Recently I have a new clarity about the upcoming City Commission election. After dealing with half-truths, rumors and negativity, I have recently felt the need to respond to some of these. I pride myself on being open and direct in communicating and dealing with issues. As I heard more unfounded attacks on the current Commission, I was reminded of a story one of my brother Larry’s best friends told at Larry’s memorial this summer. His friend related a story of when he and Larry were beaten up in a tough Butte neighborhood walking home. My Dad got both of them in the car, drove them back to confront the attackers, and told my brother since he was the bigger guy so he needed to protect his smaller friend. My brother took it to heart and spent most of his life protecting people with disabilities. He was a tough fighter for them. I remember he and my Dad told me against my desire I needed to stand up to kids who were picking on me. I did. They stopped. I learned the Butte lesson, resist when you must. I don’t like conflict, but I have learned to address it directly. This directness has allowed to be honest and straight-forward, so when someone attacks me I try to have a reasonable discussion while holding my ground on things that I am convinced are true.
This week I challenged some half-truths. “The Commission doesn’t support the Fire Dept.” With the passing of the Fire Levy, the Fire Department personnel, the Commission, and the citizens of Helena recognized a long-standing need and last week we inducted nine new firemen. The acting fire chief generously allowed a year of transition before the permanent hiring of a chief so that no other fire personnel would have to be eliminated. When I said the acting police chief did the same thing and so we have four more police personnel. I was told that was because the School District had to pay for the four school officers. When I said that the School District after discussion helped the City out secure a strong reserve by paying for one of those officers, not 4, the response was skepticism. I was told “Why hire a Sustainability Coordinator,” which this person didn’t see as a priority. I said the position was actually half-time and if done right should be pay for itself while accomplishing goals supported by many people. I had some Latin thrown at me that saying “many” was absurd, but for the people reading this, I know “many” of you understand the need for conservation and sustainability. This list of half-truths is long and answering challenges doesn’t result in understanding. Another dedicated Helena volunteer suggested not to vote for the current Commission members because they insulted the Civic Center Board. I didn’t insult or attack the CC Board. I just disagreed with their desire not to put the Civic Center under Parks and Rec.
The most dangerous thing I heard this week was how one of the candidates approached someone he thought might be a biker and asked, “What do you think about people trying to drive bikers out of the South Hills?” That terrible simplification of the desire to solve issues about South Hills trails’ use only tries to capitalize on a sense of enemies. The question of the South Hills is one of the most important discussions we are having. People have hiked the South Hills for years, advocating for trails, some finding recreation, exercise, others finding renewal and mental or spiritual escape. Bikers have found new opportunities and made the South Hills and the Helena area a haven for biking enthusiasts. This growth creates conflict but “many” people are trying to find reasonable response for the issues. I had to catch up with the concerns myself, but I now support the good but hard discussion going on. Hikers love and protect the South Hills. Bikers are an important core of citizens. When I see families biking down my street or see kids being trained in Centennial Park in mountain biking, my spirit is lifted.
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We should not make these issues battles but see them as opportunities for new solutions that can define the quality of this community. We are a community wanting to create opportunities for “many.” I know I would rather struggle in the confusion of finding loving collaboration with different points of view, rather than circling in on myself in muddled accusation and harsh judgment. I hope that voters will in the end choose collaboration and forego attack.
Ed Noonan is running for re-election to the Helena City Commission.