By Tim Leeds
Two educators are going head to head in the race for the Havre City Council seat representing Ward 1.
Democratic candidate Dana West is an elementary counselor for the Havre Public Schools and formerly a U.S. government teacher at Havre High. Republican candidate Cameron Worstell is a business owner and associate professor at Montana State University-Northern.
Both candidates have had a strong interest in local politics and have similar views about some issues facing Havre.
Worstell said he decided this year was the year to run for election.
"It just seemed to kind of fit my life at this point and time," Worstell said. "I anticipate having some additional time in the near future."
Worstell, who has taught metals technology since 1965 at Northern Montana College, now MSU-Northern, said he is retiring this spring.
A Big Sandy native who was raised in Great Falls, Worstell said his interest in Havre politics began when he helped his future father-in-law, James Davey, run for re-election as mayor of Havre more than 40 years ago. Worstell met Ruby Davey when he was attending Northern Montana College, and married her shortly after that campaign.
West, a native of Freud, has worked in the Havre Public Schools with her husband, Mark West, for 13 years.
She was appointed to fill Bob Bergren's position on the Havre City Council when he moved out of the ward and served from 1996-97. She said she used that experience to help teach her government class.
"The textbook is mostly about federal government. That level of government doesn't really touch that many students," she said.
She said her experience qualifies her for the council position.
"Mainly the years I've spent teaching government and my time on the council," she said. "I guess that's a lot of background to bring to the government of the city."
Worstell said he brings his business experience, work ethic and an ability to communicate.
Since he decided to run for City Council a few months ago, he said, he has attended almost all of the council meetings, and most committee meetings.
"I feel I'm pretty well-informed about the work going on," he said.
Worstell and West agree that the people of Havre need more information about what the city government is discussing.
The council needs to open communication with the people in Havre, Worstell said. "As I've gone door to door talking to the residents of Ward 1, that issue seems to surface as frequently as any."
One concern people in Ward 1 have told Worstell about is that there seems to be very little debate or discussion of the issues at the council meetings. Since he began attending the meetings, Worstell has learned more about how the process works that most of the discussion happens at the council's committee meetings before an issue is raised at the main meeting, he said.
But, Worstell added, the committee meetings are often not well-publicized, and some are spur-of-the-moment meetings. It's hard for people to know when to go to hear the issues, he said.
The council could see that meetings and agendas are posted well in advance, in at least two locations, Worstell said, and agendas should be more detailed.
One improvement for communications could be for the mayor to hold frequent meetings with the media and public to discuss issues, Worstell said. He added that erecting a quality sign by City Hall to post ongoing city affairs and announcements would be a good idea.
West thinks a major improvement for the city government would be putting more information online. She said for example that having all city ordinances available online would be an improvement, and the city needs to have a Web site.
"A Web site would be so helpful for people," she said. The site could list council and committee meeting times and agendas, information about projects the city is working on, and more.
West said online information could help people know more about when issues are going to be discussed in committee, agreeing with Worstell that that is where the debate occurs.
"The realities of all levels of government is you have to do it in commitee or the council meetings would be eight hours long," she said. "It's really in the committees where you have the input."
The biggest issue Worstell sees facing Havre is its declining population. His first suggestion is to help Northern increase its enrollment. Bringing 50 to 100 new students to town also brings their friends and families and money, Worstell said.
The city should support the existing economic interests, Worstell said.
"It still boils down to the basic six or seven industries that make up our economy, and we mustn't forget about supporting those people," he said.
One way Worstell sees to improve economic development is to increase the partnership between the city and the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce and Bear Paw Development Corp. He encourages the mayor and council members to join the chamber, and suggested having members from each group sit on each other's boards to improve communication and the partnership between them.
West agreed that more work should be done to partner the city with the chamber and Bear Paw Development. She said she could work well with the organizations and their staffers.
More should be done to make people aware of the services available through Bear Paw Development, she said. The corporation can do a lot through finding funding sources and holding seminars to improve the economy, she added.
West's primary concern for Havre, especially with the recent terrorist attacks, is safety. Having safe streets and neighborhoods should be the top priority, she said.
She also urged that Havre look for ideas from other cities. She listed as an example a program in Missoula providing a place to drop off waste that can't be put into the trash. Providing a place to take used auto oil, batteries and toxic waste would be a great service, she said, adding that she realizes that new programs depend on what money is available in the city budget.
West is concerned about the budget, and economic development, because of what she's seen as a shifting of tax burdens, and wants bipartisan work to prevent increased taxation. If the state government fixes or reduces taxation in the part of Montana west of the Continental Divide, she said, it means the taxpayers east of the divide have to make up any difference.
West said the biggest help to the council is the constituents.
"The saying, Havre it's the people,' that's really it," she said.
Whenever the council had to deal with a difficult decision while she was serving on it, West said, she would go around the ward and ask people what they thought.
"There's usually wisdom in what you hear if you get a majority opinion," she said.