On the record: Mayoral candidates lay out their views

Mayor

Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

Six candidates are actively campaigning to lead the city of Billings as mayor for the next four years.

The crowded mayoral race in Billings will be pared to just two candidates in the Sept. 12 primary election. Seven candidates filed to run for the position being vacated by Tom Hanel, who will be stepping down after two consecutive terms, the maximum allowed by the City Charter.

One of the candidates, Paul Bledsoe, announced later that he was withdrawing from the race, though his name still appears on the ballot. The six remaining candidates have been taking part in a campaign that has drawn unusually intense interest, with no lack of forums and other public appearances.

Ballots were mailed out Aug. 25 for the primary election. For this mail-in-only election, all ballots must be mailed back to or brought into the Yellowstone County Elections Department by 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 12. The two top vote-getters in the mayor’s race and in five City Council wards will advance to the General Election on Nov. 7.

Last Best News asked all mayoral candidates to respond to a written questionnaire, which featured 10 questions suggested by former council members, mayors and community leaders. For the mayor’s race only, each candidate was also asked one bonus question specific to his or her campaign.

The mayoral candidates were asked to answer as many of the questions as they wished to, but to limit their total response to 1,100 words. First, a look at the candidates:

Angela Cimmino

Angela Cimmino

Angela Cimmino 57

Occupation: Retired.
Political Experience: Billings City Council, eight years; deputy mayor pro tem, two years; City Zoning Commission, eight years; Yellowstone Historic Preservation, 7.5 years; Heights Community Development Task Force, 17 years; public service/local government volunteer, 34 years.
Name your three favorite books, or those that influenced you most deeply: The Classics

Danny Sandefur

Danny Sandefur

Danny Sandefur, 45

Occupation: Realtor and small-business owner.
Political experience: Running for mayor.
Name your three favorite books, or those that influenced you most deeply: “Awaken the Giant Within” by Tony Robbins, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey and “The Art of Thinking Clearly” by Rolf Dobelli.

 

 

Danielle Egnew

Danielle Egnew

Danielle Egnew, 48

Occupation: Spiritual adviser.
Political experience: Grassroots organizing on national and state levels.
Name your three favorite books, or those that influenced you most deeply: “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis, “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz and “All You Need To Know About the Music Business” by Donald Passman.

 

Bill Cole

Bill Cole

Bill Cole, 57

Occupation: Attorney.
Political experience: None.
Name your three favorite books, or those that influenced you most deeply: “The Life of Yellowstone Kelly” by Jerry Keenan, The Bible and “The Sibley Guide to the Birds of North America.”

 

 

Randy Hafer

Randy Hafer

Randy Hafer, 63

Occupation: Architect, developer, small-business owner.
Political experience: Downtown Business Improvement District board, Downtown Billings Partnership board, Downtown Billings Alliance Executive Committee, and numerous other local and national boards.
Name your three favorite books, or those that influenced you most deeply: “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig, “The Integral Urban House” by Bill Olkowski, Olga Olkowski and Sim Vander Ryn and “The Long Emergency” by James Howard Kuntzler.

Jeff Essmann

Jeff Essmann

Jeff Essmann, 65

Occupation: Small business owner and developer/manager of commercial properties.
Political experience: I served on the Yellowstone County Planning board from 1999 to 2003 when I was involved in developing the West End Growth Policy to guide development of the area west of Shiloh Road. I was appointed to serve in the Montana Senate for Senate District 28 on New Year’s Eve in 2004. I was elected to the Montana Senate for two terms in 2006 and 2010, and was elected to the Montana House in 2014 and 2016. I was elected by my peers to serve as Senate majority leader in 2011 and Senate president in 2013 and served as committee chairman of five different committees during my seven sessions of service.
Name your three favorite books, or those that influenced you most deeply: “Prosser on Torts,” “The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism” by Daniel Bell and “Luther’s Small Catechism.”

