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Great American Cleanup

Billings City Council member Roy Neese cleans up trash along the Sixth Avenue Bypass with members of the Heights Community Development Task Force during the Great American Cleanup on April 27, 2019. Neese is the first incumbent council member to file for election this fall.

So many candidates are campaigning for 2020 that the 2019 elections have barely been in the news. It is time for voters and potential candidates to pay attention to this fall's local elections.

Billings voters will elect five City Council members on Nov. 5. Depending on how many candidates file by the June 17 deadline, the city could hold a nonpartisan primary election on Sept. 10. As of Tuesday, there weren't enough candidates on the ballot to require a nonpartisan primary election.

Here's the candidate field so far, according to information from the Yellowstone County elections office:

  • In Ward 1 where Councilman Brent Cromley is termed out, candidates filing are: Kendra Shaw, John S. Armstrong and Jim Ronquillo.
  • In Ward 2 where Roy Neese was appointed to fill the vacancy created by Larry Brewster's resignation, Neese is the only candidate to file.
  • In Ward 3, Councilman Chris Friedel is allowed to run for a second term, but had not yet filed. Danny Choriki and Matthew S. Melvin have filed.
  • In Ward 4, Reg Gibbs was appointed to fill the vacancy created by Ryan Sullivan's resignation. Gibbs has not yet filed for election. Pam Purinton has filed
  • In Ward 5, Dick Clark is allowed to run for a second term, but had not yet filed. The only candidate to file is Dennis Ulvestad.

It's not unusual for local candidates to wait till the last few days before the deadline to file, but time is short for potential candidates to make their decisions and announce their intentions. In the last two weeks of the two-month filing period, there are still three seats with only one candidate. 

In a growing city of 110,000, voters ought to have choices — more than one good candidate — for each seat on the 11-member council that makes decisions about how local taxes and fees are spent, and sets policy for police, fire, parks, airport, streets and public utility services. The council also hires and supervises the city administrator who is responsible for supervising all other city employees.

Serving on the council isn't glamorous, but members decide policy and budgets that affect the daily lives of their neighbors throughout Montana's largest city.

City Council members perform important community service for which they receive the nominal salary of $7,200 per year during a four-year term. Council members are eligible for health insurance through the city employee plan. The City Council recently voted to increase council member pay to $1,000 per month, but that boost won't take effect until 2022 — after the current terms of all who voted on it have ended.

Under the Billings City Charter, a person may not be elected to more than two consecutive council terms.

Candidate school

If you or someone your know and respect is considering a council bid, a good place to start is the Candidate School offered on June 11 by the Billings Chamber of Commerce. Candidate School is free of charge and runs from 9 a.m. till 11:30 a. Tuesday at the Chamber on South 27th Street. Dan Brooks of the Chamber, City Manager Chris Kukulski, Mayor Bill Cole, consultant Mary Hernandez and Gazette Editor Darrell Ehrlick are on the agenda to cover topics such as forms and fees, reporting requirements, media and campaign strategies.

Advance registration is requested by emailing daniel@billingschamber.com or phoning 406-869-3733.

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