Billings wards

This city map shows the five wards in Billings, coordinated by color. 

Everybody wants some. 

Races for five open seats in each of Billings' five wards has drawn 21 candidates, an unusually high number that will trigger a primary in September before the November elections. 

Often it's the mayoral race that gets crowded enough to warrant a primary. 

"We usually don't see it with city council," said Bret Rutherford, Yellowstone County elections administrator.

Adding to the atypical feel of this year's races is that three first-term council members declined to seek re-election. Chris Friedel in Ward 3, Reg Gibbs in Ward 4 and Richard Clark in Ward 5 did not file to run again and defend their seats. 

Council members are elected to a term of four years and can then run again to keep their seat. Seats are limited to two consecutive terms, so once council members have served a second term they can't run again until they've been off the council for four years.

Richard Clark, for example, had served on the city council for a collective 14 years in the late 1990s and 2000s when he decided to run again in 2015. Brent Cromley in Ward 1 is finishing his second term on the council and so is not eligible to run again until 2023. 

When Clark, who is in his late 70s, talked about his decision not to run this fall, he noted that with the completion of this last term he'd now served a total of 18 years on the city council. 

"I've put enough time in," he said. 

He's eager to spend more time with his family, particularly his grandkids, and give someone else a chance to represent Ward 5. Serving on city council, when done right, is a serious time commitment, he said. 

That was one of the factors that ultimately led Friedel to decide not to run for a second term. 

"I didn't think I could fully commit to another four years," he said. 

His children are still young, and he realized he needed to focus his time on them and on his business. Serving on the council requires 20, 30 and 40 hours a week, he said. 

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"It's a full-time job," he said. 

Council members do receive a stipend of $600 a month for serving; the mayor receives $800 a month. That will change in 2022, when council members will receive $1,000 a month and the mayor will receive $2,000. 

Friedel plans to coach his son's soccer team this fall, and if another opportunity to run for office comes up in the future and he feels the time is right and he's the right person to serve, he'll run for office again, he said.  

Election law stipulates a primary for city council races when at least three of the wards have four or more candidates, or one ward has at least five candidates.

This year, Billings had both. 

"It was happening either way," Rutherford said. 

Wards 2, 4 and 5 each have four candidates or more; Ward 4 ended up with six candidates and Ward 5 ended up with five. 

Running in Ward 1 are Kendra Shaw, John S. Armstrong, and Jim Ronquillo, who has served on the city council before. Ward 1 includes downtown Billings, the North Park and South Park neighborhoods and the southern corner of the Heights. 

Running in Ward 2 are Roy Neese, who was appointed to the council late last year and is the only incumbent in any of the races, Michael Richardson, Randy Heinz and Roger Gravgaard. Ward 2 includes all the Heights north of Hilltop Road. 

Running in Ward 3 are Danny Choriki, Matthew S. Melvin and Aldo A. Rowe. Ward 3 includes midtown Billings and the neighborhoods in the Blue Creek area annexed by the city. 

Running in Ward 4 are Pam Purinton, Daron Olson, Gordon Olson, Carmelita Dominguez, Nicole Gallagher and Matthew J. Senn. Ward 4 includes the neighborhoods along the Rimrock Road corridor out to about 70th Street West, and Rehberg Ranch.

Running in Ward 5 are Dennis Ulvestad, Leilahni Kay, Mike Boyett, Jennifer Merecki and Fredrick J. Wilburn. Ward 5 includes the West End south of Colton Boulevard.

The primary will be held on Sept. 10 and ballots are tentatively scheduled to be mailed out on Aug. 23, Rutherford said. 

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