City Commission Candidate Q&A: Bob Kelly

Name: Bob Kelly

Age: 67

Occupation: retired, current mayor

Q: Why are you running for mayor?

A: I am running for mayor to continue building on the momentum established in Great Falls over the last several years. I think I bring a significant level of institutional knowledge, financial expertise, and deep commitment to our community.

Q: If elected, what are your top three priorities and goals for the city (that fall within the jurisdiction of the city)?

A: I think that three of our top  priorities should include affordable housing for our workforce, quality affordable daycare, and ensuring our growth is well managed.

Q: How would you work to better engage the public and promote a better informed electorate?

A: Having a well informed and engaged public needs to be a priority for any public institution, especially local government. The City of Great Falls is looking to add a position to help us be better communicators with the general public. It is a challenging time to both get information out to stakeholders and for constituents to find easy access to information. Being better informed these days requires more of the consumer and it can be a difficult transition for many.

(Editor’s note: There is no new communication position being advertised currently, according to city staff.)

Q: What do you believe are the core services the city should provide?

A: Core city services include public safety (fire and police), sanitation (trash and sewer), clean water and well maintained streets. There are several more important functions but these stand out as the bare minimum.

Q: If elected, what would you do to improve public safety? Please provide two to three specific examples.

A: We need to help our police department with additional resources and personnel. This includes coupling them with social service agencies and training to handle non- threatening conflicts that are better served by mental health  professionals. We also need to find a reliable funding source for an additional fire station and necessary additional personnel and equipment.

Q: Given the limited resources available, which of these would you identify as your top priority: funding mental health and addiction treatment programs, hiring more police officers and/or more firefighters, or improving community relations with the existing police force?

A: I don’t think any of these choices should stand alone. All three goals are necessary and complementary. It should not be an either/or situation. I do think that our community has a lot of respect for our existing police force. They have an excellent reputation here in town and across the state. They have earned that reputation through consistent community outreach, being accessible for conflict resolution and being an integral part of every aspect of our community as parents, coaches, volunteers and role models.

Q: What do you think the role of the city commission should be in economic development? What are your thoughts on whether a more active role would create conflicts of interest when it comes to annexation, zoning or tax incentives votes that would require commission approval?

A: The City Commission can play several roles to help with economic development but the key drivers to growing an economy are in the private sector. Market forces, workforce availability, local demographics…these are what attract or detract businesses from expanding or coming here to start something new. The commission has limited tools for incentives but they should be utilized when appropriate and conditions have been met. Questions of annexation and zoning need to be considered in light of the community’s needs and overall effect. These are the ethics that guide us. Playing a “more active role” needs to be limited to becoming better informed and making decisions based on as many perspectives as you can uncover.

Q: How would you weigh annexation and economic development projects with city services and resources?

A: The work of the city is to help our community prosper. Concerns of annexation and economic development go hand in hand with city services and resources.

Q: Do you think the city should impose impact fees on new developments to help fund the cost of specific needs such as a new fire station, or general public safety needs?

A: This question is one that may come before the commission in the future. If it does, I will listen to the public comment and form an opinion regarding the topic.

Q: If elected, how will you stay up to date on city issues, to include city departments and advisory boards? How will you work to determine what issues are most relevant to the public?

A: It is the job of all commissioners but especially the mayor to be informed and up to date on city issues. In the last six years, I think it is fair to say I have spent hundreds of hours with our city manager and department heads learning and listening about constituent concerns, city fiscal challenges, and a whole variety of day to day issues that we are faced with constantly. The relevancy to the public are simply those that have the biggest impact to our daily and fiscal lives. There is also a lot to be said for being out in the public’s eye and participating in as many civic events as possible. You can learn a lot by just showing up.

Q: The city employs staff who are highly trained in their areas of expertise, how would you treat their recommendations?

A: We are elected officials from the public to represent the community’s interests and concerns. The expertise of our staff deserves to be respected and listened to. They are exceptional in their jobs. However, their focus may not always include the community impact of a recommendation, although it often does. Our job as elected officials is weigh their recommendations against the backdrop of public concern.

Q: What is your view on privatization of services currently provided by the city?

A: If privatization makes sense, it should be done. However, that is easier said than done. The privatization of the two golf courses has been an overwhelming success and a great example. Trash collection and other services are more complicated. Creating a monopoly by a private carrier is a recipe for increased costs to the consumer. Competition works.

Q: How would you approach the budget process annually?

A: We are always looking for budget input from the public but we seldom see meaningful engagement. That is understandable due to the complexity and tediousness of the process. Nevertheless, we have lots of open meetings that showcase the whole sausage making endeavor. It takes a  lot of patience and even more persistence to understand and comment effectively for a desired change. I would welcome a briefer and more efficient way to do the budget every year.Call me please!