Candidates have final say in Laurel city government elections

Photo courtesy of Brad Molnar. Mail ballots for the Yellowstone County Attorneys public safety mill levy and the cities of Laurel and Billings went out Wednesday. Laurel voters will also decide the fate of school bonds. The cost of the election is about $1 per voter. It took about two weeks for the staff to prepare the ballots. By state law each must be hand stamped by the elections office as opposed to printing the red “official ballot” emblem on each. Elections Administrator Brett Rutherford reminds voter

Ballots are going out in today’s mail to Laurel voters. The Outlook has profiled each candidate for mayor and city council. The candidates were also asked to send responses for publication to the following three questions. 1. a) What do you think is the most important issue facing the city? b)How would you deal with that issue?  2. Why should voters elect you? and, 3. What do you think is the city’s greatest strength or asset?
The instructions limited responses to 125 words per question. Answers longer than that may have been edited for length.
First up are the two mayoral candidates’ responses. Following their statements, the responses are listed by ward and the order received. There are no candidates running in Ward 4.


Mayoral candidate Dave Waggoner

1. a) I believe that the crumbling infrastructure in Laurel is our main concern. For years it has been ignored and allowed to fall into disrepair. b)  We will have to lay out a long range plan to systematically replace the water, sewer, and roads throughout the city, which means designating funds each year for that.
2.  I believe that I have a unique understanding of the way the city is run by working for the city. I see and hear of decisions made that the council and the public doesn’t. I will make myself available to the taxpayers and be responsible for the decisions made by city hall.
3. Our residents and taxpayers are our real assets! I still think of the example of the Kids Kingdom playground. How basically without city help, the people got together and got it done. I believe that our city government and employees should work as hard for Laurel as it’s residents do.


Mayoral candidate Tom Nelson

1. Effectively managing our growth. Being creative and diligent in finding sources of funding that we can afford and leveraging that to its greatest potential. 
b)  We have two large water infrastructure issues in the sedimentation basin and water storage that need to be resolved in order to manage growth. We can accomplish this by being creative and seeking affordable financing. Then we can focus more attention on our streets and the infrastructure below them. 
2. I believe I am the only candidate that understands how funding for projects are developed and the sources available. I have the skills, education  and experience needed to conduct and run public meetings in accordance with Montana Law and to supervise a city our size.
3. Our residents. They take great pride in our city from our businesses, our schools and community events. It is their valuable input that will continue to shape our city into that which they want to live in and invite others to come be a part of as well.


Ward 1 candidate Evan Bruce

1. City maintenance and repair along with the budget. A lot of the roads have been in a state of decay in recent years and there’s been little upkeep. A lot of the sidewalks on the southside and even around Main St. are riddled with cracks and weeds growing. They have become hazardous and deter people from using them. I have gone down the sidewalk along First Avenue and is not very welcoming. Our city has also been in a budget crunch with recent improvements that have not been implemented well. They need to be evaluated by an informed and competent staff and council. 
2. I would make sure the sidewalks are scheduled and budgeted into the yearly budget, so they are maintained and watched by city staff regularly. And with that, if anyone tells me about a certain street that needs work, I will bring it up at a city council meeting. 
3. People should vote for me because I would be a new face in the city. I would represent everyone well. And, I am well known through my community involvement with non-profits and I already attend city meetings. 
4. The city has great public parks. I am impressed with the most of the parks (Riverside Park needs a lot of work but it is an amazing size with many possibilities) and especially Town Square Park. It is a great venue for the Farmers Market and Rock the Block. It is sad that in recent years the upkeep and repair have been neglected and that those venues go unused for public events.


Heidi Sparks, Ward 1 candidate

1. I think the most important issue facing the city is fiscal responsibility and I believe that this issue is at the heart of other issues facing the city such as infrastructure and roads, water, emergency services, etc. b) I believe in accountability and transparency in the city’s spending of taxpayer dollars. I think the most important aspect of this situation is prioritizing the way tax dollars are spent, and communicating budget spending to the community. I also believe in a checks and balance system with budget spending.
2. I am committed to this city and this community. I am solutions driven and I look forward to being the voice of the not just the people in my ward, but a voice for the people of the city. My commitment to the council, the city and the community is not just in title, but also in action.
3. I believe the greatest strength and asset to this city is its people. This is a great community with great people who look out for each other. I’m impressed daily by the school district, the community members and local business owners, in their commitment to bettering the city and our next generation .


