Reg Gibbs, a rehabilitation counselor and business owner, is Mayor Bill Cole’s selection to serve the almost two years remaining on Ryan Sullivan’s Ward 4 seat on the Billings City Council.
The council voted 8-2 in support of Gibbs, 55, who together with his wife founded Rocky Mountain Rehab, which provides life care planning for people with various medical conditions and vocational rehabilitation to people with disabilities.
Gibbs also chairs the Valley Federal Credit Union’s board of directors and has served a number of other organizations as a volunteer.
“He can be a change agent,” Cole said of Gibbs, adding that Gibbs has a “stellar” record as a counselor, entrepreneur and rehab counselor. “Ward 4 and the city will be well-served by Reg for the next year and 10 months.”
Cole said he “appreciated and admired” all 10 Ward 4 residents who applied for Sullivan’s seat. “I appreciate your willingness to lean in for the benefit of your community,” Cole told the other nine candidates, some of whom were present for Monday’s council meeting.
Council members Penny Ronning and Denise Joy opposed Cole’s selection. Ronning said she was “extremely disappointed” with the pick.
Saying the city’s long been “subject to the leadership of older white males,” Ronning said Cole “had the opportunity to change that, but you chose not to. I’m disappointed you chose not to represent the diversity of our community in your choice.”
Among those who applied for the open seat were Shirley Girard McDermott, a former two-term councilwoman, and Barbi McLaws, a 31-year Billings resident.
Councilman Larry Brewster took exception to Ronning’s criticism.
“All us old white guys were elected by our constituents in an open, fair election,” he said. “To be derogatory to us is kind of sad. We are entitled to run for office the same as anyone else. This ongoing, continuing rhetoric is counterproductive on your part.”
“Gender balance on this body is an important feature,” Cole said, but “that’s something the voters should decide.”
Sullivan resigned from the council last month to move to Houston. Under the city’s charter, the mayor alone has the authority to fill a council vacancy. It’s the council’s job to affirm the mayor’s choice.
Gibbs called his appointment and the subsequent vote “an honor and a challenge. It’s something I look forward to, serving the people of Ward 4 and the city of Billings.”
He said he respects Ronning, who also represents Ward 4, “for speaking up. She spoke her mind and let her thoughts be known. Hopefully I’ll quickly establish a relationship with her to work for the benefit of Ward 4.”
The council was more united on a $1.37 million plan to install conventional curb and gutter or ribbon curb and reconstruct the Poet Streets neighborhood north of Poly Drive and west of Virginia Lane.
The vote was 10-0 after a number of affected residents praised the city’s public works staff — particularly John Zisch, a staff engineer — for, as Public Works Director Dave Mumford said, developing a plan to reconstruct roads while keeping the character of the neighborhood.
The city will pay to replace the asphalt, while the property owners will be assessed for curb and gutter costs.
“We appreciate the neighborhood’s persistence,” Mumford told the council. “There has been a lot of discussion over the years.”
“This is a wonderful resolution to all the issues,” said Susan Gilbertz, who’s lived in the Poet Streets neighborhood for tw years.
Barbara Sample said she had the “unfortunate experience” of breaking an axle driving after dark into “a big hole” in a neighborhood street.
A towing company “took my car, and I got to walk home. It was a very special evening,” she said, crediting public works staff with “spending an inordinate amount of time helping us come to a solution. It has long been a sore spot for us as neighbors and for the city as well.”
“I think we can all agree,” Cole told her, “that city streets should not break axles.”
“It’s nice to see a big win,” said Councilman Shaun Brown. “You don’t often hear such accolades” directed at city staff.