A packed house greeted new Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins and the two city commissioners who were sworn in Tuesday.
Roughly 100 people showed up to the Capitol Rotunda to watch Mayor Collins and commissioners Andres Haladay and Heather O’Loughlin take their positions in Helena’s city government. While Collins and O’Loughlin are new to city government, Haladay is continuing in his second term.
City commissioner Rob Farris-Olsen opened the ceremony by thanking outgoing Mayor Jim Smith and commissioner Jim Ellison for their work and mentorship, and Judge Mike Menahan led the candidates in reciting the oath.
Most in the crowd had their cellphone cameras in hand as Collins rose to be sworn in, which was a historic moment for both Helena and the state.
Though Helena had a black mayor before it was incorporated, local historians say Collins is the first in Montana since then. The significance of the former Liberian refugee's election was reflected by the loud cheers from the crowd and the large media presence in the Rotunda.
Collins and his wife Maddie relocated to Montana because she had been an exchange student in Helena while she was in high school and remained close with her host family.
Collins, who unseated Helena's former mayor of 16 years, has said his priorities include finding a way to hire more firefighters and police officers while addressing teen and veteran homelessness and improving tourism.
“Thank you, Helena,” Collins said to those gathered. “To the city employees, I open my arms, I’m ready to work with you. To the county commissioners, I open my arms, I’m ready to work with you. To my fellow city commissioners, I open my arms, I’m ready to work with you.”
Collins said he was “feeling great.”
“We got to meet and tackle the people’s concerns,” Collins said, motioning to the snow outside.
O’Loughlin offered thanks to the city of Helena, and Haladay said “we’re here to work for you over the next four years.”
After the ceremony concluded, Haladay said the next items on the agenda for the commission were “rolling on affordable housing, investing in the downtown master plan and tackling long-term service funding for (Helena Fire Department) and the (Helena Police Department).”
O’Loughlin was pragmatic as she considered her first steps as a commissioner.
“Now begins the work,” she said after the ceremony. “I’m excited about working with my fellow commissioners and am looking forward to digging in to the annual budget process.”
The next steps, she said, include “talking with city staff, community members and access to affordable housing, along with day-to-day services, doing all that we can."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.