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Candidates Wanted
Like I Was Sayin...
The upcoming election season in the Flathead will be sleepy, even for here. The deadline to file for office came and went. Few people noticed and even fewer opted to run for office. And it’s hard to blame them.

City councilors and mayors elected to our various boards are true public servants, with an emphasis on servants. They get paid little or nothing to attend hours-long meetings and spend additional time poring over documents to familiarize themselves with complex issues like how to best use Tax Increment Finance funds. Good times.

So when June 27 arrived and the list of candidates was finalized, there weren’t very many names on it. There weren’t very many people willing to jump in the political arena and make decisions that often have more impact on our day-to-day lives than statewide elected officials, even though the latter’s campaigns can cost millions of dollars.

There’s still something quaint about small-town elections in which candidates walk door to door and talk to their neighbors about their views on schools, parks and city ordinances. And it’s a shame there may be less of that this year.

Mark Johnson is the lone candidate in his race, effectively making him the next mayor of Kalispell. This marks Johnson’s, a certified public accountant and financial advisor, first run for public office. He said his priorities will be producing a responsible budget and “looking at how the city can improve from a business perspective.”

He seems wholly capable for the job, but that doesn’t lessen the benefits of a campaign in which he, and a potential opponent, would have to articulate their respective opinions on city policy.

Kalispell is rife with important issues, from the future of the local airport to the much-discussed core area plan to how, or if, the city expands. Will more surrounding areas be annexed and extended services? What happens after the bypass is finally completed?

Perhaps Johnson’s best attribute is his background in finance. The city’s coffers are back on solid footing, so how will he and the rest of the council responsibly manage them?

Along with Johnson, Chad Graham (Ward 2) and Tim Kluesner (Ward 4) are running unopposed, while Wards 1 and 3 are contested. The lack of interest in running for office spreads beyond Kalispell. In Whitefish, just four people are running for three open seats as the debate over how best to retain the fast-growing town’s character without hampering its businesses rages on.

Flathead County and the city of Whitefish continue to argue over who has jurisdiction over the roughly two-mile area outside of city limits known as the extraterritorial planning doughnut. There’s a lot at stake in the outcome, but not enough to attract more candidates to file for office.

In Columbia Falls, five candidates are running for three open seats, but its mayor race also drew just one candidate – incumbent Donald Barnhart. In fact, Columbia Falls hasn’t had a contested mayor race in 12 years.

Barnhart said he actually encouraged people to run and assumed he would have a challenger. He also pointed out that the lack of candidates may also mean the general public is happy with the local government.

“We always invite people to come and let us know what they’re thinking,” Barnhart said. “We’re staying on top of things and I think we’re doing real good here.”

And he may be right. But one incumbent councilor, Whitefish’s Phil Mitchell, said he opted not to run again because the long hours required were difficult to balance with his other obligations.

“We have an awful lot of people who are community minded but don’t want to do this job,” Mitchell said.

And that’s a shame.
 
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