Havre Daily News
More than 60 people packed into the Havre City Council chambers Tuesday night to watch Mayor Bob Rice, Judge Joyce Perszyk, four council members and a police officer take their oaths of office.
It was a slight change of the guard: Rice begins his second term and Perszyk begins her third, while two of the council members took their seats for the first time.
Not everyone was cheering.
Hill County Democratic chair Debi Friede told Rice and the council members that Havre residents will be keeping an eye on them.
“The people of Havre will no longer tolerate the violation of rules and law,” she said. “I will hold you accountable ... I just wanted to give you fair warning.”
After the meeting, Friede said she has had some problems with the way the city has been operating. She cited paving projects that have been paid for in part with city money - instead of using special improvement districts that charge property owners for the improvements through a property assessment. Meetings have been held without public notice and Rice has attempted to close some meetings that should be open to the public, she said.
At the end of the meeting, Rice said he was “a bit taken aback” by Friede's comments.
“I don't break laws and I don't think anybody up here does,” Rice said. “I don't operate that way. I will serve you to the best of my ability.”
“If I'm breaking the law, they should arrest me,” Rice said after the meeting. He called Friede's comments “inappropriate” and “in poor taste.”
Rice said he has two main priorities for the coming four years: easing the city through the massive First Street reconstruction project, which is set to begin next year and take at least two years to complete, and improving the city's roads and water infrastructure.
He called the First Street project his “number one priority.” The Montana Department of Transportation will completely reconstruct the street, replacing water and storm sewer lines, installing new sidewalks and repaving the roadway. Rice said the project will be hard on city residents, businesses and travelers along U.S. Highway 2.
He said the city has roads that need repair, and Havre had 21 water main breaks last year.
“Our infrastructure stinks,” Rice said.
He said he will seek grant funding to fund repair and replacement projects.
Rice said he will continue to work with local businesses to add asphalt to unpaved streets in their neighborhoods. He said he has had talks with the representatives of North Star Dodge about paving two roads near that business.
He went on to say that he looks forward to working with new council members Gerry Veis and Bob Kaftan.
“I like both of them,” Rice said. “We're not going to agree on everything, but we can agree to disagree.
“We've got a good council,” he added. “Not everybody on there is in my camp, so to speak. I think it's a good makeup.”
Council member Pam Hillery, who lost the mayoral election in November, said the new makeup of the council will likely result in change. She said council members must continue to keep “a close eye” on city operations and that she hopes Veis and Kaftan will do so.
“I have great hopes that our new council members will continue to do that,” she said.
Kaftan said he is eager to get his feet wet. He said Tuesday that he wants to learn how the council works and find out what his obligations are as a member.
“I'd like to maintain good communications with my constituents ... and make sure they know that I represent primarily the people in this ward,” he said.
Veis made it obvious that he will not be shy about voicing his opinions. He spoke up several times at his first council meeting, and at one point he joked that audience members in the back of the room will have no problem hearing him.
At the close of the meeting, Veis said he would speak to Rice about an agenda item for the next City Council meeting, one that would change the meetings from twice a month to once monthly. The council now meets on the first and third Mondays of the month, except on holidays.
Terry Schend and Allen “Woody” Woodwick both won re-election this fall and were sworn in for their second terms.
The two outgoing City Council members, Tom Farnham and Dana West, said they enjoyed serving the people of Havre.
“It was a learning experience, and I met a lot of good people,” Farnham said. “I still plan on being involved in the community.”
“I really appreciated the opportunity to represent the citizens of Havre,” West said. “It was a great experience.”
Neither thinks the changes to the council will drastically affect how the city is run.
“When you have eight people together, they go for consensus,” West said. “You're one of eight faces, and there's a kind of melting of opinions.”
She added that the council and the mayor have “worked really well together.”
“Things will stay about the same,” Farnham agreed.
He said one thing he learned during his two terms is that the city does not have the “bottomless pockets” that some residents and employees think it does. Farnham said almost every city in eastern Montana is struggling to make ends meet, and Havre is no different. Economic development is a way out of that bind, he said.
“The best thing we could hope for on the Hi-Line is more business, more growth, more people,” Farnham said.