Mayor candidates face off
October 9, 2009
Alice Campbell Havre Daily News [email protected]
While there were subtle differences between mayoral candidates Bob Rice and Tim Solomon while they answered questions during a forum Thursday evening, both agreed that the major difference between them is their leadership philosophy. Rice, an incumbent Republican, said he gets involved because, if there's an issue, "the buck stops at my desk." He gave the example of a woman who said she had spoken with several people without getting a garbage can that she needed, and so he made sure that she received one, with wheels, as she requested. He didn't know if Solomon planned to manage "by maybe neglect, I don't know," but he said that he works all week long to make sure that things get done. "He does get involved in his departments," Solomon, the Democratic challenger, said. But Solomon said he would have fixed the problem by going to the department heads to find out why it became such a problem. "I would put the buck back where it belongs, so they learn, and go on from there," he said. The difference also was highlighted with the candidates' responses to several other questions. The most promising opportunity in the community is the employees, Solomon said, adding that the city should "so what we can to keep and maintain them." That means that department heads should be given the freedom to do their jobs. In Rice's opinion, "It's our way of life" and the area organizations and entities that come together to keep it going, he said. He used the cliche, "It's the people; it's Havre." When asked what each planned to do to reduce the turnover at the police department, Rice said, "Actually, I think I've done that." He praised police Chief Jerry Nystrom for his work in the department. There are only a few veterans left in the department, but no one has been fired, Rice said, adding that's he's pleased with the operation. Acknowledging that turnover has slowed, Solomon said experience on the force is needed. Promotions within the department and a chief that encourages officers and other employees would help keep people on the force. "And let him do his job and stay out of his way," he added. Both candidates agreed that maintenance of properties is an issue in the city. Rice said he has held town hall meetings to address the issue, especially concerning eastern side of town, and spends time with the city crews cleaning properties that don't follow the ordinance. He's looking into a permit system, through which the city would be required to inspect buildings before renters moved in to ensure that property owners maintain rentals. Solomon agreed that landlords need to maintain properties, but added that the problem is citywide, not just in the east end. "I think we need to enforce a little bit more" throughout the city, he said, to start a chain reaction. When asked about street maintenance, Rice and Solomon said that they think the city does well with what resources they have. A recently purchased pothole fixing machine is "out there almost every day in the summer and into late fall," Rice said, adding that the never-ending nature of the issue and the impact of weather make fixing the issue difficult. "But I do the best I can with what I have." The truck is a good investment, Solomon said. If people have concerns, they should call the public works department to let someone know what area needs to be fixed. Overall, "I think the department's doing very well with the resources they have." The city can't raise taxes to improve infrastructure, Rice said, and a previous proposal for SID funding for projects didn't go over very well. If something is not done, it will be too expensive to live in Havre, Rice said, adding that looking at outside funding, like grants and additional stimulus funding can help. Looking outside the city at grants and stimulus dollars is what needs to be done, Solomon concurred. The mayor needs to be cultivating relationships at the state and federal level to know what's available and apply for it. Both praised work done by Bear Paw Development in writing and securing grants for the city. The pool funding and lawsuit that has resulted from a contract dispute between the city and the Hill County Commission should be decided by the courts, Rice said. "I think we're going to let the courts decide," he said, adding that he's "confident (the decision) will be in favor of Havre." To cut down costs of operation, Rice said, he's looking into grant funding to place solar panels on the pool building roof to lower the electrical costs. The "contract hasn't been followed," Solomon said, but it should have been scrapped and renegotiated instead of having a third party make a decision "that maybe none of us agree with." He stressed that he gives 100 percent to any job he's doing, and that his decisions wouldn't be affected by the fact that he's a county employee as manager of the Great Northern Fair. A state law is in place that limits the amount of time a trailer or vehicle can be parked on a public street, and Solomon said that it should be followed, instead of putting more ordinances on the books. It's an issue that repeatedly comes up, Rice said, and it's a difficult ordinance to enforce, although Nystrom and he give warnings and citations. The ordinance is "sometimes impossible to enforce," Rice said, because people can move a trailer a short distance after receiving a warning and be in accordance with the law. Economic development was a big topic during the forum, with both candidates saying there's a need for more development. An increase in the local push for the 4 for 2 highway project would help increase traffic from the east and up to Canada, Solomon said. "I think it's critical ... ," he said. In conjunction with an expanded U.S. Highway 2, a 24-hour port at the Port of Wild Horse also would increase the traffic flow through Havre, he said. While that's being worked on now, "I think we need to continue with that and work a little bit harder," he said. A long-range plan is needed with annexation so that businesses are not surprised with tax increases when brought into the city, Solomon added. As mayor, "that's your job, to create an environment where businesses want to come into town," Rice said. He's working on several possibilities including expanding the hours at the Port of Wild Horse to 24 hours. He also announced that Quantum 5 LLC owner the company first proposed a subdivision and hotel complex east of town in the mid-1990s the project has yet to materialize has offered to donate 20 acres east of town for a multi-purpose area. But plans are already being worked on for a similar area at the Great Northern Fairgrounds, Solomon said. Rice said he has been working for six years on expanding the hours at the Port of Wild Horse, adding that $15.7 million in funding from the federal government for improvements would be spent with the understanding that the port would become open for 24 hours. The expanded hours currently in place have increased traffic "exponentially," he said. "I'm hoping that the numbers dictate we have a 24-hour port," he said. The project will be "little steps at a time," Solomon said. "Any extended hours help," he said, adding that the goal eventually is to keep it open 24 hours. To help increase public input in government and include residents who might feel disenfranchised, Solomon said people in government need to be available to residents, and encourage comments. Also, comments should be taken during City Council meetings before action is taken on items instead of only at the end of a meeting, after actions have already been taken, he said. "I think we try to do that on a regular basis," Rice said, adding that he personally sends invitations to residents that might be particularly interested in an issue before council meetings. The candidates voiced their openness to several other issues, including the creation of a dog park in Havre, hiring an additional clerk for City Court and funding the bus system until it can sustain itself. Neither said they were particularly interested in instituting a dress code for City Council members for meetings. Rice said that is a council decision. The council members are professional enough to handle it on their own, Solomon said. In closing, Rice, after clarifying that he does pay taxes on several properties in Havre, said, "I will continue to get the job done." In fact, council member Andrew Brekke handed out a Top 20 list of completed projects during Rice's eight years in office along with a letter during the forum. If people have had enough of him, "then that's up to you," Rice said. "We'll work as a team, and we'll get it done," Rice added. "I do like to get things done," Solomon said, adding that he would consider consolidating some services for efficiency, like the establishing a long-term home for the 9-1-1 call center. Instead of building new facilities and new programs, Solomon said, he's interested in improving what's in place.