James “Jim” Catt Jr. said his primary goal if elected Hill County commissioner will be to connect to all of his constituents, both to keep them informed and to find ways to improve the county.
“I sense a disconnect with the Hi-Line, with Havre, with Rocky Boy,” Catt said, adding that he believes people want more information than in years past.
Catt faces Jeff LaVoi, running as an independent, in the Nov. 2 general election.
He said there may be a lack of outreach to different groups and entities in the county that is leading to the feeling of disconnection he sees. Increased coverage of issues with modern media requires increasing that communication. That will help people understand what is happening and why, he said.
“I have great faith in the county’s people and that they can weather any storm,” Catt said. “If they’re informed, they can handle most anything that comes along.”
People are upset when services are cut, such as road work being reduced, he said. But if the county officials explain the problem, lack of equipment or enough money to pay for using the equipment, people understand.
“If you explain to them they have no problem with it,” Catt said.
He said using the county’s resources also can help it weather storms. With the county facing budget cuts and reduced services, Catt said it needs to find a way to generate more funds, without that costing the constituents more.
“Resources are not just dollars, but they can generate dollars,” he said.
Catt said some of the resources the county should utilize include entities like Beaver Creek Park, hunting and fishing opportunities in the area, the top-ranked alternative energy research facility at Montana State University-Northern, and the H. Earl and Margaret Turner Clack Memorial Museum.
The push to expand the Wild Horse Port of Entry into Canada to a 24-hour commercial port is another example of trying to better-use local resources, Catt said.
“We need to get after that,” he said.
Probably the most valuable resource in the county is its residents themselves, he added.
“We need to listen to people with good ideas, good constructive suggestions,” Catt said. “There are a lot of bright people people with good ideas. We need to listen to them to generate more dollars.”
He said his widely varied experience, including 25 years on the City/County Planning Board, will help him deal with a variety of issues.
One area Catt said he wants to pursue is a greater partnership with the Chippewa Cree Tribal government at Rocky Boy. The residents of the reservation have a huge economic impact here, as much as $80 million a year, he said.
While Hill County can’t directly work on the reservation, the two governments could use each other as resources, help each other, Catt said.
He said that his willingness to listen to new ideas — and to change his mind when he finds new information — also would help help him both in connecting with constituents and with serving as an effective county commissioner.
“I just think that probably the most important thing for me, for my platform, is to reconnect the people with the county,” he said.
“My lifelong connection with the county and the surrounding area, I think that’s a big deal and a benefit for me,” he added.