The job of Billings mayor is officially a part-time job. Mayor Tom Hanel never saw it that way.
From the time he was first sworn into office in January 2010 till this month, the last of his second and final term, Hanel has been the city’s tireless ambassador. He hasn’t carried that duty alone. Robin Hanel has been her husband’s partner in representing Billings, sometimes standing in for the mayor at ceremonies and community meetings when the mayor had multiple commitments.
According to the Billings City Charter, the mayor’s duties are to preside at Billings City Council meetings, to appoint members to the city’s numerous advisory boards and otherwise to serve as one of 11 elected council members. However, most of our city’s life happens outside of council meetings. The Hanels have been active in our community. They have been Billings’ first cheerleaders for the past eight years. The Hanels donated their time, as well as Tom’s mayoral salary to Billings nonprofit organizations.
In 2017, YWCA Billings honored Tom for his advocacy for women, specifically for traveling to Helena to testify in favor of the YWCA Gateway Vista project before the Montana Board of Housing, which subsequently approved the financing authority needed to start construction on the 24-unit affordable apartment complex. Hanel was on hand for that groundbreaking as well as for Billings Housing Authority’s groundbreaking for Red Fox, a 30-unit low-income housing project in the Heights.
Tom was master of ceremonies for events ranging from the Billings Community Christmas Tree lighting to LIVESTRONG Day at Dehler Park. Tom and Robin co-chaired the American Cancer Society’s annual Relay for Life. Dozens of local running races began with Tom firing the starting gun.
Robin, whose unofficial, unpaid work included keeping Tom’s schedule, estimates that he attended more than 5,000 meetings and other events as mayor.
The Hanels’ final mayoral event was a Thursday evening “gratitude reception” that Robin organized to thank the community for “the great opportunity” of serving. “We had front-row seats to see what this community of volunteers is doing,” Robin Hanel told The Gazette Thursday.
Robin worked with the successful Yes for Kids campaigns in 2013 that educated voters about the need for funds for more elementary teachers and the $122 million K-8 bond issue to address overcrowding and deferred maintenance.
When Hanel first ran for mayor of Billings, he already had mayoral experience – as mayor of Big Timber – and public service experience in Billings from 20 years as a police officer. Now the Hanels are part owners of Floberg Berkshire Hathaway where Tom is managing partner and broker and Robin is a real estate agent.
Asked what he’s going to do next year with the time he’s been devoting to city business, Tom told The Gazette: “No. 1 is my family and, of course, my work, and I hope to enjoy a little more time with my wife.
“I’m going to miss it. I’ve enjoyed it very much,” Hanel said of his two mayoral terms.
Many Billings citizens will miss seeing the always enthusiastic Hanels at virtually every community gathering. Thanks, Robin and Tom, for your devotion to our city’s vitality. We look forward to seeing you both around town and wish you well in the post-mayoral chapter of your lives.