By Tim Eberly
Gov. Judy Martz abandoned an obstinate microphone and raised her voice so those in attendance could hear. Then she made her objective for the day overwhelmingly clear.
Martz, accompanied by cabinet members and other state agency and elected officials, was hosting her fourth "Capital For a Day," starting the morning with a introduction of her entourage to the public at the Duck Inn's Olympic ballroom. Open communication is her goal, she said.
"We've put together a good panel that will be able to answer a lot of the questions that have caused dissension in this community," Martz said about an afternoon meeting regarding the widening of U.S. Highway 2.
Introduced by Havre Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Debbie Vandeberg, Martz first asked Mayor Phyllis Leonard up to the podium to accept the official proclamation deeming Havre the state captial. While she had Leonard's ear, Martz also wished Leonard well in retirement. "I know the community will miss your work on the frontlines," said Martz, who flew up to the Hi-Line this morning with Senate President Tom Beck, R-Deer Lodge, while her cabinet commuted by charter bus.
Instead of holding a formal discussion, Martz created a casual atmosphere by urging the roughly 35 audience members to ask questions or discuss issues with any of the department heads over coffee and pastries.
White balloons with the phrase, "Havre...It's the people," emblazoned on them floated over the stairway leading up to the ballroom. A large white sign declaring Havre the temporary capital stood over Martz's right shoulder.
"I think that it should have been done a long time ago," Leonard, a Democrat, said outside as she was leaving. "Down at Helena, we're treated like we're out in the sticks here. It's about time somebody recognized that Havre needs a little recognition from the state of Montana."
Very few concerned Havre citizens attended the opening ceremony for the day's activities. Most of those in attendance were local department heads, like Leonard, Police Chief Kevin Olson, Superintendent of Schools Kirk Miller, and members of the Democratic and Republican central committees.
"I think (Havre residents) had the wrong idea," Leonard said. "I think it was misinterpreted. They thought it was for businesses and people who are active in politics."
Tom Bolan, executive director of the local Human Resources Development Council, hovered near the stairs in conversation before introducing himself to Gary Feland, chairman of the Montana Public Service Commission. "I came here just to be a part of it," Bolan said. "I look forward to talking to Gary. It's a great way of networking. I've never had the opportunity to meet him before."
Michael Barts, an employee with Sweet Grass Anesthesia PC, moved around some of the 10 round lunch tables to deliver salutations to Lt. Gov. Karl Ohs.
"I introduced myself to the lieutenant governor and gave him a warm hello from an old friend of his," said Barts, who held off on talking shop. "We've got some issues but we're going to have our main meeting with the governor (Thursday) in Butte."
Bill Slaughter, director of the Department of Corrections, attended previous "Capital For a Day" ceremonies in Laurel and Hamilton in recent months. Slaughter, a former sheriff in Gallatin County, visits the probation/parole office in each town and talks to people at different venues. "I get the opportunity to work with some victims that probably wouldn't have picked up the phone if I was in Helena," Slaughter said. "It also gives me a chance to spend more time with staff members."
Later in the day, Martz and others were to field questions and concerns regarding the proposed widening of U.S. Highway 2 during another public meeting at the Duck Inn. That was set for 1:30 p.m.
"Montana is such a diverse state, and (residents) need to understand the impacts of the decisions we make in Helena at every level and in every community," Martz said in a press release on Nov. 8.
Since September, Martz has hosted "Capital For a Day" events in three other venues, Laurel, Hamilton and Sidney. Much like Hi-Line citizens' concern surrounding the highway widening project, Laurel residents sought answers from Martz and her panel about the town's lack of water flow.
Prior to her arrival, Martz expressed her enthusiasm about visiting the Hi-Line.
"We are excited about traveling to Havre to address local ideas, issues and concerns," Martz said. "We have an opportunity in this state to bring government to individual communities. This not only helps Havre residents, but it also helps us to remember the needs of Montanans making a living at the local level."
Martz rejuvenated the Capital for a Day program after Gov. Marc Racicot abandoned the practice while he was in office. Two previous governors, Ted Schwinden and Stan Stephens, both made similar outings during their respective terms.