Study panel may back Class 2 city status
Last updated 7/29/2016 at 8:47pm
Mayor Tim Solomon may have some support in his his efforts to reclassify Havre as a Class 2 city.
Two of the three members of the Government Study Commission, which is reviewing the city's form of government, said they would back the proposal.
They spoke before a public hearing Thursday night at city hall that attracted three members of the general public and two reporters.
In addition to proposing a change in city government, the panel is charged with making recommendations covering the operations of city government
The panel is proposing that a city manager form of government replace the existing mayor-council system. That will be voted on by the public in the Nov. 8 election.
But the recommendations on the changes in the day-to-day operations are only ideas that will be submitted to City Council.
For instance, the commission may propose that the City Court office be open between 3 and 5 p.m. daily so people can access the court and pay fines. The commission has no authority to make that change, but it can make the recommendation.
The recommendations will not be voted on by the public.
Solomon’s proposal to make Havre a Class 2 city was unanimously rejected by City Council.
All cities with a population of 10,000 or more are Class 1 cities. Havre fell below that after the 2000 Census, and the city asked the state legislature to allow cities between 9,000 and 10,000 to choose which class they will be. State lawmakers approved the plan.
The population remained below 10,000 in the 2010 Census, and Solomon said there is no indication that it will increase much in the future.
Solomon said there are very few changes if the city were to drop to Class 2. But he said it might be easier to attract a city manager if the Havre is not competing with larger Class A cities that can afford higher wages.
Class B cities are allowed to have part-time or volunteer fire departments, and supporters of the fire department say they fear Solomon’s goal to scale back fire department operations.
Two commission members, Lowell Swenson and Chair Dave Brewer, said they supported the mayor’s proposal.
As the state’s largest Class 2 city, Havre might be in a better position to secure state and federal grants for city projects, Swenson said.
As the smallest Class 1 city, ”we’re at the bottom of the heap,” he said.
They will discuss the matter at the next meeting, 7 p.m. Wednesday at city hall’s meeting room.
Keep the mayor’s position
The commission voted 2-1 against Brewer’s idea to replace the mayor's position with a commission chair’s post.
The proposed charter calls for the mayor to be presiding officer of the City Commission, which will replace the City Council. The mayor would lose most of the authority to the city manager. But the mayor would still preside at meetings and play a ceremonial role, cutting ribbons and such. In all likelihood, they said, the mayor’s salary would be sharply reduced.
Brewer said there is confusion as to why the city needs both a mayor and a city manager and suggested changing the name to commission chair to avoid the confusion.
The other two members said they thought a mayor was needed, and the commission should plan an educational campaign to explain what that job involved.
If the city manager plan is approved by voters on Nov. 8, City Council would set the salary of the mayor, but Swenson said it was unlikely it would be much higher than those of the City Council members.
In speaking to Hill County Pachyderms two weeks ago, Brewer said he opposed putting the proposed street renovations program on the ballot this fall because it would be hard to convince voters to approve that and the manager plan. He said that 20 years ago, the city manager proposal and the proposed Hill County Detention Center were both on the ballot and both were rejected.
It turns out, he said, the city manager form of government was rejected that year, but the detention center was approved.
The detention center proposal had been rejected by voters twice before, but passed in 1996.
“I want to stand corrected,” Brewer said.
The commission will next meet on Wednesday at the city hall meeting room.