Questions and answers

1. If elected, what scares you most about serving on the council?

Essmann: With my 12 plus years of legislative service, including acting as chairman of numerous committees, I am not scared about any of the duties or responsibilities of serving on the Council. I look forward to a new challenge.

Sandefur: I aim to please and sometimes I feel like I need to make everyone happy. I know full well that being mayor half the people will like me and half the people will dislike my decisions.

Cole: The council is tasked with divining the will of a majority of city residents. I am not afraid to advocate for a controversial position if I think most residents support it. However, because the city does not conduct scientific polling or have other means to dependably determine constituent opinions, council members have to rely on their own research, city staff, and input they get from interested community members. Given these limited resources, my greatest concern is that I might make an important decision that, with the aid of 20-20 hindsight, later turns out to be clearly inconsistent with the desire of a majority of city residents.

Egnew: If elected, my greatest excitement about serving on the City Council is tying together all the amazing people in both city administration and private sectors who have brought me their fantastic ideas, or have gotten excited about ideas I have brought forward. My greatest fear about serving on the City Council is that people will not trust themselves and others enough to allow their ingenuity and creativity to lead their decision-making, thus this fear-consciousness becoming shackles around progress. This, however, would be my job as mayor – to advocate for synergy through creativity rather than stagnation through polarization.

Hafer: Nothing.  I have thought about this most of my adult life.  I am excited for the opportunity!

Cimmino: As mayor, I will maintain an open-door policy with confidence.

2. There are some 400,000-plus square feet of vacant commercial space becoming available in downtown Billings. What are your plans for solving the vacant retail and commercial space problem?

Egnew: With the 400,000+ square feet available space in downtown Billings, we are in dire need of a community arts center, as advocated for earlier in the year, where artists, writers and even performers could participate in shows, or co-opt rental spaces for artist studios in which to paint, or sculpt. Our TIF program is a wonderful resource. I would also reach out to national tech businesses. With many millennials expressing interest in tech jobs as well as living downtown and walking/biking to work, these vacant downtown buildings are a ripe honeycomb for a growing community.

Cimmino: The Downtown Billings Partnership, Downtown Billings Association and Big Sky Economic Development Authority recruits anchor tenants for residential and commercial buildings downtown, and we will support the backbone of our community and engine of our region.

Council candidates up next

City Council candidates’ responses to a similar survey will be published in the coming days: Ward 1, Monday; Ward 2, Tuesday; Ward 3, Wednesday; Ward 4, Thursday; Ward 5, Friday.

Hafer: There is in fact very little class A or B office space available in downtown currently. The old Battin Federal Building contains 225,000 of the 400,000 s.f. mentioned. The building has been vacant because of asbestos contamination. It is now undergoing renovation but is still many months from occupancy. Another approximately 125,000 s.f. is also empty because it is very poorly maintained space or not habitable. Owners of those properties will either need to sell to someone who will invest in redevelopment or undertake the work themselves before those places are even rentable. Current owners can be approached to inform them of the TIF assistance opportunities available to them should they choose to pursue a redevelopment.  Downtown always needs some vacant office space or we have no opportunities for new or expanding businesses.

Sandefur: As a Realtor I’m all about renovating old buildings and houses. I hate to see and old building especially one with amazing architecture go unused or worse yet be knocked down. I would try and find incentives for businesses to move into these vacant buildings and preserve some of the beauty of these old buildings.

Cole: A vibrant downtown is critical to Billings’ future, but I do not believe that local government should attempt to micro-manage the inventory of private commercial property. However, government should employ the few tools it has to encourage downtown development generally, including maintaining its own offices there, offering tax-abatement incentives when projects qualify, and utilizing TIF funds to build the tax base. It would be particularly misguided to discourage new development hoping that would reduce the inventory of available space. No new large private buildings have been constructed downtown since 1982, and the lack of demand is largely attributable to a dearth of Class A space.  Roughly 42 percent of the cited surplus is attributable to the unfinished Stillwater Building which can be sold or leased in parts as the county or other purchasers/tenants come on line. A high-end project like One Big Sky Center will bring more people downtown and increase demand for other retail, commercial and residential rental properties.

