Crowded Race for Whitefish Offices

By Beacon Staff

The Whitefish city council and mayoral candidates were asked the following three questions:

1. What separates you from other candidates?
2. What is your view of the Critical Areas Ordinance?
3. What is another key issue facing Whitefish and why is it important?


Name: Cris Coughlin (current mayor)
Age: 48
Occupation: Owner/Manager Glacier Guides, Inc. and Montana Raft Co.
Hometown: Kalispell
Years in the valley: 48

1. As a former city councilor and current mayor of Whitefish I have the qualifications, history in the community and hands-on experience with complex issues that face Whitefish today. I have 20 years in business, creativity and common sense. I’m fair, open and honest, listening to all sides of an issue, with no hidden agendas other than Whitefish’s future at heart.

2. Responding to residents whose basements flooded due to improper development that changed drainage patterns, and recommendations from water quality and storm water studies prompted Whitefish’s Urgency Ordinance. Hearing concerns regarding that ordinance, the council created a committee to draft the final CAO including broad citizen representation and consultants. The ultimate goal is twofold: protecting our residents and our natural resources.

3.Growth, with its potential impacts to our community character, is a vital issue. We need to find a way to sustain livability for all citizens in this vibrant community. Many resort communities that experienced rapid growth are now ghost towns much of the year from the influx of second homeowners. Year-round economy, families and workforce are integral to a community’s vibrancy.

Name: Mike Jenson
Age: 59
Semi-retired ceramic artist
Years in the valley: 59

1. In a word, experience. I’ve been involved with some facet of the community for most of my adult life. Specifically, I’ve served three terms on the Flathead Valley Community College board, five years with the planning board, was a founding member of the Whitefish Community Foundation, and I’m the former mayor.

2. It’s a concept that’s time has come. Personally, I don’t think they have everything right in the ordinance. Having said that, there’s a tremendous amount of good in it too. I don’t believe it needs to go away, but I don’t think we’re done with it. Protection of water quality in the Whitefish area is the number one concern right now.

3. Height. There are challenges we’re going to be faced with in terms of construction. I’m not in favor of adding a lot to the height restriction we have now. There may be cases outside the downtown core that could justify greater heights. The downtown core should be fairly strict.

Name: Nick Palmer (current councilor)
Age: N/A
Occupation: Investor
Hometown: Akron, Ohio
Years in the valley: 9

1. Energy, experience, common sense and a real enthusiasm: These are the qualities I have brought to the table during the five years I’ve served as a city councilor and a member of the Whitefish planning board. I have fought hard to preserve Whitefish, guide development, institute an affordable housing program, and assist individuals who needed help dealing with city departments.

2. I served on the committee that drafted this important new law, which protects our drinking water and lakes, rivers and streams for decades to come. This law is state-of-the-art. It allows the maximum amount of development with the maximum protection of our water quality, at minimum cost to the waterside landowner. The group opposing it wants developer-driven unrestricted growth.

3. We must maintain Whitefish’s look, feel and culture, while accepting and adjusting to the growth that is coming. It’s important to implement the Downtown Master Plan, which provides the additional parking we need and the upgrades to our utilities infrastructure. We should strive to provide affordable housing for our firefighters, police, teachers, nurses and other contributors to our community.


Name: Turner Askew
Age: 67
Occupation: Commercial and Industrial Real Estate Broker
Hometown: Whitefish
Years in the valley: 13 full-time

1. One, I have served on the council previously and understand the challenges. Two, I have run a business for over 40 years and understand the challenges of making payroll and earning the money before you spend it.

2. I think the intent is great, but the ordinance as presented is fatally flawed and to insist on following that document because we hired and paid a consultant to prepare it is not necessarily the right answer.

3. People talk about residential not paying their way, yet residential never pays its way. It requires commercial and industrial who pay a larger proportional share of taxes and require little in service. We have to decide what we want. Also, transportation and parking are important. If we don’t get parking downtown we’ll kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

Name: Martin McGrew
Age: 46
Occupation: Mortgage Broker
Hometown: Oklahoma City
Years in the valley: 13.5

1. With the exception of perhaps one candidate I have the most recent and most extensive experience with municipal policy and procedure while most of the candidates have no municipal government experience. I also have an ability to seek the middle ground on issues and make decisions based on what’s best for the community as a whole.

2. After some fine-tuning, it is an ordinance that future generations of Whitefish citizens will look back and thank us for implementing, having the foresight to go beyond similar ordinances and making it more fair for everyone without compromising the intention, which is to preserve and improve our natural resources.

