By Tim Eberly
During the mayoral candidate's forum at the Holiday Village Shopping Center on Tuesday night, Bob Rice and Mike Shortell brought familiar weapons to the table.
Rice, the Republican candidate making his second attempt at mayor, wielded his eagerness to benefit Havre youth, occasional humor and his availability to the public to try to sway the approximately 50 people in the audience at the shopping center's community room. Democrat Shortell, the retired Havre police chief, emphasized his knowledge of local government when he answered the dozen questions fielded by each of the candidates.
Sponsored by the Havre Daily News and the Business and Professional Women's Association, the forum will be the last public appearance including both candidates before Tuesday's city election.
Provided three-minute opening and closing statements, as well as a three-minute response period for each question, the candidates also had the option of a one-minute rebuttal after their opponent answered each question during the hour and a half debate.
In his opening statement, Shortell touched on his three most important topics economic development, restoration of downtown Havre and improving the quality of life while Rice gave the audience a brief synopsis of his career background, volunteer work and family.
Students from Havre High submitted the first three questions. One of them regarded the zero-tolerance stance on drug use and underage drinking, which both candidates supported. Another question from the students opened the door for Rice to discuss his plans for the construction of a skateboard park.
"My word is good as gold," said Rice, who has assumed a leadership role recently on behalf of building a park. "I will build a skateboard park for them. I fully intend to follow through on my promise. I've been involved in every youth organization in Havre. I don't think there is anybody that loves Havre youth more than I do."
Shortell said he supported the idea for a skateboard park but also discussed the hurdles of liability, maintainance and funding surrounding the issue. He also said he would like to see more of a show of public support for the park, adding that "until that particular thing happens, no skateboard park."
A question regarding the continuation of the relationship between the city and Bear Paw Development Corp. drew very different responses from the candidates. Rice, a former U.S. Navy officer, answered, "Maybe." He said a local businesswoman told him she'd been mistreated by Bear Paw Development. "She thinks that Bear Paw Development is a hoax," Rice said. "She thought that Bear Paw Development did very little to help her stay in business, and everything they could to help her out of business. ...One lady told me she had her car repossessed by Bear Paw Development with her personal belongings in the car."
Shortell said, "Bear Paw Development has been around since 1968, and that is the vehicle by which many projects in this community have been completed. Bear Paw Development is a critical area and I think it is something that I certainly engender and keep as a priority as far as the city of Havre."
Shortell did not mince words in response to a question about the lack of communication between the City Council and the public. "Excuse me if I sound brash, but come to the City Council meetings," he said. "Coming to City Council meetings and getting involved in the city government is probably the best way to get information."
Rice reiterated his own willingness to communicate with the public. "I would have an open-door policy," he said. "As your mayor, I would be accessible to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year."
Rice also proposed a quarterly town meeting between Havre residents and the mayor, as well as the publication of the minutes of the City Council meetings.
On separate questions, Shortell and Rice both agreed on the need to improve the appearance of Havre. Shortell expressed his disgust with the condition of city streets. "The city streets and roads in this town are abominable," he said. "Cold-patching is done on a regular basis but certainly there needs to be a program."
Later in the program, Rice mirrored Shortell's previous emotion when he answered a question regarding the removal of weeds, litter and abandoned vehicles.
"Anybody who knows me knows how I feel about the appearance of Havre," Rice said. "It drives me crazy; I drive down Main Street and I see weeds. Cleanliness is next to Godliness. I believe a clean city attracts people."
With respect to an inquiry about the economic development of Havre, Rice said it was essential to "get everybody on the same page, and get everybody to stop pointing fingers at each other. It baffles me as to how we can be so partisan, especially with what's going on."
Conversely, Shortell said many of Havre's main entities the Chamber of Commerce, the school district, the county and city government, the hospital and the railroad are already on the same page. "Basically, the city is in very close communication with all of those entities on a weekly or monthly basis.