Essmann: While my contacts in the commercial real estate sector tell me they only consider there to be about 250,000 SF of commercial and office space as available downtown in the near term (one to two years), they also tell me there is 330,000 SF of empty commercial space on the West End. I don’t think it is the city government’s responsibility to ensure that private business makes a profit on their investments, wherever they may be. Private investment comes with risk and the government owes no one a guarantee. That being said, the Downtown Urban Renewal District has the tools it needs to make investments in public infrastructure, like parking garages, to help facilitate occupancy. Additionally, my commitment to helping our police force develop data-driven, innovative strategies and put more officers on patrol will help downtown to be a hub of business activity like it has been for so many years.

3. The trail network has become an integral part of the Billings landscape. With less federal funding available for alternative transportation, how would you help expand and maintain the network as a viable transportation option?

Hafer: Trails are a critical and widely used lifestyle/community amenity similar to parks. The work of the various non-profits supporting trail development and maintenance should be encouraged and celebrated. We should also look to other dedicated funding sources such as an expansion of the city wide parks maintenance district or the creation of a separate city wide trails maintenance district. In addition, I support local option authority which, if granted by the state Legislature, could be used for future trail (and park) development.

Sandefur: Billings TrailNet does an amazing job of raising their own money to help create bike trails for Billings. I will  advocate for them to continue doing the amazing work that they do.

Egnew: Billings TrailNet and other organizations have done a fantastic job of developing our trail system. I would continue to support these incredible alternative transportation byways! I will propose a “your two cents” program attached to water bills where Billings resident could opt-in, donating one dollar a month to our police, fire department, trail system, schools, and busses, for a total of a $5 donation monthly. If even one fourth of Billings population chose to opt in, this would be a net of $25,000 a month, per each organization — $300,000 a year per venue. Imagine if half of the population participated!

Cimmino: As Community Transportation Enhancement Program (CTEP) funding is no longer available, we must pursue urban funding, air quality, gas tax, arterial fee, general obligation bond, and transportation alternatives. The Federal Highway Administration funds highways, streets and bicycle pedestrian facilities. However, the seven-member committee in Helena did not support Billings this year. There were 15 other Montana communities who were recipients of the $6.5 million allocation:  Bozeman, Choteau, Columbus, Deer Lodge, Helena, Kalispell, Livingston, Salish Kootenai Tribe, East Helena Public Schools, Glacier County, Missoula County Public Schools, Towns of Cascade, Fairfield and Twin Bridges. No community east of Columbus received funding.

Essmann: Since the development of the trail network that began while I served on the County Planning Board from 1999 to 2003, I have considered the off-street trail system to be a recreation asset. The trail system needs to become the formal responsibility of the Parks and Recreation Department so that it is no longer an orphan program and can be completed with use of the existing park district assessments instead of new taxes. If we wish to improve its connectivity and finish it quickly those funds can be bonded and connections completed without a tax increase. It will be a matter of establishing priorities.

Cole: Surveys indicate that trails are the most popular type of outdoor recreational infrastructure in the city. Because trails are so popular, private funding is a partial solution; but private donors will only step up on a large scale if they know that most of the money is coming from the public. The best source of new public funds would be a local option sales tax on alcohol, prepared food, rental cars, hotel rooms and other luxury goods that would be paid in part by non-residents who currently use city services for free. Other sources might include the expanded gas tax (also needed for development of the Inner Belt Loop) and existing grant programs like the Recreational Trail Program and Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST). (Billings is usually rejected for such grants so we need to make sure we are getting our fair share relative to our population.) Finally, we should at least consider a special mill levy for trail development if other sources were not available.

support_ad

4. With an administration running the city and overseeing city departments, what do you see as your role as a member of the City Council?

