The ideal mayor of Billings is a person who has a proven record of uniting fellow citizens and leading them to solve problems and improve our community.
As a volunteer on city boards and leader of local arts, business, outdoors and charitable organizations, Bill Cole has built the resume of an ideal mayoral candidate during his 28 years in Billings. It includes leadership and volunteer work for the Billings Chamber of Commerce, Yellowstone Art Museum, Billings YMCA and Alberta Bair Theater. Cole was a driving force in completing projects with public-private partnerships, such as new trail connections, developing the Yellowstone Kelly historical site and bringing new airline service to Billings.
When The Gazette asked him about his vision for our growing city of 110,000, Cole talked about the economic projection that Billings will need to fill 32,500 job openings in the next decade.
“As an attorney, small businessman, and former chair of the Billings Chamber of Commerce and City-County Planning Board, I know we are in constant competition with other cities for young talent, business investment, tourism dollars, airline service, you name it. We are in a race, and time is of the essence,” Cole said. “It is especially important that we improve our ability to retain and attract the nomadic 20- to 40-year-olds who will fill all those jobs, build our tax base, and take care of the rest of us as we get older. To do so, Billings needs to offer an exciting quality of life, neighborliness that welcomes diversity, and a nationally-known brand identity that makes our children want to stay here and young adults in Denver, Seattle and Bozeman want to move here.”
If Billings voters choose Cole, he will spearhead “consensus-based leadership that inspires the whole community to dream big and think out of the box.”
Cole’s opponent on the Nov. 7 ballot brings more than a decade of legislative and political experience to the mayoral campaign. Jeff Essmann has served in the Montana Senate and House, and he’s done some good things for his hometown, most recently carrying legislation to add two District Court judges in the state’s busiest judicial district. So in January 2019, Yellowstone County will have two of the six additional judges its caseload justified two years ago.
That is a relatively big success for Billings in the Legislature, which more often has focused on hoarding power in the Capitol by constraining local government authority.
An egregious example of that legislative indifference to the needs of local government and taxpayers played out in the 2017 session after Essmann, who was both a state representative and executive director of the Montana Republican Party, opposed a bill supported by county governments that would have allowed counties to decide whether to hold the special May U.S. House election by all-mail ballot, an option that would have saved county taxpayers about $750,000 across the state. Essmann made it a partisan issue, claiming (wrongly) that all-mail ballots favor Democrats.
Now Essmann is running for mayor on a nonpartisan, all-mail ballot. Regrettably, he has injected the type of negative campaigning that has become a hallmark of legislative races in recent years. Essmann’s campaign literature claims Cole’s “only answer is raising your taxes.”
In fact, only the voters of Billings can raise property taxes above what they have already approved, and voters can only use property taxes for local needs because the Legislature has forbidden other options for Montana’s largest cities.
Both Cole and Essmann are smart, capable people, but Essmann’s record of partisanship and discord isn’t the leadership style Billings needs. The mayor is just one vote on our 11-member nonpartisan City Council. Successful Billings mayors must be consensus builders.
We urge voters to choose Cole for positive, creative, unifying leadership. Cole is open to new ideas for keeping Billings a great, safe, thriving city.