When County Commissioner Bill Kennedy spoke to several hundred people gathered in Veterans Park for a suicide prevention fundraiser on a Sunday, he was making his second speech of the day, having already lent support to a Big Sky Honor Flight event.
It’s the season for politicians to appear at such events, but Kennedy shows up year round, year after year. He’s everywhere – co-chairing the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, cooking dinner at senior centers or lunch at the Hub, participating in and frequently organizing events to benefit local nonprofit organizations.
During legislative sessions, Kennedy is the face of Yellowstone County government in Helena, spending days at a time in the Capitol to communicate local needs and concerns. Kennedy also is active at the national level leading committees of the National Association of Counties, including the Rural Action Caucus.
Military veterans, mental health and transportation have been his continuing priorities. He chairs the board of the regional Mental Health Center and spearheaded efforts to sustain the Community Crisis Center and the Hub with a levy that voters approved. As a result, seriously mentally ill individuals have services, and local law enforcement officers spend less time with mental health crisis calls. Importantly, Kennedy helped the community understand that treatment is a better option than putting disturbed people in jail – both for the individuals and for the taxpayers who fund the jail.
Working with local veterans groups and other community members, Kennedy helped shepherd the Yellowstone County Veterans Cemetery from the idea stage, to voter approval through construction and lobbied for it to attain national veterans’ cemetery status, a goal that recently has been assured by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Perhaps Kennedy’s broadest contributions to Yellowstone County are in transportation. He has chaired the Montana Transportation Commission and worked with Montana’s congressional delegation to secure sufficient funding for major projects, including Airport Road, Shiloh Road and Bench Boulevard. He has worked for years on the Billings North Bypass project that is planned to link Lockwood and the Heights with a new bridge across the Yellowstone River.
Kennedy supported what is now Big Sky Economic Development from its inception, recognizing the importance of promoting job creation. He has championed Montana State University and post-secondary job training.
Kennedy’s challenger is the Nov. 6 election is Joan Micheletti, a semi-retired music teacher and counselor who strikes us as intelligent and articulate. With some experience in community board service or budgeting, this long-time educator would be a great candidate for local public office. However, she doesn’t come close to matching Kennedy’s depth of knowledge about county issues and how to make government work for the people. We recommend that Yellowstone County voters keep Kennedy at work for another six-year term.