City Commission Candidate Q&A: Joe McKenney

Name: Joe McKenney

Age: 63

Occupation: Entrepreneur, I have owned six local businesses employing hundreds of our fellow residents.

Q: Why are you running for City Commission?

A: Community service has always played an important role in my life. My background as a military veteran, entrepreneur, four-term lawmaker in the Montana House of Representatives and years of proven leadership will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Great Falls City Commission.

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

A: I am excited to do my part in moving Great Falls forward. My goals are simple but will not necessarily be easy to reach. It will take community teamwork to accomplish these ambitions.

  1. Economic Development
  2. Affordable housing
  3. Safe Neighborhoods

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

A: It’s fairly easy to participate in local government. Just show up. Become knowledgeable about the issues that are important to you. Ask questions. Visit with your local elected representatives. We want to hear from you, whether it be at a public setting or a personal phone call or visit. Your voice matters.

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

A: The core services are always related to health, safety and welfare of our community. It takes a growing and prosperous city to address these services properly. That is why my main goal is to facilitate economic growth and an expanding tax base.

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

A: I attended many of the crime task force meetings. There were several recommendations to address this situation. Including more collaboration with local, state, federal and tribal jurisdictions. It will take a growing community to address public safety properly. Growing communities are usually prosperous communities with an expanding tax base. With prosperity comes resources to shore up public safety such as more police officers and an additional fire station.

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 relations with the existing police force?

A: Let’s be honest. All of these are important. It’s not a matter of picking one over another. And the only way to fund these public safety issues properly is with a growing and prosperous community. That is why economic development and affordable/workforce housing are my primary concerns.

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 that would require commission approval?

A: Part of our role as a city commission is to provide vision, leadership and encourage community engagement. We are all in this together. When it comes to economic development the city commission plays a vital role. Do we promote our city as a remarkable place for business and job creation? Do we encourage our city manager and departments heads to have a welcoming, problem-solving attitude and approach? Do we work through difficult development issues with a can-do attitude? It all comes down to our mindset and the city commission can provide that first vital step of a positive attitude.

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

A: I think that, for too long, some in the Civic Center view developers and entrepreneurs as merely a revenue source. Instead, we need to take a longer term view. Hypothetically, if Microsoft wanted to relocate its headquarters to Great Falls, should we turn them away unless they pay every last nickel of new streets and sewers, or should we recognize that sometimes a city, being a city, needs to provide some of the infrastructure to create positive long term impacts such as good jobs, expanded tax base and increased population?

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: When it comes to new development and infrastructure such as roads, water, and sewer, tax increment financing (TIF) can be helpful. Simply put, TIF is an economic development tool to encourage developers to come and build. Their property taxes are reduced for a set period of time to help finance the infrastructure needed to bring them in.

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

A: All local issues are relevant to at least some members of our community. Some are short-term, such as leaf pick-up. And some are long-term such as economic development, housing and safety. No one person can be an expert on all topics. However, our community is full of smart, motivated people. I will seek out knowledge whether it be city staff, advisory boards, business leaders or our neighbors. I encourage everyone to pay attention to the issues and contact myself and other commissioners with your thoughts. We want to hear from you.

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

A: The staff are hired to serve the people of Great Falls. Their expertise is essential and recommendations critical for city operations. It is the city commissions responsibility to ask questions and further engage public comment. Ultimately the city commission makes the final decisions with full consideration of the pros and cons.

Q: What is your view on privatization of services currently provides by the city.

A: Generally speaking, due to competitive pressure the private sector improves services and reduces cost.  Although it is not on my radar at this time, I’m open minded to considering services that may be best done by the private sector

Q: How would you approach the budget process annually?

A: Ask questions. Such as, do we still need this service at this level of funding? Or, do we still need this service at all? What areas of service are we weak and can we improve the funding in that area? Are we being good stewards of the taxpayers money? How can we improve?