Helena's candidates for city commission and mayor participated in another forum Tuesday night, where they yet again covered the Confederate fountain removed from Hill Park and other issues including public transportation, parking and development.
The forum was hosted by Plymouth Congregational Church and Carroll College.
Both mayoral candidates, incumbent Jim Smith and Wilmot Collins, took part in the forum.
City Commission candidates Mark A. Burzynski, Andres Haladay, Heather K. O'Loughlin and Gary L. Spaeth participated in the event. Neither Sean Logan nor Justin Ailport were able to attend. Ailport also missed the last forum on Oct. 2.
The candidates were first asked to define morality and how it would inform their work if elected. Then each candidate got a unique question, and the forum wrapped up with a chance for questions from the audience.
Incumbent commissioner Andres Haladay said morality meant tethering his decision to certain principles such as social, economic and racial justice.
“It’s removing those aspects of, I want to make sure everyone will shake my hand and be happy,” he said. “That’s easy leadership, but it’s not necessarily moral leadership.”
Haladay was able to return to his definition of morality when his unique question asked to reflect on the decision to remove the Confederate fountain and explain how discussions since it was taken down have influenced his leadership. He said it gave him insight on how to cross lines and have a discussion with people who may see things differently.
“The other thing it showed me is that you can never put your head down or put it in the sand and say we’re not going to delve into social issues,” he said. “Those are the issues that test moral leadership.”
Heather O’Loughlin, co-director of the Montana Budget and Policy Center, said a big part of her job is weighing costs and benefits and she makes sure the most vulnerable in the community are cared for.
O’Loughlin answered a question on how to encourage development without urban sprawl and ideas on how to use existing structures in the city, such as the old Blue Cross Blue Shield building. O’Loughlin didn’t provide specific examples of ways to utilize existing buildings, but said she supports tax increment financing as a way for the city to leverage resources. She also said she would look at annexation as a possibility, but not the only way to responsibly develop. O’Loughlin said it’s important for the city to look at its existing growth problem and adhere to it.
For Gary Spaeth, he said his version of morality is to not do anything that “would embarrass your mother” and said it’s a goal to leave the world in a better place. Spaeth was asked how he would improve the parking situation, which he said is crucial to having a vibrant downtown or local businesses would lose customers to big box stores. Spaeth didn’t provide examples on how we would address parking.
Mark Burzynski said his background in health care, most recently as the CFO of Blue Cross Blue Shield, made him passionate about service to others. He said it is important for commissioners to develop working relationships and foster a culture of mutual support.
“We don’t do anything in a vacuum,” he said.
When it comes to snow removal on sidewalks, Burzynski said some neighborhoods are better than others and the city only has one person able to enforce the city ordinance. He said he was unsure if the city had the resources to do anything remarkable about sidewalk maintenance by property owners. He called for neighborhoods to adhere to a social contract of having a safe and inviting environment.
“I’d feel much better about Helena if that was our mindset,” Burzynski said.
Mayor Jim Smith was asked about how he welcomes new commissioners. Smith has been mayor since 2002. He gave specific examples of how he helped other candidates workshop parts of their platform until they became a reality, including the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance and cellphone ban.
“We’re part of a whole,” he said. “It keeps our nose pretty close to that local grindstone.”
Both Smith and mayoral candidate Wilmot Collins were asked about how they would improve public transportation and deal with the possibility of annexing property on Helena's Westside.
An audience member said they are visually impaired and rely on public transportation that only runs on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Smith said it was important for the city to have more people riding the bus. To do that, he said the city has been encouraging businesses in Helena with a large number of employees, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield or Walmart, to put forward a financial contribution and run additional routes that get their employees and other riders from point A to point B.
Collins said, if elected, he would take a hard look at the city’s finances to see if another bus could be purchased.
When Smith said the city is making significant progress on the Westside annex and has a good plan to continue that work, Collins agreed, but added it should be a priority to add tax funding to the city’s budget when Westside residents are already benefiting from Helena services.
“I think sometimes we drag our feet,” Collins said.
Collins said all of his decisions would be influenced by his lifetime of service in the military and as a child protection specialist. They wouldn’t be ruled by politics, he said.
For his individual question, Collins was asked to provide specific examples of the fresh ideas and perspectives he previously said he would bring to the table if elected.
Collins said he would do a better job of meeting with citizens who have a problem. He also drew attention to a growing number of homeless youth in Helena. He acknowledged he doesn’t have all the answers, but will bring the right group of stakeholders to the table to come up with solutions. Collins also brought up the importance of providing essential services. His example of a spike in the calls Helena firefighters respond to, some of which are delayed due to demand, was brought up by candidate Sean Logan at the last forum.