council member. Rice, who does not have a state electrician's license, said he did nonelectrical work like digging ditches and managing Tempo's parts department.
He said he enjoys serving the public and wants to continue doing so.
“I've been a public servant most of my life,” Rice said. “I like serving the people. I like the kids. I like getting things done. For the most part, I think it's very challenging but rewarding.”
Some City Council members and residents have said that Rice has a problem communicating with members of the City Council and the public. He denies that's a problem, and continues to maintain an open-door policy for people who want to come in and talk.
Rice's emphasis, if elected to a second term, will be the city's looks and its infrastructure.
“I'm going to keep it clean, take care of infrastructure, (and keep) getting streets paved,” he said. “Make it more lucrative for businesses to come in.”
He said he will continue to advocate using fuel tax funds to pay for some of the cost to pave dirt-and-gravel roads within the city. City workers will also continue to patch the city's paved streets in the summer.
“We're working on them,” he said. “They're out there every day.”
If the massive First Street reconstruction project begins as scheduled next year, Rice said he will appoint a liaison to assist him in dealing with the Montana Department of Transportation.
“We'll have the ability to air complaints or business concerns on a daily basis,” he said.
The city has been studying the annexation of properties outside its limits since the possibility was brought up by Schend in the spring.
“I think it's a good thing,” Rice said. “We need some tax base from somewhere.
“It doesn't do us any good to annex something in and have it cost us money,” he added. “As this thing progresses, all my departments will be (studying the issue) because they'll all be involved.”
Rice said he puts 60 hours a week in at the city and donates half his $19,000 salary. He fulfilled a campaign promise earlier this year with the completion of a skateboard park.
His annual Mayor's Ball has raised about $30,000 for different community projects, City Council member Tom Farnham said.
Rice also worked hard to ease tensions between Montanans and Canadians after Canada decided not to join the U.S. war effort in Iraq. He was interviewed on Canadian radio many times and appeared at many Canadian events.
At times, Rice's term as mayor has been marked by conflict.
Rice walked out of a Havre-Hill County 911 Board meeting after members voted to move the e-911 call center from the city's communications center to the Hill County Detention Center. The city and county eventually agreed to locate a primary call center at the city and a secondary center at the county, a compromise critics say unnecessarily duplicates service and costs taxpayers more money.
Rice acknowleges that city and county relations have been strained over several issues recently. He said he would continue talking with county officials to improve the city's relationship with county government.
“I don't agree with everything they do, and they don't agree with everything I do,” Rice said.
At the advice of the city's insurer, he was forced to relocate a city walking path on Bullhook Dike after members of the Saddle Butte RC Club complained that the new path came too close to their landing strip, putting joggers at risk.
His practice of using state-allocated fuel tax funds to help pay for paving some unpaved streets in the city has drawn criticism from some City Council members, who note that other property owners had to pay for street paving through special improvement districts.
In June, Rice planned to have the city pay $800 for T-shirts ordered for city workers that bear one of his slogans - “Get 'er Done” - until some City Council members protested that the shirts appeared tied to his re-election campaign. Rice maintained that the slogan was not a political one.
Some critics say Rice's management style has caused some city workers to quit.
Rice admits that some Public Works Department employees do not agree with his management style, but said he is trying to hold them accountable.
“There's a small group of people up there that don't like me,” he said. “That's obvious. They don't like to be held accountable. They used to take 30-minute breaks, some of them. They'd start (working) whenever they felt like it. Some of them are fantastic employees.
“They're paid very well,” he added. “They're supposed to earn it. For the most part, most of them do.”