3. Even though there are several specific issues that are critical to the future of Whitefish, I think that as our community continues to change and grow it will be paramount that more people get involved. There is a tremendous need for public participation and sometimes that is as simple as becoming as educated as possible on issues and providing input.

Name: John Muhlfeld (incumbent)
Age: 34
Occupation: Hydrologist
Hometown: Darien, Conn.
Years in the valley: 13

1. I am the only incumbent running for city council, bringing to the table two years of experience and knowledge of the existing issues. Maintaining continuity is important to be sure the public is well served by the process. My background in hydrology is important to some of the vital issues currently facing Whitefish.

2. I have been an integral part of the process and support the need to protect water quality. The current draft is a positive step, though there is still more work to be done, including public input. I have strived to maintain resource protection, while respecting the rights of private property owners. The ordinance needs to achieve that delicate balance.

3. With the increased demands of growth comes the need to protect the character and vitality of Whitefish. The next several years will be pivotal in terms of how we manage our growth. Whitefish is facing several issues relating to growth including parking, traffic, implementation of the downtown master plan, and preservation of open space and rural character.

Name: Ryan Friel
Age: 36
Occupation: Professional fishing guide/Editor of the Whitefish Review
Hometown: Whitefish
Years in the valley: 13

1. I have youth, enthusiasm and a willingness to listen to all sides of an issue. I’m a rational thinker with no agenda other than a desire to help balance our growth and need to strengthen our local economy with the importance of maintaining the quality of life that we all enjoy.

2. I think it is a well-intentioned document, but contains some language and terminology that some residents may have difficulty with. All sides agree that water quality is of paramount importance. We need to recognize that weak restrictions leave room for abuse, but property rights must not be violated in order to accomplish this end.

3. Affordable housing is crucial. It’s important to make the distinction that this refers to median income, not low income housing. In order to grow positively as a community, we need housing for new families and the workforce that will define us in the future.

Name: John Murdock
Age: 62
Occupation: Industrial Automation Consultant
Hometown: Moved a number of times, college years in Moscow, Idaho
Years in the valley: 2

1. I have no agenda beyond serving my community. I bring a fresh look at the issues with an eye toward resolution of differences, not division among council members and the public. Council members will not all see the important issues the same, but the council must work together to meet the expressed desires of the citizens.

2. Protecting our environment is vital. However, the CAO has serious flaws. I oppose the enactment of the CAO. The city estimates it will cost $150,000 per year to hire two employees to administer the CAO. Add the cost of certain legal challenges and possible awards against the city for property devaluation. We can’t afford this. We must find a better way!

3. Traffic flow in and around the city must be addressed. We are outgrowing our roads and the city council must work for solutions that are in the best interest of all of our citizens and maintain the character of our village. This must be done now before traffic flow becomes a crisis and degrades our lifestyle and business community.

Name: Mark McGlenn
Age: 44
Occupation: Electrical engineer at Semitool
Hometown: Billings
Years in the valley: 12 full-time

1. I am one of the only candidates who doesn’t rely on tourism or development for a livelihood. It will perhaps be easier for me to make decisions that are unpopular in this resort community. But I am also against protectionist measures that divide new and old Montanans and place unfair burdens on property owners, developers, and newcomers.

2. I believe the city has a role to play in limiting how development spreads near waterways. But as always, the devil is in the details and in how fairly those details are applied to individual cases. The ordinance and recent jury decision illustrate a commitment to protecting natural resources and property rights and the difficulty in finding a workable balance.

3. Like most people, I have problems with too much traffic, cruising for parking spaces or riding my bike alongside busy roads. Whitefish shouldn’t follow Kalispell’s road layout. The city needs to establish strong, sensible and enforceable mechanisms so good dreams can become good infrastructure.

Disclaimer: McGlenn’s views were pieced together from previous interviews and his Web site because he was overseas at the time of this writing.

Name: Kent Taylor
Age: 50
Occupation: Owner/operator of Hidden Moose Lodge
Hometown: Denver
Years in the valley: 17

1. I don’t know the other candidates that well, so it’s difficult to differentiate myself from them. From what I know, we all care about Whitefish. What may separate me is that I moved to Whitefish and built my own business 11 years ago. I understand wanting to preserve Whitefish and at the same time try and coexist with the growth.

2. I am for personal property rights. Some property owners affected by this ordinance purchased their property long before this was an issue. It’s not right to suddenly say they can’t use their property the way they originally intended to. People go to war over issues like that. But also, who doesn’t want to protect our environment? There must be a mutually beneficial solution.

3. To me another issue that most of us deal with everyday is traffic. Everybody talks about it but nothing seems to happen to alleviate the situation. We must address this sooner rather that later or it will just get worse.

Read related story: City Council Elections Heating Up

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