WHITEFISH — Adam Hammatt spent much of his first week as Whitefish’s new city manager visiting with department heads and learning the finer administrative points that make this ski town unique.
Taking the reins from outgoing City Manager Chuck Stearns, whose official last day is March 9, Hammatt steps into the role as Whitefish’s top administrator just as city leaders grapple with a panoply of community-shaping measures, including the nearing completion of City Hall, an affordable housing crisis, corridor plans that will define future land uses in a resort town wary of change, an uptick in commercial and residential building, and strained relations with their county government counterparts.
But Hammatt, a Montana native born and raised in Great Falls, is eager to help manage a community bristling with growth, activity and potential.
“In Whitefish, there’s such a spirit of involvement in the community and at the administrative level,” he said. “I’m excited to be of service to a premiere community.”
A graduate of C.M. Russell High School, Hammatt has worked for the Village of Kimberly, Wisconsin as the village administrator for four years. He holds a juris doctor degree, master of public administration and a bachelor of arts degree in political science and is an ICMA Credentialed Manager. Before his tenure in Kimberly, Hammatt worked as the village administrator for the Village of Suamico and as the city administrator for the City of Elroy.
Hammatt has also served as an EMT/safety officer for St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula and as a firefighter/paramedic for Great Falls Fire Rescue.
As he settles into his new role, Hammatt acknowledges that Whitefish’s dearth of workforce housing and affordable housing will be the most pressing and difficult challenge to tackle.
“That is probably the biggest issue that we are facing and it is one that is not easily solved,” he said. “There is a lot of property and a lot of homes around that are selling for higher prices, and will continue as long as there is a market for them. Everybody knows that we need a solution, but what that looks like is a little bit less clear.”
Hammatt also said a goal that sits high on his list of priorities is improving the city’s relationship with Flathead County, whose leaders often have a different vision of growth in Whitefish’s southern corridor, and the two-mile belt girding city limits known as the “doughnut.”
“I would really like to work with the county and come up with a plan,” he said. “There are some things that the county wants to do right outside of our jurisdiction that do not match our growth plan, so hopefully there are some cooperative decisions that can be made.”
“Whitefish’s growth plan extends beyond our boundaries, and development in that corridor definitely needs to be planned,” he continued. “We can’t just let it happen as it happens, because that usually creates a mess. And then you spend a hundred years trying to fix things.”
Hammatt held up Whitefish’s work to secure permanent protections of Haskill Basin by raising its resort tax as evidence that the community supports maintaining a rural, forested character and furnishing conservation measures on its open spaces.
“As you drive through and see all of these pine trees even in the middle of town there is a beauty and a value to it,” Hammatt said. “You want to maintain and manage that so that we don’t get ourselves into a mess. It is difficult because you are going to have growth. The question is how are you going to manage that growth and maintain the characteristics that define Whitefish.”
Hammatt emerged as the top candidate for city manager after the city interviewed a list of five finalists for the second time since Stearns announced he would retire in early January after eight years as Whitefish’s chief administrative officer.
In September, the council re-advertised the position after the top candidate declined the offer.
The other candidates in the latest round were: David Buckingham, the city manager in Morro Cay, California; Evelyn Racette, former town manager of Pinetop-Lakeside, Arizona; William Vajda, former city manager of Marquette, Michigan; and Matthew Vincent, chief executive officer for Butte-Silver Bow City-County in Montana.