Billings voters would be hard-pressed to find a City Council member who works harder and more energetically than Mike Yakawich.
Yakawich is seeking re-election for a second four-year term representing Ward 1, which includes South Park, Pioneer Park, North Park and the portion of the Heights between Senators Boulevard, Governors/Hilltop Road and Main Street.
His challenger is Charlie Smillie a bright, young Billings native making his first run for public office. Smillie left Billings for a time and has returned to make his home and career here. We encourage Smillie to stay engaged in local government. But we haven’t heard much from him yet while Yakawich has been campaigning very hard throughout the sprawling boundaries of Ward 1.
At a candidate forum last month, Smillie said Billings needs “new leadership that’s going to take young people’s ideas seriously and acknowledge that everyone is equal and welcome in Billings.”
We couldn’t agree more with that statement. With one glaring exception, Yakawich has worked toward those goals. The exception is his vote against a nondiscrimination ordinance that sought to protect people who are LGBTQ from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation. Unfortunately, a majority of the present council and a majority of the 12 candidates running on Nov. 7 also oppose a city NDO.
Yakawich told the editorial board that he puts in more than 30 hours on council work every week. He regularly attends meetings of six neighborhood task forces and three urban renewal districts. Yakawich has served on the boards of the Big Sky Economic Development Authority and Southside Senior Center as well as task forces aimed at preventing suicide and human trafficking.
Twenty years ago, Yakawich organized the first March Against Drugs and Violence after he was shot at. Yakawich told us he again escaped injury this past summer when a shot was fired at his vehicle.
“I’m well aware of the challenges we face,” he said. “I’m invested in my community. I’m invested in my whole ward.”
The march continues as an annual event and this year raised money to hire a city park ranger. Yakawich keeps trying to make Billings safer. If re-elected his goals include: removal of lead water pipes, fixing Heights drainage problems, getting all streets paved and enacting an ordinance to deal with unoccupied, dilapidated buildings.
Ward 1 deserves to have Yakawich on the council for another term.