City Commission Candidate Q&A: Susan Wolff
Name: Susan Wolff
Occupation: recently retired CEO/dean of Great Falls College MSU
Q: Why are you running for City Commission?
A: I have loved serving the community of Great Falls the last 9 plus years before I retired as the CEO/Dean of Great Falls College MSU and want to continue to do so. The community has been home to my parents, sister, brother and now my son and his family join me in making it home.
Being involved with so many agencies, businesses, and as a consumer has given me perspective on the needs of the community.
I am an experienced leader, manager, follower, and doer. In my higher education career, I focused on workforce, economic and community development, bringing jobs and career opportunities to others. As the former CEO/Dean of Great Falls College MSU, we partnered with other agencies to bring ADF International and 200 jobs to Great Falls. More than 2,000 graduates have gone on to careers in the health care, business, IT, computer science, manufacturing, and various trades.
Q: If elected, what are your top three priorities and goals for the city (that fall within the jurisdiction of the city)?
A: I want to see Great Falls grow and diversify its economy even more. To do so, the city will need a cohesive growth plan to be ready to provide additional safety services and to work with other entities to address a work-ready workforce, quality and available childcare and have additional housing across the income spectrum. We need to be a “shovel ready” community to provide the above three things to existing and new businesses.
Q: How would you work to better engage the public and promote a better informed electorate?
A: Each of the elected officials list their phone numbers and email addresses by which people can contact them.
Staying involved in the community and volunteering in Great Falls gives me opportunities to learn and interact with businesses owners and voters. If elected, I will continue to engage with community members both to listen to their ideas and help connect them to opportunities to get involved.
Q: What do you believe are the core services the city should provide?
A: Core city services include clean water, safe and effective wastewater treatment; police, fire, and EMS services; easily traversed and safe streets; governance, administration, health, judicial, legal, and code enforcement services to ensure a well-run, safe, and forward thinking city; communications; parks, recreation, and library services.
Q: If elected, what would you do to improve public safety? Please provide two to three specific examples.
A: If elected, I will work with my fellow commissioners, mayor and manager to review strategic plans to ensure fire and law enforcement facilities, technology, vehicles, and personnel meet the needs of businesses and citizens. We must have these to grow our community, to be development ready, and acquire necessary funding through a variety of mechanisms and sources.
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: Additional EMS, fire fighters and police officers are needed as one component to attracting development and growth. However, an equally important part of this picture is the increased need for mental health and addictions treatment. It cannot be either/or.
Various entities in the community are working to address how best to provide mental health and addictions treatment, safety, and stability needed to assist all people to be productive citizens.
Everyone needs to be part of the solution including our safety officers (fire, city and county law enforcement professionals), legal and judicial, health professionals, ministry services, housing, and job training. We are really talking about a case management model.
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 enacts ordinances and codes to provide structure and support of economic development and city growth. We have development experts working now to bring some exciting new businesses and industries to Cascade County. The City Commission will have a role to seek changes in ordinances and codes to eliminate duplicative or unnecessary barriers. Separation of expertise and work eliminates conflict of interest.
Q: How would you weigh annexation and economic development projects with city services and resources?
A: As in any decision-making process, the city must balance revenues and expenses and weigh the risks and rewards. If Great Falls’ economic base does not grow, nor will the city or its taxing structure. The question becomes, “Be bold or begin a spiral of retrenchment.”
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: Most developers include a percentage for costs to invest in a community. Their success and reputation relies on consumer satisfaction. The consumer is all of us including the city, its departments, contiguous businesses, homeowners, and taxpayers. We all share, invest, and benefit including the developer.
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: If elected, I intend to continue volunteering, to continue listening to residents and business owners, to engage with city advisory boards and to attend neighborhood council meetings. If elected, I also look forward to working with the city manager and the departments. Balancing community work with city work will help with relevant issues.
Q: The city employs staff who are highly trained in their areas of expertise, how would you treat their recommendations?
A: I have always respected the expertise of any staff with whom I have worked. They are the experts and have daily opportunity to hone their knowledge and skills even more. I ask questions to learn and research potential of their recommendations or explore other options with them, my fellow commissioners, the mayor, and the city manager.
Q: What is your view on privatization of services currently provided by the city?
A: Contracting for management of the two golf courses and city parking has been successful. There may be other opportunities city staff will bring forward, and I will listen and ask questions.
Q: How would you approach the budget process annually?
A: I have been involved in public budget processes for 45 years, not only with my own institutions, but with local partners and organizations with whom I worked. The budget must be balanced. The use of one-time-only funding from other sources needs to be weighed carefully for continuation of funding requirements.