Havre Daily News
Havre Democratic City Council member Pam Hillery on Thursday announced her candidacy for mayor.
Incumbent Republican Mayor Bob Rice said Thursday he has made a decision but did not want to comment further.
Nominations for the city election open on Monday and will close on June 30, according to the Hill County Clerk and Recorder's Office.
Hillery, 44, moved to Havre in December 2000. She plans to file Monday - early so Havre residents understand she is serious about the position, she said, adding that she is running for the office, not against an opponent.
"I'm running for the office, for Havre," she said. "There's a very big difference in that. It doesn't have to be a negative thing."
Rice has done good things for Havre and has shown the ability to adapt to a difficult job, she said, but if elected she would change some things.
"Bob has really grown into the job," Hillery said. "He wasn't a politician coming into it, and that is a good thing, but ... bureaucracy exists because it often gets things done. I think he's really developed the skills he has and figured out how to work within it."
If elected, Hillery would work to make the local government operate more openly, she said.
"I've only been on City Council for a year and a half, and it's been interesting watching what goes on in the meetings," she said. "We take a lot of dings from certain people, and some of those are very legitimate. We can't just bring things up and vote on them without people knowing what we're voting on. I often think that, maybe a quarter of the time, we don't know what we're voting on and that's ridiculous."
She said the mayor needs to share more information with the council and with the public.
"That's a communication thing between the mayor and the council that really needs to be improved," Hillery added. "(Rice) says that we can always go to him and talk about things, and I do talk with him. But that's not where it needs to happen. It needs to happen in front of the world, in front of whoever wants to come to a city council meeting. It doesn't help if I'm informed. The information needs to be out there for everybody."
Hillery said she would continue Rice's efforts to improve the city park system. Her other concerns are the city's infrastructure and economic development.
The reconstruction of First Street, which includes the resurfacing of the road, landscaping and replacement of the sidewalks, water lines and sewer lines, will begin in 2007. The project will be a massive undertaking, one that will affect downtown businesses and residents.
"It's going to be a wonderful thing, but it's also going to be a tremendously disruptive thing for the businesses and anyone coming through town on Highway 2," Hillery said. "Anyone who has a home or a business fronting on First Street, they're going to have to deal with that. Those are issues that I see taking a lot of time and work to make sure that everybody's needs are met, as best they can be, under those circumstances."
The possible construction of a Wal-Mart west of town is something Hillery has mixed feelings about.
"I'm not a big fan of large, corporate stores," she said. "I think they can undercut local businesses because they can buy in such tremendous bulk, and I don't think they treat their workers very well.
"There's still a need in this community for jobs, and that might be enough to outweigh any of the negatives I see that Wal-Mart brings. Whether we like it or not, they will choose to come or they will choose not to. We just need to figure out how to make that work best for the existing community and for them."
The question of whether or not to offer a tax break to the big box chain is a moot one for now because the store, if built, will be located outside the city limits. If the city annexes land west of town, Hillery said, it needs to make sure it gives the company and other Havre businesses a level playing field.
"We need to strengthen the downtown by offering the same or better things that we would offer to Wal-Mart," she said.
One option the city has considered is a tax increment finance district, which would set aside a percentage of the property taxes collected from businesses to be used for improvements. The money could be used to improve sidewalks, infrastructure, or perhaps help a business with a building expansion, Hillery said.
The effort has stalled because the city lacks a growth plan, which is required by state law before a TIFD can be put in place, and because some in the city are concerned about the extent of environmental contamination, she said.
"It kind of stalemated when we talked about environmental contamination," Hillery said. "Because of (BNSF Railway) and the groundwater contamination that we know exists, to some extent people are scared to find out what else is there."
Hillery said she understands the reluctance. She worked for 10 years as a public affairs officer with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Helena before moving to Havre.
The job gave her some managerial experience, but Hillery said she will rely on the good people at City Hall at first, if she is elected.
"I don't have the experience the mayor has," she said. "However, I'm a quick learner and I would rely on the people who are in there. We have good people working for the city."