Cole: Consistent with Section 3.04 of the city charter, the mayor presides over council meetings, has one vote and is the city’s ceremonial representative.  Under Section 3.08, the council and mayor are not permitted to deal with city employees except for “inquires and investigations.”

Essmann: I think the mayor and council need to reassume the responsibility for setting the agenda for council meetings and work sessions so that the council can perform its proper role of policy making. The mayor needs to chair the meetings to prioritize timely decisions on issues and facilitate policy discussions that ensure our city stays an economic hub of the region.

Egnew: In my viewpoint, the mayor’s role in City Council is far more than simply reviewing Friday packet PDFs, or breaking ties. The mayor should be a passionate advocate for the voice of the people, a transparent translator of city workings, fearless champion in proactively seeking outside-the-box, non-tax-based financial solutions in fulfilling the needs of the city, and a powerful voice for the needs of Billings in Helena when our Legislature reviews issues that affect us deeply such as local option tax authority. The mayor should hold the heart of the city in dignity, respect, compassion and synergy for all.

Hafer: The mayor needs to be a visionary, not just a caretaker or figurehead or tie vote breaker. I will be that visionary with innovative ideas and the courage to lead. At the same time, as an architect I am used to leading highly collaborative, multi-disciplinary teams of people in the design and development of buildings. My architecture firm is renowned and recognized for its innovative approaches to design, sustainability, historic restoration, and urban revitalization. I will bring that experience and skill-set to the mayor’s office.

Cimmino: According to our City Charter, the mayor shall have no administrative duties except serve as presiding officer of city government for ceremonial purposes, vote on all issues, and execute contracts, deeds and other documents.

Sandefur: As mayor, according to the City Charter, my role would be the presiding officer over the council and vote on all issues. But also being a community leasder and being actively involved in the community and easily accessible to listen to the citizens and their concerns.

5. What is the optimal role for a city administrator? Idea person, implementer of council policy, manager of city employees, budget watchdog or something else?

Sandefur: Carry out the policies established, perform the duties required by law, enforce laws, ordinances and resolutions, direct and supervise agencies and offices of the city, appoint all employees of the local government, report to the council and attend council meetings.

Cimmino: The city administrator is the CEO, works at the direction of the city Council, and oversees the 10-member team of department heads throughout the city organization, carrying out policies established by our government board and performed duties required by law, ordinance, resolution and City Charter. The visionary leader must have proven executive-level management, finance, economic development experience and thorough knowledge of municipal management practices and carry out policies approved by City Council.

Cole: Those are all good descriptors for what might be the most important job in Billings. It will not be easy to find replacement for the existing administrator, but we should conduct a thorough search and offer a generous salary that will attract the very best applicants.

Essmann: I think that all of those skills are useful for an effective city administrator. I do hope that the current search committee includes the knowledge and ability to work with data analytics to the skill set they are seeking for the new hire. There are great innovative uses being made by states and local governments in identifying, analyzing and solving problems making use of up-to-the-minute data – educated information. Data-driven solutions instead of shots in the dark will best serve our citizens.

Hafer: Optimal city administrator (in order): implementer of council policy; able to build effective, collaborative relationships with elected officials, citizens and staff; municipal budgeting expert; effective manager of city staff; listener; and idea person.

Egnew: To me, a city administrator is “creative air traffic control” for the fiscal applications of city workings that have been synergistically developed between the council, the people and the administrator themselves. The administrator must be an excited problem solver, flexible with new ideas, yet highly organized and able to exercise “tough love” when an idea is failing on paper. That idea must be returned to the council for further development until both fiscal and social needs are adequately met. As mayor, I would work closely with the city administrator to determine the most efficient and effective way to cross-collateralize resources.