Doug Poehls, Ward 1 candidate

1. Infrastructure needs and how to fund them. With the past problems with the State and officials not doing what is required of them, it has left a harder time to finance needed projects. We need to address the sedimentation basin project and water, sewer line updates and then street issues. b) Finance is what is needed. Some ways that we can try to pursue are putting continued pressure on the State government to meet their legal obligations. [We should] Maximize our dollars by combining projects like total street overlays when doing line replacement. [Use] Tif monies to do more improvements more rapidly.
2. I have the experience and passion for the city after 12 years of being on council and going through the issues, sometimes making hard decisions. [Also] Having lived here for 40 years, and being involved with the Herbsfest in the past and with a local church, as well as council, I have seen the ups and downs of the city. I still want to try and make this place the best place in Montana to live and raise a family.
3. We have great people. [There are] Great employees working for the city, that really care about Laurel. And also great citizens in Laurel that are not afraid of telling you what they think and feel but [but who want to] work with us to straighten out the issues. We may not see eye-to-eye all the time. But it seems that everyone is working for what they feel is best for the city of Laurel. 


Bruce McGee is the sole candidate in Ward 2

1. I think money or the lack there of is what most folks think is the greatest issue facing the city of Laurel. Personally, I think the citizens have two issues to solve. The first being how much city government do we want, and what are we willing to pay in taxes for those services. The city cannot provide and increase everything in all areas of citizens services from emergency services, code enforcement, animal control, streets, other city maintaining functions, parks etc. unless, there is a willingness to pay more in taxes, and typically we do not like to increase taxes. Best description of what I am talking about is in the statement I stole years ago, “everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die to get there.” The second issue is how complacent we are as a community. On the city council we seldom hear much from citizens about what goals and dreams they have for the city but a hot button issue comes up and then citizens let their complains be known. Until something affects us personally, we do not seem to care much and while I like the live and let live life style a community in my opinion needs a vision for the future, and ideally that vision would come from the citizens as a whole to at least some degree. I liken it to the two ladies when one asked the other: “What’s our biggest problem?” And the other said in response, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” And that is the problem.
b) How would you deal with that issue? I am dealing with it now the only way I know how, and that is to remain on the city council. Running unopposed is more like being a volunteer than an elected official. Therefore using every opportunity to point out the above at council and in opportunities like this taking time to answer questions for the local paper to get the message out is the best I know to do..
2. I hope the voters of Ward 2 will believe that they are casting a vote for an Alderman with experience. My work and voting as a City Alderman is always motivated from the thought of what I believe is best for Laurel citizens. I may not always be right, and I have found myself on the losing side of a vote, but it’s where my heart is, and I if I did not care for my community, I would not be running for office again even if I am unopposed.
There will be a change in the Mayor’s office this election cycle. I would hope Laurel would see retaining experience on the city council as beneficial to the change in the Mayor of the city.
3. Personally I have always been impressed with the volunteer spirit and work in our community. All the emergency services have some form of volunteers. Our boards and commissions are filled with volunteers. It’s amazing to me the great spirit of helping out that has existed for years in Laurel, Montana. Therefore, the greatest asset in Laurel is the strength of her people. 


Irv Wilke, candidate for Ward 3

1.  Two words, “Public safety.” Chief Musson was gracious enough to sit down with me and share some of his most critical needs. We visited for about 40 minutes and I asked him “if he could” list his needs in most important order. First was man power. There are 13 officers on the Laurel Police Department. Many years ago he tells me it was recommended that Laurel have 17 officers. They work six day on and three days off at eight and a half hours per shift. Without asking he explained that with the number of calls they respond to they rarely have time to work parking issues or traffic. Second he stated he is in need of more dispatchers. Third on the chief’s list was equipment. Fourth on his list was funding.
b) Councilman Poehls worked really hard with the Public Safety committee to present a funding levy to the voters a few years ago that was voted down soundly. I voted for that levy, not because I wished to pay more taxes put because public safety is a critical duty of any city. The Fire Department seems to do okay; the ambulance service is really thin [according to] what I hear about the wait times for service. My thinking is without law enforcement things go downhill really quickly. Maybe a piece at a time approach could help staff up and fund up.
Why should folks vote for me?
2. Not sure I have an answer for that. I already said I’m not going to be a rubber stamper. I hope to bring the word NO to the council as I recently heard on an issue thanks to Council member Eaton. I just think more study time is needed on issues. Staff says we did the work, you just need to vote yes. [That’s] Not an acceptable approach to running a city. Will I be able to fix it, maybe not but it will be brought to the city council’s attention.
3. I believe Laurel has a great school system. My daughters graduated from LHS now my grandson started at LHS. [He is] Ahead of his siblings and two cousins who are all in the middle school. Laurel has been pretty good to my family even though I didn’t work for the railroad or the refinery. I have made a lot of great friends here with all the friendly folks that make up Laurel. I believe that Laurel can be better with the right guidance and I hope that I can be a part of that. Would I move to another city if given the chance? Not likely. I have spent 26 years here and can’t say in any way I didn’t enjoy that time especially after starting to teach hunter/bow hunter education.

