A new mayor and one new City Council member brought some big changes to the way the Havre city government worked in 2010, which required some adjustments for those involved.
“To say that this has been a learning experience would be an understatement,” Janet Trethewey, the City Council’s newest member, said.
Trethewey went on to say that she was happy with what the council had accomplished in the past year, including the alcohol in parks ordinance and the medical marijuana moratorium, though she wished that the progress could have been made a bit faster.
Councilman Allen “Woody” Woodwick said City Hall’s new faces led to some unfocused activity
“A lot of people jumped in and started working,” Woodwick said. “In a lot of different directions.”
Councilman Andrew Brekke said that this year had been unlike any he had ever seen and agreed that the council and its discussions have been a little unfocused.
“It was a weird year,” Brekke said. “In the three years I have been on council, I can’t think of a year like this. This year has been so knee-jerk.
“We sort of just let all of the topics flow wherever they were going,” he continued.
One of the contributing factors to the “weirdness” of this year, Brekke said, was the difference in styles between current Mayor Tim Solomon and his predecessor, Bob Rice, who served as mayor for eight years.
Opinions vary on new mayor and his methods
Brekke described the new mayor as approachable, but wished he offered more.
“As a person, Tim is easy to talk to, but there’s not a lot coming back,” Brekke said. “With Mayor Bob, you knew his opinion. We want some guidance from the mayor, because we need his support. I know he has Havre’s best interest at heart, but his approach is just different.”
Solomon described his approach to City Hall as “low-key.”
“I guess I feel that most people don’t want the government to intervene until they need it,” Solomon said. “And I think our departments have done a good job. You can overdo it in government, and the more you overdo it, the costlier it gets.”
The mayor said that it took a while to get used to the position, but he quickly learned that his main job is to support the department heads, and they have noticed the difference.
Fire Chief Dave Sheppard said the transition was smooth without many big changes, though the style is different.
“I guess the biggest difference is that Mayor Rice was a little more hands-on and Mayor Solomon is a little different in that aspect,” Sheppard said.
Police Chief Jerry Nystrom, after some thought, went a little further in describing the changes he has seen.
“Bob Rice’s leadership style was heavily influenced by his military leadership experience,” Nystrom said. “He was much more direct and seemingly unwilling to debate an issue. Tim Solomon is more objective. The lines of communication are open with more willingness to listen to what you have to say.”
While Brekke may think that this debating and listening may do more to slow council procedure, Woodwick said that some parts of the city government have been working better than they have in years.
“The streets are a lot clearer,” Woodwick said. “I’ve been getting quite a few compliments, which I’ve passed on to city employees. I’ve seen the mayor out there in his truck, and he’s not waiting around for the press to take his picture.”
The city’s departments may have gone smoothly, but the council had more varied results.
City Council issues that have been attempted
City Council has addressed several issues this year.
Some were handled with the passage of an ordinance or a resolution.
Earlier this year, council passed an ordinance making it possible for people to request an exemption from the city’s ban on consuming alcohol in public parks.
Around the time this was passed, in the late spring or early summer, the Ordinance Committee began working on another ordinance to revise the city’s policy toward animals. That ordinance was passed last month. A resolution finalizing the fees associated with the new ordinance were just passed at the council meeting on Dec. 20.
Other issues were discussed by the council and committees throughout the year, but have yet to see final decisions.
This year started in the middle of the lengthy and ongoing annexation situation left over from 2009.
Any progress toward annexation was halted for a lawsuit.
The Annexation Committee, chaired earlier by Brekke, had its hands tied. So the committee was rechristened the Planning and Development Committee in order to address other issues, yet to be determined.
“We all thought we weren’t going to do anything,” Brekke said. “Then medical marijuana hit.”
According to Brekke, Havre was one of several communities that were caught off guard by medical marijuana.
Brekke said the mayor wanted the Planning and Development Committee to look at what the city could do about it. When the discussion got to the full council, it decided in May to put in place a six-month moratorium on medical marijuana, stopping new facilities from opening in Havre.
Just before the moratorium was set to expire in November, council voted to extend it another six months, until May 2011, after the state’s legislative session ends.
Another issue that saw a lot of discussion without action was the business license.
The business license has been talked about in Havre longer than most people can remember, coming up every few years or so.
This round was initiated to discuss the license as a means of controlling medical marijuana just before spring, though through the year council members were convinced of the necessity of the license for the city’s growth.
Havre’s business owners were not convinced.
After a lengthy Ordinance Committee meeting at the end of November, so well attended it was moved into the council chamber, the committee voted to table the discussion indefinitely to think about all of the concerns expressed by local business owners.
“In general, there were some missteps and miscommunications,” Trethewey said. “We didn’t mean to upset anyone. We did this because we sincerely think this is something we really need to take a look at.”
Next year: Return of issues and elections
Some of 2010’s issues will be appearing again in 2011. According to some government leaders, some of the issues would be better off not reappearing.
Medical marijuana will again be looked at, as the moratorium expires in May, though by that point the state Legislature will have cleared up some of the concerns. At least that is what the mayor and council members are hoping.
But it’s not the only situation waiting on 2011’s legislative session.
Sheppard said that the Legislature could have an effect on the fire department’s current contract negotiation with the city.
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen at the state level,” Sheppard said. “We’ll just wait and see what shakes out of this one.”
A state decision could also bring movement on the annexation front in the coming year.
Whether such a decision happens or not, most in the city government hope annexation makes some progress, including Woodwick.
“I would especially like to see the annexation move forward and see the city experience some positive growth,” Woodwick said.
Many council members agree that growth is imminent, and that a business license would be an important part of it, but now is not the time and 2010’s plan was not the right method of getting it.
“We are experiencing growth, and it is going to continue,” Woodwick said. “We need to get ready for it and deal with it. It is a fact of life.”
On the subject of how it was dealt with this year, Woodwick said, “We went back and forth about that. We should have either picked one clear choice or left it alone.”
Brekke said that the handling of the license this year had created a sense of hostility.
“The business community feels under attack,” Brekke said.
Trethewey said that the issue should wait to “let everybody cool down.”
Solomon said that he thought it would be best to not bring it up for at least a year.
As for new issues, Brekke said that the Ordinance Committee he chairs would begin looking at new policies about cell phone use while driving and possibly lifting the fireworks ban, at least seasonally.
Of course a big topic for the council this year will be the council election in November, when the council positions held by Brekke, Pam Hillery, Bob Kaul and Cal Long will be voted on.
Though registering for the election is still a few months away, some decisions are nearly made.
Kaul said this week that he would not be seeking re-election.
Hillery and Long haven't announced their plans.
Brekke is still thinking about whether to run or to focus on his job, both with Erickson Insurance and the Hill County Republican Party, though he said this week “at this point I am leaning strongly against.”
With quite a potential turnover, this council is entering the last 12 months it has to put to use all they’ve learned.