By Ross Markman
You can thank Havre Mayor Bob Rice for the new 3-inch-wide, yellow stripes marking the Atrium Mall parking lot on Third Street.
Or you could find him in the wrong.
Rice said today he volunteered to paint the stripes, primarily because Atrium owner Richard Hanson couldn't afford to. Hanson, who owns Western Drug Co. in the Atrium, couldn't be reached for comment today.
"The parking lot has been in need for a long time, and Mr. Hanson is trying," Rice said. "Unfortunately, I think he's struggling to make ends meet."
The lot, Rice added, is typically packed at lunchtime. Most of the cars, however, are not owned by Atrium customers, he said. They're owned by other area employers and their patrons.
"That's not an Atrium parking lot. It's kind of a community lot," Rice said. "I felt (striping it) was a good community service."
Debi Friede, Hill County Democratic Party chair, agreed that the mayor's effort was community-minded, but said today that she's investigating its legality.
"I was just looking into it. There are legalities that I'm questioning," Friede said. "I understand that Havre didn't pay for labor and parts, but city equipment was still used."
Rice said he reiumbursed the city for the $45 spent to stripe the lot. That included the time of two city employees and use of city equipment.
"I swept (the lot) over the weekend, but I did use the city striper guy," he said. "I paid the city of Havre, and some of this was volunteer time."
It's not the fact that Rice volunteered that has Friede concerned. It's the effects on other Havre businesses, like those who stripe parking lots for a living.
"It's not that I have a problem with helping out businesses. I'm just not sure where to draw the line. I'm sure IGA would like to have their lot done also," Friede said.
"Maybe there is a way of doing it. Maybe a business that needs help can go to the City Council," she added. "But you just can't do it that way. I see a lot of problems in it."
Garrett Edmonds, owner of Office Equipment Co. Inc. in the Atrium, disagreed.
"I appreciated the fact that he did this. It definitely helps the parking situation when people park more organized," Edmonds said. "Anytime you have a large parking lot that a lot of people use, it's better if it's striped."
The project was likely a onetime deal, Rice said, though he may take on others.
"I take it on a case by case basis. If I can do it on my time and it's justified, I'll do it," he said. "That particular lot was an eyesore. The people of Havre deserve to have a nice downtown."
One time Rice said was justified was May 27, when a 12-foot hole that didn't need to be dug started with the volunteer efforts of Havre's mayor.
Bob Rice and a city shop employee, who was also volunteering his time, were repairing a curb next to Dairy Queen when a jackhammer struck a curb box, a device formerly used to water the boulevards. Water spilled onto the street.
City shop workers thought they'd hit a water main and started digging a hole to reach it, Rice said. They were wrong and the problem was solved by mending a valve.
Rice said today that he volunteered to fix the curb after noticing Dairy Queen owner Kevin Hellegaard landscaping outside his business. Hellegaard was unavailable for comment today.
"I saw him fixing his corner up and I asked him if he was going to fix the curb," Rice said. "He said he was almost out of money. I said, Maybe we could work something out.'
"It's been the policy in the past that the city didn't get into curbs, but it really didn't cost the city anything."
The city employees who helped fix the water leak and repair the street were already on the clock as members of the holiday weekend crew.
"Those guys would be working anyway," Rice said.
Volunteering, Rice added, is something he does every day on Havre's streets.
"I work seven days a week," he said. "I get up at 6 to pick up the trash on the downtown streets every morning. I pick the weeds downtown."
Havre's mayor also said he's forfeited his $100 a month vehicle allowance, putting the money into the city's public works fund. Rice also said he donates the $50 he gets for each wedding he officiates as mayor. That money also goes to public works, he said.