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T he new year brings three new members to the Billings City Council and the start of new four-year terms for two incumbents.

With newcomers being sworn in this week, we recognize the work of three retiring members. Peggie Gaghen, Vince Ruegamer and Dick Clark have completed eight consecutive years of service. Clark also served an earlier stint. We occasionally have disagreed with them over the years but always respected their dedication to representing the community.

Brent Cromley, Becky Bird and Kenneth Crouch were all elected in competitive races in November. Cromley, who has previously been elected to the Montana Legislature, will ably represent Ward 1 in the city’s center, taking the seat that Gaghen held.

In Ward 3, Becky Bird, an experienced manager and court administrator, will replace Ruegamer.

And in Ward 5, Kenneth Crouch, a recently retired minister, will fill Clark’s seat on the West End.

We also welcome the re-election of Jani McCall, who has served Ward 4 well in her first term, and the re-election of Denis Pitman, who will continue to be a strong voice for Ward 2 Heights concerns.

Municipal Court Judge Sheila Kolar also is taking the oath of office this week. Appointed last January to replace Mary Jane Knisely, Kolar was elected to the bench in November without opposition.

The council’s first regular meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Monday in City Hall. The council has a busy schedule with nearly 50 weekly council sessions set this year — not including committee meetings, neighborhood task forces and myriad other events that will demand the council’s attention.

In 2012, the council will need to focus on strategies for bringing city spending in line with future revenues. The council is responsible for seeing that the new library is constructed as voters directed. And the council will need to figure out what to do with the controversial special park district it created last month while deferring details until later.

We call on all of the newly elected, re-elected and continuing council members to strive even more for better communication with the public. We invite them to use The Gazette opinion pages to communicate with their constituents. We invite residents to keep telling the council what they think on these pages, too.

Residents also are encouraged to keep track of the council by tuning into meetings on Community 7 local cable access channel or by attending in person. The council generally holds informal work sessions at 5:30 p.m. on the first and third Mondays of the month. Regular meetings, which tend to be longer and involve formal votes on ordinances and budgets, usually are held at 6:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Mondays of the month. All meetings are on the second floor of City Hall, North 27th Street and Third Avenue North.

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