Mayor-hopeful Tom Nelson touts experience and ability

By: 
KATHLEEN GILLULY
Outlook managing editor
Tom Nelson
Tom Nelson

“We need a mayor who understands the local, state and federal equation as far as finding money,” Tom Nelson, mayoral candidate said Monday. “And, we need to stay in front of the growth that we’ll see spilling out from Billings.” With six years as the Ward IV councilor, Nelson wants the city to engage its citizens, be open to dialogue with residents and to act responsibly with an eye on the future.
“We have infrastructure issues,” he said. “But before we jump into more development, we have to find creative ways to finance growth.” Nelson said that rather than taking on projects without proper forethought, city officials should be “trying to set the table for down the road.” One aspect of that is determining what kind of city Laurel should be and then recruiting clean commercial businesses that fit the model, as well as a mix of residential housing.
“We shouldn’t leave ourselves in the position of having to take the growth that’s coming without proper planning and having adequate water resources. It’s up to us to shape Laurel’s future,” he said.
Nelson and his wife, Renee, have lived in Laurel almost 10 years, having moved here from Billings. He has grown children, but he joked that he, “traded them in for dogs, which are just as bad.” He is the Territorial Sales Manager for a metal company, a trade he’s been plying for 20 years. Nelson also operates an online store. Because of his job, he is on the road three days a week typically.
“I plan to spend more time at city hall than past mayors who have also had jobs,” he said. “I’ll be in the office on Mondays and be available for meetings with staff. I plan to be engaged as the mayor.”
Although not authorized to act on the city’s behalf, Nelson spent many hours as a private citizen learning about FEMA regulations as they pertain to Laurel’s new water intake and attending meetings in Helena trying to secure funding. He also reported his findings to the council on a regular basis.
“That’s a fight I’m not going to give up,” he said. “The State has paid its 25 percent share for all other FEMA projects.” Because Gov. Bullock and his budget director, Dan Villa, determined the intake which was damaged by the 2011 flooding event should not receive funding, Laurel spent its reserves and has had to take out loans, leaving the city essentially broke. Nelson said that is the primary reason the council voted against replacing the sedimentation basins this fall.
“Undoubtedly, they are in poor shape,” he said. “But I’ve never seen anything good come out of rushing into things.” City staff had hoped that after the council initially vetoed plans for the basin when bids came in much higher than expected, that they would accept “value engineered” plans.
“The council needs all the information before making decisions,” he said. “And I don’t do anything without knowing the mechanics and all the moving parts.”
Among his goals is fostering a better relationship with the Laurel Chamber of Commerce, media and residents.
“I’d like to have a citizens’ advisory board to filter concerns and bring them to the council,” Nelson said. “Having that dialogue increases efficiency and better serves everyone.” Having more transparency and better communications will be beneficial for all concerned, he added. “When a community takes more ownership, it’s a win-win for everybody.”
Nelson said the city has good staffing, although better management is needed. But, he said, he always thinks there is room for improvement.
“I think we should always be saying, ‘we can do a better job,’” he said. “And, once we do it better, we need to set new goals and tackle them.”
Ballots will be mailed beginning Oct. 18, for the Nov. 7th election.

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