6. What ideas do you have for including and promoting diversity in the Billings community?

Cimmino: Simply put, diversity can be seen as a means of differentiating people from one another, through dimensions such as ethnicity, gender, nationality, age, disability, sexual orientation, education or religion, or their own belief system. We must recognize the importance of diversity, make it a priority to learn about similarities as well as differences, and share opportunities of celebration. Billings must remain progressive and embrace diversity as a means of forging a sustainable future.

Egnew: To promote diversity in the Billings community, I would propose branding Billings as Montana’s Melting Pot, starting with the passing of the NDO. As a clergy person and faith leader myself, I would propose mirroring Bozeman’s interfaith council to then open doors for religious acceptance and cross-education. I would place forward an Indigenous People’s day to be celebrated on Columbus Day, as Seattle implemented. I would work with our Latin population for a downtown street and culture fair with food, music and goods. And I would endorse school campaigns of diversity and good will that #LeadWithLove throughout the city.

Sandefur: First we need to eliminate any type of discrimination ordinances that are in effect. Doing this may attract more younger and diverse families here.

Cole: Diversity is the spice that makes a town a city. We need to embrace it, and our elected officials have a unique opportunity to be the welcoming face of our community.  I would do that by participating in events sponsored by a variety of groups and speaking frequently and sincerely on the benefits of a diverse city.

Essmann: I think that Billings has always been a welcoming community that has an open door to people that want to come here, start a career or open a business, raise a family and thrive. Diversity comes naturally and organically in that fashion. I have always served the public, hired employees in my small business, and leased my commercial properties without regard to a person’s gender, race, religion, politics or orientation.

Hafer: In order for Billings to thrive and prosper in the future, Billings MUST be known as a city that welcomes all and a place where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.  When we truly become that place, diversity will follow.

7. Have you read the City Charter?

Hafer: Yes

Egnew: Left blank.

Cimmino: Yes, in fact, I took an oath to uphold the City Charter when I was elected in 2009 and re-elected unopposed in 2013.

Sandefur: Yes.

Cole: Yes.

Essmann: Yes. I have kept a copy of it on my desk for ready reference.

8. Should the City Charter be changed? If so, how?

Essmann: I would support two small changes to the City Charter. First, I would propose that we have 10 smaller, single-member wards instead of the current system of five mammoth two-member wards. The current wards are simply too large for council candidates to campaign door to door, which I have found is a great way to listen and learn voters’ concerns. The council will be more engaged with and responsive to the public if door to door campaigning is possible.

Secondly, I think the charter should be changed to permit the council to directly employ a small number of staff, perhaps three or four, so that it has an independent fiscal analyst, legal counsel and community outreach staffer. The council needs some independent advice so that it may perform proper oversight of the administrative branch and better communicate and respond to Billings’ residents.

Egnew: Left blank.

Hafer: No.

Cimmino: No.  Any proposals must go to the vote of the people.

Sandefur: Yes, it needs to be updated. Seems like the last update that I found online is from about 10 years ago.

Cole: Section 3.08, which limits council members’ right to “deal with” city employees “solely through the City Administrator,” should be amended to clarify that that right is not narrower than the right of any city resident to communicate with city employees.

9. Does the proposed One Big Sky Center make economic sense? How do you respond to hotel owners who might be hurt by this subsidized competition?

Cole: OBSC has the potential to dramatically transform downtown Billings, but the details of the project and the extent of any public subsidy will not be known until city and the lead developer, Hammes Co., have had further negotiations this fall. The key issue is whether private investors will put roughly $130 million into the project. TIF dollars would pay for the public parking garage, conference center and pedestrian mall and would be largely replaced by new taxes paid by the hotel, apartments and retail space. The high-end hotel would only compete with a couple existing hotels, which would benefit from increased room sales to conference attendees and downtown reinvigoration. Conference attendees should be free to stay at any of the downtown hotels to make sure the OBSC hotel does not have an unfair advantage.

