Bill Cole

Bill Cole high-fives Ryann McDowell, 9, center, and Sydney Schmall, 9, after his win in the Billings mayoral race during a gathering with supporters at the Highlands Golf Club on Tuesday.

CASEY PAGE, Gazette Staff

Billings has elected a mayor who asked voters to support a future in which our city thrives with attention to trails, parks, economic development and amenities that make us competitive with other cities in the West.

In his first bid for public office, Bill Cole garnered 18,200 votes in Tuesday’s city election, defeating Jeff Essmann, a legislative veteran and GOP leader who garnered 10,343 votes. The votes split 63.31 percent for Cole, 35.98 percent for Essmann, according to unofficial results from the Yellowstone County Elections Office.

Cole summed up his vision for Billings’ future in a guest opinion during the campaign: “It is especially important that we improve our ability to retain and attract the nomadic 20- to 40-year-olds who will fill all those jobs, build our tax base, and take care of the rest of us as we get older. To do so, Billings needs to offer an exciting quality of life, neighborliness that welcomes diversity, and a nationally-known brand identity that makes our children want to stay here and young adults in Denver, Seattle and Bozeman want to move here.”

The races for the five ward seats were closer. Ward 1 Councilman Mike Yakawich and Ward 5 Councilman Shaun Brown were re-elected. Frank Ewalt, Denise Joy and Penny Ronning were elected to their first four-year terms. The number of women on the council will double in January when Ronning and Joy take office. Ward 2 Councilwoman Angela Cimmino, who is termed out next month, presently is the only female on the 11-member council.

While congratulating Tuesday’s winners, we also thank the candidates who didn’t win. They campaigned actively and gave voters real choices in this election; that is vitally important to our democracy.

Although the newcomers won’t take office till the beginning of January, we urge them to stay engaged with council work through the end of this year. The City Council is preparing to make one of its biggest decisions: the hiring of a new city administrator. Four finalists are under consideration and the council is scheduled to select one on Dec. 1 for the job of running our city.

We call the newly elected to become informed about the finalists and the selection process and to speak up with their recommendations to the present council. That’s their right as citizens and their responsibility as future council members who will supervise and work with the new administrator.

Voters Tuesday narrowly approved an increase in the permanent mill levy supporting the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office, which has seen its criminal, child abuse and psychiatric commitment caseload more than double in the past few years. Thanks to 21,143 voters who cast ballots for the levy, the county will continue to have the resources to prosecute criminals, protect children and incompetent adults and deal with the explosion of drug abuse in our community. 

The mill levy victory is a credit to County Attorney Scott Twito, who talked to many local groups. The campaign had no signs or other advertising, but was unanimously supported by Yellowstone County Commissioners Robyn Driscoll, John Ostlund and Denis Pitman.

With 56.18 percent of Lockwood voters turning out, the answer to the question of making a high school plan was a resounding “yes.” Now Lockwood’s K-8 district has two years to create a plan for establishing a K-12 district, building a high school and paying for all of it. Voters then will be asked to vote on the levies proposed.

Laurel school leaders also will have to make new plans after voters (with a 60 percent turnout) overwhelmingly rejected requests for bond issues that would have upgraded elementary and high school facilities.

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