Kat Stokes, candidate for Ward 3

1. a) I feel that the most important issues facing the city are three-fold. First the need to become more transparent with issues surrounding the city and explaining the reasons behind why the choices that are made that effect us all. Secondly, the fluidity of information passed down to those making the decisions needs to become better, with clear details and sources, not simply word of mouth, personal opinion or office gossip. And finally, those in the city, including elected, appointed and hired, need to be reminded that they are being trusted to make clear informed choices for the benefit of all the citizens in our town, not just their own personal agendas, feelings or beliefs. Impartiality is important.
b) The Laurel Outlook is a wonderful source of delivering information to the public and I feel journalism is a friend to the freedoms and information of the public. They are always available and willing to be the medium to generate and be trusted to get information to us all. I understand that we cannot expect everyone that works in some capacity of the city to explain every detail of every choice; however, better, clear-cut answers for the decisions made would be a great start to bring back better trust and understanding. There needs to be a stop to personal agendas with use of placement in [city] jobs and offices; impartiality is a must to be a clear and true public servant.
2. I would love for everyone to vote for me (who wouldn’t?) as that is why we are running for office. As to the question of why they should vote for me, I would have to answer that I have no problem asking those pesky, annoying questions that are, “not supposed to be asked” or that are supposed to be simply trusted or understood. Answers are not all cut and dry nor are they easily gotten. However the first step is to ask those questions. We, as citizens, are continually told to get involved to bring change or to understand better. What better way than to answer the call by running for an office that allows one to represent all the people in our community? I hope I am given the opportunity and I am happy to know that no matter who wins that by voting we are all exercising our right to voice our concerns and opinions.
3.The last question is the easiest to answer. The greatest strength of our city is our community. We have all had our differences with one another at times, however, as Montanans we are known for, in times of trouble, sadness, loss, or crisis to put our issues aside, roll up our sleeves and go to work for the betterment of everyone. No matter the person, compassion and empathy has always won out over pettiness and differences of opinion and beliefs. When I moved here with my family nearly 20 years ago, I was drawn to the fact that property taxes were lower and it was more affordable to purchase a home here. As time has passed, I have fallen in love with this community and all those that make it the city it is today. Laurel is my home and the community here is truly a family. Sometimes a dysfunctional family but still a family that never forgets about one another when push comes to shove.


Upcoming Events

Tuesday, April 23, 2019
Tuesdays, Noon, Beartooth Grill, 305 1st Ave. S.
Tuesday, April 23, 2019
Fourth Tuesdays, 7 p.m., Eagles Hall, 313 W. Main, 628-4503
Wednesday, April 24, 2019
10 a.m., Laurel Public Library, 720 West Third Street, Laurel, 628-4961
Wednesday, April 24, 2019
Every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m., check for more info. Find them on Facebook . Email them to find out meeting time and to join: The club will have a meeting or volunteer activity. Meeting location is Sid's East Side Bar & Grill on first and third Wednesdays of each month. Members and guests eat free.  Volunteer activity on the second Wednesday of each month. Check their facebook page for updates.  Every fourth Wednesday is for a club social activity. 
Tuesday, April 30, 2019
Tuesdays, Noon, Beartooth Grill, 305 1st Ave. S.
Wednesday, May 1, 2019
10 a.m., Laurel Public Library, 720 West Third Street, Laurel, 628-4961


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