The candidates running to represent Ward 5 on the Billings City Council draw from years of experience of public service in the military and as volunteers on various city boards and commissions.
Mike Boyett and Dennis Ulvestad were both raised in Billings and see the opportunity to serve on city council as a way to give back to the city.
"Billings has been good to me," said Boyett, who serves on the city's planning commission. "Right now I have the time and energy."
Boyett and Ulvestad came out on top of a crowded primary for Ward 5 in September; five candidates ran. Boyett finished first with 1,610 votes, followed by Ulvestad with 1,028 votes. The pair beat out candidates Leilahni Kay, Jennifer Merecki, and Fredrick J. Wilburn.
Ward 5 includes the West End south of Colton Boulevard.
Ulvestad has spent the better part of two decades running for city council or volunteering on some of the city's various boards and committees. This latest run is his seventh attempt; he has yet to win. He serves on Billings' planning commission. He's also served on the city's animal control board and West End Task Force.
"My experience would allow me to step into the job with a short learning curve," he said.
Ulvestad was caught off guard Monday when he learned that in March Billings Municipal Court had issued a warrant for his arrest for failing to comply with the terms of his probation for a misdemeanor DUI conviction he received last year. It was his second DUI.
Ulvestad was arrested in December 2017 for driving with a 0.134 blood alcohol level; the legal limit is 0.08. He was convicted in October 2018 and sentenced to a year in jail with all but seven days of it suspended. For those seven days he was ordered to participate in a treatment program at Alternatives and was placed on probation for a year.
On Tuesday, Billings Municipal Court quashed the warrant after he appeared before Judge Sheila Kolar. He also caught up with the fees he owed the court.
With two DUI convictions and an outstanding arrest warrant that he recently cleared, Ulvestad acknowledged earlier this week that he had added to the workload of the city's public safety system.
"Of course I did," he said. "I was wrong." But, he added, he's been working hard since December 2017 to make things right.
The incident inadvertently played into one of the central issues in this year's council elections: the proposed public safety mill levy. Council members will decide early next year if the city should seek a mill levy from voters to increase its spending on police, fire and municipal court.
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Boyett, who early in his career was a Yellowstone County Sheriff's deputy, said he'd support a public safety mill levy, noting that Billings needs enough officers to keep the city safe.
Billings has the highest crime rate among Montana's six largest cities, with a smaller-than-average police force when compared to similar-sized regional cities. As the city has grown during the past decade it hasn't been able to keep pace with the demand for service, city leaders have said.
One of the proposed pieces of the public safety mill levy is funding to hire 36 new police officers, a move Boyett would approach carefully.
If the police department hired three dozen new officers all at once and put them all on the street, then, "I think that's gonna scare a lot of people," he said.
Boyett believes that not all taxes are bad and that the key to passing a mill levy is being able to explain to voters what it is, why it's needed, and what it'll be paying for.
"We need examples," he said. "What's it going to do?"
Both candidates want to attract a young workforce to Billings and make the city appealing to young families.
"We have a diamond in the rough," Ulvestad said.
Boyett believes Billings can be an attractive place for young workers to relocate to; the city just needs to market itself. He spoke of a new resident earlier this month who had just moved his family to Billings from Bozeman. When Boyett asked why, the man said he could afford to buy a home in Billings.
"There are opportunities," Boyett said. "If we just sold ourselves. We have the best hospitals in the area, the best universities."
Smart planning by the council and smart policies that will help the city grow in a sustainable way will ultimately make Billings the destination city it has the potential to become, he said.
"We need to plan for the future, look past the end of our nose," he said.