Second in the new Havre town halls set for Tuesday
Last updated 2/21/2022 at 10:56am
Havre City Council will be holding its second monthly town hall Tuesday at 7 p.m. at City Hall, where Havre Public Works Director Dave Peterson will talk about his department’s activities and the state of Havre’s roads as well as its water and sewer systems.
Havre Mayor Doug Kaercher said Peterson will be providing an overview of his department’s work, their successes, their struggles and where he thinks the city is headed, which will hopefully give the public a better idea of what’s going on in Havre right now.
Kaercher said town halls like this provide the public and the council a chance to talk about community issues in a less formal setting than official city council meetings, which he said can be a bit restrictive.
“We’ve felt over the years that the city council meetings had become pretty formal and people were a little intimidated by it,” he said. “So we thought if we did these town halls, you know, a little more casual, a little less structured, maybe that would be a better venue for people to voice their concerns and opinions.”
The first of these meetings was held in January and lasted about 90 minutes, which is about how long he’s aiming for them to be, as people tend to get worn out if they last longer.
He said he thinks the meeting went very well and everyone conducted themselves respectfully, which allowed the meeting to proceed smoothly.
“I was really pleased,” he said. “I mean I was expecting a few more people than showed up, but those that did came ready to talk about some issues.”
Kaercher said there were around 10 members of the public in attendance and he’s always hoping for more engagement.
“This is citizen government and we want as much participation as we can get,” he said.
Despite the issue of attendance, he said, one thing he was impressed by was the variety of subjects that were discussed, including the state of Havre’s streets, the deer population, the possibility of hiring a city manager, Amtrak’s future on the Hi-Line, Human Resource and Development Council no longer administering Section 8 Housing, creating more community trails and increasing support for the Havre Industrial Park.
Some of these subjects will be the focus of future town halls, especially the city manager position and its potential benefits, and the deer issue, which he said is something the city government has been having trouble dealing with.
“I’m not sure we have a great answer for that, but we certainly want to discuss it,” he said.
Kaercher said he’s hoping to have each town hall focus on one overarching issue that the majority of time will be spent on, but the council is interested in hearing about any community issue people are concerned about.
While there are a lot of issues he’d like to see talked about at these town halls, one that’s probably not going to come up in the near future is the potential reclassification of Havre from a class one to a class two city.
Some members of the Havre City Council have advocated for reclassifying the city from class one to class two in an effort to become more competitive when it comes to grant applications, but many objected to this potential change, saying it opens the door to having the city’s fire department downsized or restructured.
Advocates of the change said they have no intention of altering the structure of the fire department, and that their only concern is grant money, but after intense public backlash, including many questioning whether becoming class two would make any difference in regards to grants, the council voted against the reclassification in December of last year.
Kaercher said it’s pretty unlikely that this issue will be discussed in town halls anytime in the near future.
He said he’s hoping that as discussions on issues evolve they will reach a point where he can call experts in to discuss the matter with the public and the council.
“When we encounter an issue that we really want to zero in on we can bring in those experts who know a lot more than I do, or a lot more than the council does,” he said.
He also said he hopes these meetings will provide an opportunity for the council to explain what’s going on in city government and why they’re doing things the way that they are and see if the public has ideas for how things can be done differently.
“We don’t necessarily have all the answers,” he said.
Despite the less formalized nature of these town halls, Kaercher said, there are still some rules. He said there’s no three-minute time limit like there is during public comments at town halls, as they want to give people the chance to provide as much information as they need, but he doesn’t want any one person completely dominating a town hall so there are some limits on how long a person can go on for.
He also said while the council is interested in hearing about a variety of community issues, they don’t want people to bring personal issues to the meetings, like conflicts over property lines and things like that.
Kaercher said he’s hoping these town halls will become an integral part of how city government engages with the public, and as long as people are attending they will keep holding them.