Just after filing to run for another term on Havre City Council, 15 minutes before the deadline, incumbent Democrat Bob Kaul chatted with the race’s other incumbent, Republican Andrew Brekke.
Brekke was sitting in the Hill County Clerk and Recorder’s Office Thursday to see if anyone would file at the last minute for the sparse race. Kaul talked to Brekke about the pros and cons of running again.
“It’s a thankless job, ” Kaul said. “We both know that. ”
The position appears so thankless that in three quarters of the city’s wards only one candidate from either party thought it might be worth it, Democrat Bonnie Parenteau in Ward 1 and Republican Brian Barrows in Ward 2.
The other race, between Kaul and Rick Dow in Ward 3, still only had one filing from each party, meaning there will be no early autumn primary like in years past.
After Kaul left, Brekke, who is also the chair of the Hill County Republican Party, said that his party had a difficult time finding people who wanted to run for City Council.
Among the reasons he thought it was so hard was that people didn’t want to get involved in controversies, either from the council’s actions themselves or just from being a part of partisan politics.
Brekke feels that having the council seats affiliated with political parties is a mistake and one with no real purpose.
The main reason, however, that Brekke said that people didn’t want to run was the time commitment.
He said he probably spends 15 to 20 hours a month on council-related activities but said that was because of his involvement in many of the council’s committees. Most council members could probably expect to spend 10 to 15 hours a month, he said, which people don’t feel is worth the $200-a-month the members are paid.
John Musgrove, chair of the Hill County Democratic Party, experienced the same difficulty and attributed it mostly to the same causes.
“It is a strong commitment, and you do sacrifice from other things you have to be on the council, ” Musgrove said. “I know that anybody, regardless of party affiliation, is of service to their constituents. It is a time commitment and a commitment to serving others. And if you get yelled at and insulted in the process, it makes it that much more difficult. ”
Musgrove said the harsh climate of political discourse today was another reason that people didn’t want to get involved in local politics.
“Partly, there’s a tenor that has crept into local politics that is difficult to deal with in my estimation, ” Musgrove said, “the unbridled anger invoked when anyone tries to do anything one way or the other. When you go to the meetings and the tenor of those meetings is that they’re just shouting matches and that sort of thing, the anger that comes out when people feel they aren’t being represented as they should be.
“I am bothered by that a little bit because those are public meetings and the people that serve on those councils spend a lot of time finding the information and they try and give that information. ”
He said that discussion has become so polarized that people don’t feel satisfied in being right, that they have to humiliate the other view point. Musgrove, last Friday, lamented the loss of a middle ground.
“We can’t afford that, ” Musgrove said. “We can’t treat people the way we are treating them.
“And that is one of the reasons that it’s so hard to find candidates. ”
Pam Hillery is on the council but leaving after this term because of a new position she has taken at Montana State University-Northern that doesn’t allow her to continue to serve.
She said that even if this position had not prevented her, she may not have run anyway.
For her, it was not so much the loss of time as the loss of privacy that was so taxing.
“Wherever I go, people want to stop and talk about the city or the streets, ” Hillery said. “Our phone numbers are listed. People will call you up and tell you what they think.
“To always have to be on is hard. ”
She, as a member of the Democratic Party, was involved in recruiting the next batch of council members. Despite the challenges that await a council member, Hillery said that the position is important and hoped that people would realize the necessity.
“You take the good with the bad, ” Hillery said. “I wish people understood that serving your community is very important. ”