The race for Havres next mayor
By Tim Eberly
Mike Shortell's curiousity with law enforcement was piqued in 1964, during his senior year at Havre High.
It started at a job fair, where the 17-year-old Shortell signed up for a ride-along with the Havre Police Department. Shortly after the fair, he made good on his promise to ride shotgun with Havre's finest.
Even today, Shortell remembers portions of that journey, included an investigation into a burglary call. Surveying the peace officer at work, Shortell was a wide-eyed teenager but never considered manufacturing a 32-year career of it.
"It was a pretty exciting," Shortell said of his first impression. "It was a different kind of career. But I didn't give it too much thought. It was just more of an interesting experience."
Thirty-seven years later, Shortell, 55, is newly retired from a decorated career with the police, hoping to stall his twilight years by winning the mayoral election on Nov. 6.
Circumstances behind Shortell's introduction to the police force were largely coincidence. He was discharged from the Army on Aug. 12, 1967, the same day he married his fiancee, Shirley, in Alabama. Though she did not attend her commencement ceremony, Shirley also graduated from Troy State University that summer day. "It was kind of a busy day," Shirley Shortell aid. "Those are three big things to happen in one day."
Soon after, the newlyweds moved to Missoula. Planning on obtaining a history degree from the University of Montana, Mike Shortell flirted with dreams of attending law school. But after a weekend trip to Havre in June 1968 to visit friends, Shortell picked up more than a souvenier; he got a job.
Some friends mentioned there was an opening with the Havre Police Department, and, on a whim, Shortell applied. A week later, Havre police offered Shortell the job, and he accepted.
"It was the best decision I ever made," said Shortell. "I really enjoyed the work and found out I was well-suited for it."
Tailored is more like it. Five years after joining the force, Shortell earned a promotion to senior patrolman. In 1977, following three years as a senior patrolman, Shortell became a sergeant. One decade later, then-Mayor Don Driscoll appointed Shortell the chief of police, a position he held for 13 years before retiring on Sept. 1, 2000.
"In my career, I've worked for three different chiefs of police, said Police Chief Kevin Olson, Shortell's successor, "and Mike has been one of the finest. He was very progressive in his thinking and he has kept Havre on the forefront."
In 1987, Shortell was instrumental in the creation of the Tri-Agency Drug Task Force. He also won the Commissioner's Award a national annual honor bestowed on one person in each state in 1991 for his outstanding leadership and service in the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Appointed by then-Gov. Stan Stephens, Shortell served on the Montana Board of Crime Control for a decade.
The same year he earned his private pilot's license, while he was still a patrol officer in 1974, Shortell tied up some loose ends he went to college at Montana State University-Northern. In three years, he had an associate's degree in the history of social sciences.
Rides on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle Shortell's retirement gift for himself and hobbies like golfing, woodworking and car restoration have burned many hours since his retirement, just not enough. Even while he headed the Police Department, Shortell ruminated about a second career in the political arena.
"I thought about running for political office for years," said Shortell, a Vietnam veteren. "I never did get involved in politics when I was with the police because I felt officers should be (nonpartisan)."
Now relieved of his status as a public figure, Shortell is free to pursue other interests. He would never have run against Mayor Phyllis Leonard, whom he showers with praise, had she chosen to chase a second term. "I have a lot of admiration and respect with Phyllis," Shortell said. "She's taken a lot of criticism and a lot of heat, but overall I think she did an outstanding job."
So when Leonard pulled him aside before he retired and told him she wasn't running for re-election, Shortell interpreted it as the passing of the baton.
"I think she was encouraging me to run because she knew I wouldn't run against her," Shortell said.
Leonard acknowledged those were her intentions, and she is pleased Shortell threw his hat in the ring. "He knows how the city government budgets work," Leonard said. "I think that would be a pretty big shock by someone coming in not familiar with it. A lot of people don't understand that and they think they can do whatever they want to do."
If elected, Shortell intends to ensure that the police and fire departments will be directly proportional to the population size. And he is a supporter of the 4 for 2 project, but has more immediate concerns. "I support it, but it shouldn't be the number one thing that the salvation of the Hi-Line depends on," Shortell said. "We need things that are going to help us right now, too."
For instance, Shortell noted, the water plant upgrades should be a high priority, along with Havre's ecomonic development. The resurgance of the walking trail would make Havre more attractive to tourists, Shortell said, and a 5,000-seat stadium would bring sports tournaments and entertainment. "I think that would be a tremendous economic benefit to the community in the long run," said Shortell, who also defends the development of a motorcross track east of Havre. "These mud runs and tractor runs bring people from across the state."
Losing the election would be disappointing, but it would give Shortell more time on the seat of his 2000 Road King.
"I haven't had much time to ride this summer because I've been campaigning," he said.
But if the votes do not tip in his favor, "I'll just have to stay retired. I probably won't do too much different that what I'm doing now."