Egnew: Currently Billings is losing millions of national convention dollars as our city is dismissed for conventional facilities in Seattle, Boise, Denver, and Portland. One Big Sky Center will plug this leak. Our current higher-volume downtown hotels are perfect venues for regional conferences and will continue to be a storied part of regional conference circuits. One Big Sky Center will focus on attracting high-volume national and international conventions currently skipping Billings altogether due to the fact that current venues will not support their registered participation. One Big Sky Center’s national conventional attendance will benefit all downtown hotel restaurants and shops.

Hafer: One Big Sky Center is being built (if it is built) by private developers with private money. It is up to the developers to determine the scope, nature, size, mix of uses, etc. to establish economic viability to their satisfaction before proceeding. In other words, the risk is theirs. The developers have discussed seeking assistance through the downtown tax increment finance district (TIFD) for public infrastructure to support the project – parking garage, conference center (possibly), streetscape enhancements. The TIFD was created to support private development that enhances the taxable value of the district. Therefore, it is entirely appropriate that the One Big Sky Center developers would seek this assistance. The specific nature and amount of TIF assistance will be determined by the Downtown Billings Partnership board and City Council after the project scope is finalized and justified by the developers. The other major downtown hotels – the Northern Hotel and the DoubleTree (originally the Sheraton) – each received significant TIF assistance when they were built (and at various other times since).  Park 2 was built with TIF funds to support the DoubleTree (Sheraton) and the Northern Hotel recently received significant TIF financial help for its remodel.

Cimmino: We granted an extension on the Memorandum of Understanding which authorized city staff to work with  Robert Dunn, president/CEO of the Hammes Co. on the work plan and secure financial commitment. Later this autumn, we will make an informed decision and invite other hotel owners to participate in the public decision-making process.

Essmann: It really should be the responsibility of private investors to make a decision on economic viability of a project when it comes to spending their own money. And they should be spending their own money. The government will not then be putting its hand on the scale to the advantage of one private developer or the disadvantage of another. No general fund money from the taxpayers of the community should be used to subsidize this development, period. This project needs to be able to stand on its own merits without government subsidies.

Sandefur: One Big Sky Center does make economic sense. I don’t think investors would invest over 100 million dollars of their own money if they thought it wouldn’t work. I think it will drive competition between the hotels and ultimately bring better values to the consumer. This will in turn bring in more visitors to the city.

10. Considering that Billings has an international reputation as a community of tolerance dating back to the early 1990s, how do you think our reputation may have been affected if the national media had gotten hold of the story about Billings government rejecting a nondiscrimination ordinance?  More specifically, how could such national publicity affect our competitive position about economic development, considering that other major cities in Montana have a nondiscrimination ordinance in place?

Cimmino: The NDO did not prevail in August 2014 with a vote of 6-5, and as a result, our community remains divided. I take full responsibility as one who did not support its proposed language even though I suggested the NDO approved by the city of Pocatello, Idaho, in 2013. As mayor, I will pursue this important endeavor with the City Council and general public to negotiate a happy compromise for Billings citizens.

Sandefur: I believe rejecting the NDO has already hurt Billings. Businesses look at things like this when they are looking for communities to expand to, this also hurts when trying to recruit younger families to come to our city for jobs and to raise a family.

Cole: This was a concern in 2014 when Billings rejected the LGBT NDO, but the dire consequences predicted then did not come to pass. The events that led to the inspiring Not In My Town movement occurred almost a quarter century ago and did not involve the LGBTQ community, which makes the connection less compelling. I believe only one enforcement action has been initiated in the other Montana cities, which raises the question whether the need for the ordinances (and gloomy predictions of critics) were overstated.

Hafer: Refer also to question 6.  It is imperative that Billings build on its reputation as an inclusive city – not stall progress or slide backwards. We are fortunate that national media did not latch onto the story of our failure to pass an NDO. The backlash against discriminatory laws and ordinances has been swift and severe in other places in the country that have passed such laws (Indiana, North Carolina, Texas (coming?)). Not being known as a truly welcoming and inclusive city would put Billings at a competitive disadvantage compared to other cities in the region. Within my own business, we have a hard enough time attracting the young, well educated talent that we need to grow without adding to the difficulty by not being able to say and show that the community supports diversity and inclusiveness.

