Randy Hafer, president and co-owner of High Plains Architects, announced Monday he will run for Billings mayor to succeed Tom Hanel, who is term-limited.
“Billings is on the edge of greatness, and I’d like to be in position to make that happen,” he said.
He said he plans to file on the first day he can, April 20. He’s the first to announce for the city’s top elected job, which pays $9,200 annually.
The city’s primary election is Sept. 12. The fall election is Nov. 7.
Hafer, 62, attended Billings West High School, where he won the only political race he’s ever entered — for senior class vice president. His undergraduate degree is from Stanford University, with a master’s in architecture from Yale University.
His wife, Jana, is a School District 2 trustee. Between them, the couple has seven children.
When he moved back to Billings in 1992, “the town was considered as ‘What’s going on over there?’ mostly by people in the western side of the state,” he said. “They’re still saying that, but they’re jealous. We’ve got some big projects and some small ones coming in, and people continue to move here. I think there is potential for growth to continue strong.”
Hafer said a strong motivation to run is “that we develop the place to be attractive to young people,” citing his daughter Lindsey as an example. She moved to Billings three years ago after spending an hour commuting each way to her job in Illinois.
“It was the obvious opportunity, and she was coming to Billings to try something different,” he said. “She was blown away by what we have to offer — the ability to meet people quickly and to have adventures. She got that right away.”
Increasingly, he said, young architects have come to his firm for similar reasons. “We have something cooking here,” he said. “We are doing good things.”
While part-time duties as mayor would require time away from his downtown office, “it will be a little less of a gearshift for me than for others,” he said, because architects “work with the city all the time, both collectively and individually.”
One item on his to-do list is city officials’ upcoming efforts to rewrite the city's zoning ordinances.
“At some level we would have been involved in that anyway,” he said. “Being in the mayor’s position is a way to look at it from two points of view. The (zoning) code is very old and a lot has changed.”
Hafer said he doesn’t know of another architect to be elected mayor of Montana's largest community.
“I feel like I know the staff and I know the issues,” he said, and he’s worked on projects “from both sides” — as a developer and an architect.
“A lot of council time is spent on land issues, and that is what our training is all about,” he said.
“Some of the council has been reluctant to support One Big Sky Center, and it’s frustrating to me,” he said. “Does a project fit or not?"
Expressing that kind of support is "a skill set that can be really valuable as the city continues to grow.”
The council's decision to create a committee to deal with the Mustangs lease “added at least three or four months to the process,” Hafer said, “and they’ve come right back to where they started.”
Although if he's elected he wouldn't join the council until January 2018, he said he’s eager to aid in the city administrator selection process because “it’s absolutely essential. I have appreciated Tina Volek’s work over the last 12 years, and I’ve served on many boards with her. We certainly don’t want to lose that kind of forward thinking.”