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Elections to fill seats in local offices take shape

Elections to fill seats in local offices take shape


Mark A. Burzynski’s entry into the race for Helena City Commission creates a field of six candidates competing this year for the commission’s two openings.

According to state law, a primary election is not required for either the city commission or the East Helena City Council, which has the seats for mayor and two on its council open.

However, the city commission or city council can overrule that determination by passing a resolution requiring a primary election, according to Audrey McCue, the Lewis and Clark County elections supervisor.

Should the city commission decide to hold a primary election, the top four candidates in this nonpartisan race would then advance to the November election.

A decision on holding a primary election must be made by June 29, McCue wrote in an email.

City commission seats held by incumbent Andres Haladay, 34, who is an assistant attorney general with the state of Montana, and Dan Ellison will be filled in November.

Ellison said he had no plans to seek a third term and did not file for re-election. Haladay is seeking a second term on the commission.

Burzynski, 64, who has been a Helena resident since 2000, wrote in an email response to questions, sent to all commission candidates previously after they filed, that he is currently self-employed and a certified public accountant and a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives with more than three decades of experience in strategic planning, finance, business administration, economics, effective management and leadership.

“My most recent employer was Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Helena where during the past 17 years, I served as the divisional senior vice president of provider services, the senior vice president and chief financial officer, chief external affairs officer, and the vice president of health affairs,” he wrote.

Burzynski explained his candidacy saying, “Helena needs to grow and prosper based on sound strategic and financial planning and execution. I am eager to put my professional business background and personal dedication to work pursuing what Helena could be, but more importantly, should be, on behalf of my fellow citizens of Helena.

“In the media, Helena tends to be overshadowed by Billings, Missoula, and Bozeman when it comes to being an ideal place to raise families and build businesses. In Helena, we know what a gem the Queen City is, with excellent public schools and teachers and a highly educated, well-qualified workforce. Our central location in the state, along with our easily accessed outdoor recreation, hunting and fishing makes Helena a wonderful place to live and an even better place to thrive.

“The challenges facing our community are many, with the most significant of them landing on the desks of our mayor, our city commissioners, our city manager, and the professional staff serving at City Hall. As a city commissioner, the opportunities for leadership, innovation, and honest problem-solving are inspiring challenges for me. As well, I have the courage and conviction to address the many difficulties that tend to linger in our community,” he continued.

“Municipal to federal government entities are continually facing a myriad of public demands and needs armed with inadequate resources and constituent disagreement over priorities. Because a Helena city commissioner represents the spectrum of constituents, interests, and demographics across the city of Helena, an effective Commissioner must have a thorough understanding of the various needs, be able to prioritize them, and execute an effective plan of action. These legitimate needs must be addressed within the constraints of the city’s tax base, budget and available resources, preferably saving some resources for the proverbial ‘rainy day.’

“My educational and professional background in executive leadership, accounting and finance has prepared me well to serve Helena's citizens. I have served as the chief financial officer of two large employers in Montana, as well as having served as the chief executive officer of two innovative organizations, all service organizations intended to benefit Montanans. This experience and perspective will help me contribute as a commissioner, fairly evaluating vying priorities, interests, and complexities and setting and executing courses of action that will advance Helena toward its preferred future.

“A successful commissioner must be able to analyze with wisdom, courage, and forethought and thereof, act prudently on behalf of taxpayers and their families, employers, and businesses,” he noted in his email.

Burzynski’s top priority if elected would be wise and strategic spending to benefit the city as a whole.

Spending, he added, needs to be address current and future needs, and he added, “Every tax dollar must be treated as precious and invested in a manner that not only make taxpayers proud, but moreover, that such investment will pay dividends now and for years to come.”

Joining Burzynski and Haladay in the race are Gary Spaeth, 71, who is retired, a former state legislator and chairman of the Helena Citizens Council; Heather O’Loughlin, 36, the co-director of the Montana Budget and Policy Center, a non-profit organization focused on advancing policies to improve the lives of Montana families with low and moderate incomes; Sean Logan, 52, who retired from the Helena Fire Department after 20 years as both a firefighter and the department’s chief; and Justin Ailport, 24, the development director for the Montana Democratic Party.

Helena mayor

Helena voters will also be choosing a mayor, and Jim Smith, 68, a retired lobbyist who is completing his fourth term, is seeking re-election. Challenging him is Wilmot Collins, 53, a child protection specialist with the state Department of Health and Human Services who is also an adjunct instructor at Helena College.

East Helena

In East Helena, Mayor Jamie Schell is seeking a second term and running unopposed. Two city council seats will also be filled. Judy Leland is seeking re-election to represent Ward 1 while in Ward 2, both incumbent Donald E. Dahl Jr. is running and will face Kelly Harris in the race for the seat.

Helena Citizens' Council

All four seats in each of the seven Helena Citizens’ Council districts are up for election. The council can make appointments to fill seats -- each has a two-year term -- that aren’t decided in the upcoming election.

Write-in candidates could fill some of the positions for which no one has filed, said Spaeth, who currently represents district 2 residents.

Seeking to represent residents of district 1 are Michael Marchesini, John E. Andrew, Flannery Herbert and Mary Ann George, who currently serve on the council.

In district 2, incumbent Tyrel Suzor-Hoy is running.

Incumbent Sumner M. Sharpe is again running to represent district 3 and the only person on the ballot for this district.

Similarly, Tom Woodgerd is seeking another term to represent district 4 residents and is alone on the ballot for his district.

No one is running in district 5.

William A. Bovee is running for a seat in district 6 as is incumbent Terry Ray.

A trio of incumbents, Denise Roth Barber, Bob Habeck and Richard Sloan, are on the ballot for district 7.


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I am a staff writer at the Independent Record covering primarily city and county governments.

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