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Billings City Hall

LARRY MAYER, Gazette Staff

Bruce McCandless, who’s been Billings’ acting city administrator since Tina Volek retired Sept. 30, told the Billings City Council Monday he’s willing to serve for up to an additional year in his current capacity until his permanent successor can be selected.

The council voted 10-0 to direct McCandless to return to the council with a proposed contract for the work he’ll do until his successor is in place. Billings attorney Tom Singer will help draft the proposed contract.

McCandless told the council that he plans to have a contract proposal and a general time frame for moving forward with the selection process in council members’ hands by Feb. 1.

Within three months, McCandless plans to appoint an assistant city administrator — his former position — who could potentially be the council’s choice to be the city’s long-term administrator. That person will probably be a city manager in a smaller community or an assistant city manager in a larger city, McCandless said.

“Get to know that person,” McCandless suggested to the council, “and see if they are a viable candidate.”

As he’s done in the past, McCandless removed himself as a candidate for the permanent position.

“I like doing this job, but I’m not the person to do the job,” McCandless told the council, echoing a statement he gave the council selection committee last year. “I’m 63 years old and I plan to retire sooner than later.”

Last month, the council voted 10-0 to offer the job to Greg Doyon, the Great Falls city manager. But when contract talks with the council committee broke down, Doyon removed himself from consideration.

Since then, four new lawmakers — Mayor Bill Cole and members Denise Joy, Penny Ronning and Frank Ewalt — have taken their oaths of office.

Councilman Larry Brewster, who chaired the council committee, said it’s important for staff to gather salary and benefit information from comparable cities so that a contract proposal can be offered immediately after permanent administrator is selected.

“I think that was a mistake on my part as chair of the committee,” Brewster told the council.

McCandless announced at the opening of Monday’s meeting that Wyeth Friday, Planning and Community Services director, will work part-time as the interim assistant city administrator, while also working part-time in his current position.

The appointed is effective immediately and is expected to last up to four months, McCandless said.

The former Planning Division manager, Friday has been director of the department since November 2016. He’s worked in the department since 2003.

McCandless said Friday has “broad knowledge” of the community and the city’s organization, “and his department has the management capacity that allows him to spend some time in city administration.”

Karla Stanton, the city’s human resources director, said human resources, legal and administrative staff will be very busy during the next few months on at least two large tasks: putting together the proposed 2018-19 budget and negotiating new collective bargaining agreements with the city’s three unions, police, fire and Teamsters. All three labor contracts expire June 30.

Another complicating factor is that the city currently has two interim department heads — Bill Rash at the Fire Department and Andy Zoeller at finance.

“It is difficult to remain in that (interim) position for a long period of time,” McCandless said. “That is hiring I will do as quickly as possible.”

By an 8-0 count, with Cole and Ronning abstaining, the council approved negotiating a lease with Art House Cinema & Pub to manage the Babcock Theatre.

“I’m glad we leased it (rather than selling the Babcock),” said Councilman Chris Friedel. “It’s a gem of our city.”

Friedel said he remembers providing security during Thursday Night Fights held for years at the Babcock.

“I hope they make it a place people will go again,” he said.



City Government Reporter

City reporter for The Billings Gazette.