Essmann: Billings is a welcoming and tolerant community and the lack of an NDO does not change that fact. I supported the “Not in Our Town” effort in the 1990s publicly through my business and there is no room for anti-Semitism or extremism of any type in our society. The way we as people treat our neighbors is up to every one of us, not the government. It is the duty of the individual to set an example to those around them.

Egnew: Billings’ failure to pass a nondiscrimination ordinance has deeply tarnished our city’s Not In Our Town legacy on a national level by making national news, placing Billings in the precarious position of being not only the only major city in Montana to fail in passing an NDO, yet the Not In Our Town city — that appeared not to be. In response, national chains issued statements that they would never break ground in a city whose protections did not cover all citizens. Tech providers like Apple, who have fully inclusive employee protections, did not even consider Billings in surveying Montana cities for call centers. Billings cannot exist in a bubble of theoretic interpretation. We cannot be a fiscally competitive, socially inviting city who retains its millennials in tech jobs when big tech jobs won’t come to Billings. As the largest city in the state, Billings cannot remain out of step with the 21st century business standards. Billings has already felt the burden of this failed NDO vote with a rise in hate groups locating within Billings. In addition, we have lost thousands of potential incoming jobs, now experiencing “brain drain” as young tech professionals move to find work.

Bonus Questions

Bonus question for Jeff Essmann: In your tenure in the Montana Legislature, you were not seen as an ally of the city of Billings. If elected, how will you distance yourself from your past stands and actions to be able to work effectively with the City Council and city staff?

I wonder who considers me not to be an “ally” of the city when I consistently supported the infrastructure bill that would have gotten the MSU-Billings Science Building under construction, made sure the gas tax increase came back to local governments so that Billings and Yellowstone County will have $20 million more to spend on road improvements over the next ten years, and successfully carried the bill to bring two new district court judges to our city so that our courts are not jammed with backlogged cases. Those were priority bills for the city. Maybe the rub is that I didn’t unconditionally support the Billings Chambers’ ill-conceived sales tax plan that would have increased taxes on working Billings families by $140 to $280 while providing only a paltry $40 in property tax relief.

In any case, it is the duty of a legislator to be responsible to the voters of his or her district, not to the city government or special interests. The voters of my districts have sent me back to represent them in six elections in the last 12 years. I do not intend to distance myself from my principles of fiscal prudence, working to keep taxes low while providing essential government services, or the need for a regulatory environment that allows small business to grow and provide jobs. I will keep being responsible to the voters.

Bonus question for Danielle Egnew: Your background as a writer, musician, actor and spiritual counselor is quite varied, but how does it prepare you to serve as the mayor of Montana’s largest city?

My background as a performer and producer in Los Angeles, Tacoma, Wash., and Tucson, Ariz., provides me with a very specific skillset focused on budgetary problem solving, implementing non-traditional fundraising methods, extreme stamina in public relations, adhering to deadlines, and leading consensus-driven, high-stakes meetings with excellent communication skills and temperance with focus on the timely resolution of issues. The mayor is the voice of the city. I am excited to bring 25 years’ worth of co-creative leadership in major markets to our Billings city council in order to hold a space for the brilliant evolution of our Magic City!

 

Bonus question for Randy Hafer: You have been extensively involved in development activities, projects of your own, and projects involving numerous clients.  How would that conflict with your duties as mayor, and do you foresee having to recuse yourself from voting on anything related to such projects?

