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  Comments (1) Total Thursday Apr. 24, 2014
More Than a Figurehead
Like I was sayin...
Since Kalispell does not have a strong mayor system in place – that is, a full-time elected city administrator – whoever replaces Tammi Fisher is less consequential to the overall direction of city government. But it still matters. Whether fair, the title alone conjures high expectations.

In reality, the next mayor will simply be the ninth vote on the city council and earn just a little more than his or her colleagues annually, $9,000 compared to $5,000. It’s part-time work, with an appointed city manager responsible for day-to-day operations. But to those who don’t live in Kalispell, and even to some who do, the “mayor” is considered the most important person in local government.

It’s his or her job to market the city to potential businesses considering investments, to lure tourists by touting the area’s amenities, to sell it to retirees looking to relocate. He or she oversees meetings as the council leader. And inevitably, the media quotes him or her more often and their opinion carries more weight than other members of the council.

Kalispell’s economy is still hurting, but it was far worse in 2010 when Fisher took office. That, of course, can largely be attributed to the nationwide recession and the fact that area manufacturing companies rely more heavily on national and international markets. Thus, Northwest Montana has fared worse than just about anywhere else in the state.

As the country’s economy modestly improved, so did ours. Right now, Flathead County’s unemployment rate is 9.1 percent, Montana’s is 5.7 percent and the U.S.’ is 7. 9 percent. We have continued to lag behind, but most agree the worst is behind us.

The city’s budget outlook has also markedly improved over the last few years. In 2009, Kalispell’s cash reserves had diminished to about $250,000, far too low for a city of its size. Two years later it had eclipsed $1 million. The council and mayor deserve some credit for that, but former City Manager Jane Howington, who held the job for just two years, was more influential in balancing the books.

As Flathead County’s largest city has emerged from a budget quandary, as the job market has improved, its city government has appropriately shifted from only focusing on crisis prevention to planning for the future. The best example of that is the recently completed core revitalization plan, which is now awaiting a feasibility study.

The redevelopment plan is ambitious. It calls for transforming the city’s core into a mixed-used center, replacing the railroad tracks with an expansive pathway, and provides some direction to a downtown that sorely needs it.

Many of the initial renderings seem far-fetched. And in a recent interview, Fisher acknowledged that it is “an aggressive plan” and the city cannot wholly fund it. But it at least provides Kalispell with a blueprint and, as she points out, provides “something to be optimistic about with regards to what this community could be and look like.”

As mayor, especially one that is more of a figurehead than administrator, rooting for the city is a large part of the job. I may not have agreed with every one of Fisher’s votes on the city council, but she appeared to have the city’s best interests in mind and held a vision for what Kalispell could be.

As residents consider whether they would like to run for Fisher’s post, they should at once develop a picture of how the city can improve and a roadmap for how to get it there. The mayor’s vote counts the same as other members on the council. But whoever holds the office is still looked to for leadership – even if it is the token variety.
On 02-10-13, Sawyer commented....
If Miss Fisher had decent people backing her, other than the right wing America Dream Montana types, she surely could have accomplished alot more, but then that is who put her in office, along with a couple of our current commissioners.
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