I have been involved extensively with downtown redevelopment and revitalization efforts. I have served on many downtown boards continuously over the past 20 years.  I have also personally developed nine buildings in downtown. Eight of the nine were vacant, un-useable buildings. All had been sitting around for years not contributing economically or any other way to the life and vitality of downtown. All are now vibrant contributing members of the downtown community. Why have I spent so much time and money on these endeavors? Simple – I love Billings! I believe Billings is a special place and I wanted to contribute to make Billings even better and more unique. I and many others who served on downtown boards and were involved in projects have dealt with the conflict of interest question since the adoption of the Framework Plan. Specific policies have been created in coordination with the city attorney’s office and adopted by every downtown board I have sat on to address these concerns. The downtown boards want people who are committed to and investing in downtown because they care about downtown. By policy, I always recuse myself from voting on any action concerning a project with which I am personally financially involved. The conflict of interest question is important but it has been successfully addressed and I am sure it can be with the council as well.

Bonus question for Angela Cimmino: You don’t seem to have been too active during your time on the City Council, rarely having pushed any particular policies or having attached your name to any initiatives. Given that background, how would you play a leadership role as Billings mayor?

For the past eight years serving on the City Council, I have advocated the Inner Belt Loop, a city-sponsored and community-wide project. Phase 1 was developed and Phase 2 is included in the Capital Improvement Plan using gas tax, arterial fee and GO Bond funding within seven years. I supported the multi-million renovation efforts for the Alberta Bair Theater, Babcock Theater, and the relocation of St. Vincent de Paul to the Crane Building. We authorized the allocation of millions of dollars of tax increment funding district monies to develop residential and commercial properties of the downtown, south, and east areas of Billings. The city administrator maintains a 48-page spreadsheet noting all City Council member initiatives and a copy is available for review at City Hall. An overview of my initiatives included supporting priority-based budgeting, a one-year extension of the medical marijuana moratorium, High Sierra Dog Park improvements, High Sierra Park Master Plan for a 18-disc golf course, Complete Streets Policy, Community Innovations Resource Officers for downtown Billings, proclamation honoring Vietnam veterans, and additional personnel for the police and fire departments.

Please vote Angela Cimmino for Billings Mayor.  We are history in the making!

Bonus question for Bill Cole: After serving on the City-County Planning board, you worked extensively representing the development community. Will this fact create a conflict of interest and will you have to recuse yourself from discussion and votes on issues presented by your former clients?

As a practical matter, I have already scaled back my practice and will do so further if elected mayor. The guiding provision is BMCC Section 2-221(2)(o) which requires that every council member shall vote upon every question “unless excused or unless the member has a financial or personal interest.” If a member has a financial or personal interest “in a matter before the mayor and council” he must publicly disclose it and disqualify himself from deliberation and voting. A “financial interest” is any interest “which shall yield, directly or indirectly, a monetary or other material benefit . . . to the official or any person employing or retaining the services of the official.” The section does not say an official may recuse himself if there is only a possible appearance of impropriety. If elected I could not represent any client “in a matter before the mayor and council” because I would have a prohibited “financial interest.” Conversely, if a matter involved a former client I would be free to vote because there would be no monetary or material benefit. Similarly, I could probably vote on a matter involving an existing client if it were completely unrelated to my representation since there would be no financial interest “in a matter before the mayor and council.” I would seek the city attorney’s opinion on any situation that was unclear.

Bonus question for Danny Sandefur: Your main area of emphasis seems to be combating crime, public intoxication and homelessness in downtown Billings—all apparently related to your owning a business on Montana Avenue. What can you offer the tens of thousands of residents for whom those problems are not a major concern?

These concerns aren’t all related to me owning a business on Montana Avenue. It shows that I can relate to the frustrations that business owners are experiencing downtown and that the problem needs to be corrected. I’ve been asking people and looking at research for the last six years and almost everyone has a concern for crime. It’s not just downtown, it’s the entire city.  Downtown should be the epicenter of the city. Although we have come a long way in the last five to seven years, our downtown compared to other major cities in Montana, is lacking. We need to make it vibrant again and make it a destination,  especially if One Big Sky Center gets final approval.

Comments

comments