Whitefish City Council Candidates Q & A

By Beacon Staff

The Whitefish city council candidates were asked the following five questions:

1. What makes you a strong candidate?
2. What do you think are the most pressing issues facing Whitefish and why are they important?
3. Do you feel that the city council handled the streetscape project properly? If not, what could be done better in the future?
4. How should the city address the doughnut situation?
5. In what ways can future councils better serve the citizens of Whitefish?


Name: Bill Kahle
Age: 41
Occupation:Real Estate Development
Hometown: Whitefish
Years in the valley: 8

1. I feel that I will bring a unique skill set as a city councilor. Because of my background in the construction and development industry, I have worked through the municipal permitting process a number of times. I have read and understood countless zoning regulations, growth policies, and special district regulations. I know the importance of clear, fair, comprehensive and credible regulations, and the value that they have in our community. I am also a strong supporter of our school system. As a father of four sons in our local schools, it is vitally important to me that our school system continues to evolve and provide the highest level of academic standards available.

2. Over the next few years there will be several pressing issues that the council will face. It is likely that the economic situation will remain uncertain, and that the city will face the prospect of budget constraints. We will need to be diligent about ensuring that our spending remains inline with our revenue. Another issue is the protection of our critical and environmentally sensitive areas. Clear regulations and input from those professionals with a working knowledge of the CAO and the lakeshore regulations should be considered and listened to.

3. Other than the six-week trial, I feel that the city council handled the streetscape project fairly well. One aspect of the process that could have worked better was more interaction on the part of the critics of the plan earlier on. Perhaps additional forums with all of the downtown merchants, the city council, the engineers, and the Heart of Whitefish would have been helpful.

4. Our neighbors in the county need to be represented in a way that meets state law on issues that impact their private property rights. Several options have been proposed by our city attorney, and it is time to focus on a civil dialogue with the county government and cooperate on a fair system that will have the support of the county and city residents.

5. Future councils should continue the effort to inform the citizens and listen to their input and to investigate methods to better distribute information to the public. Also, adequately establishing a foundation of evidence of why a particular regulation is being enacted would lend credibility to those regulations.

Name: Frank Sweeney (incumbent)
Age: 56
Hometown: Whitefish
Years in the valley: 10

1. I am running for city council because I love Whitefish and believe I have a set of skills and experiences that will be useful as our community grows and thrives. I have built my legal practice over 30 years by finding principled solutions rather than reasons for conflict, by listening not only to my clients but to their opponents. I will work for the best interest of Whitefish to find common ground and common-sense solutions.

2. The cleanup of the river and rail yard, and determining if we have issues in the Railway District. The state (DEQ) and federal government (EPA) are overseeing these efforts, but the city needs to continue to serve as an advocate for our citizens, and as a conduit for information.

Our economic development is key. Tourism, construction and health care are the current drivers. We need to work with the airport and airlines to expand flights to the valley at more reasonable costs; continue our investment in the downtown street infrastructure; support the Whitefish Convention and Visitors Bureau; and encourage economic development consistent with our values. We should consider developing an Economic Development Board whose charge would be the recruitment of new businesses and good-paying jobs and facilitating their integration into Whitefish.

3. Yes, for the most part. More than five years of public workshops, meetings and surveys were conducted to design the plan. The current downtown project is foremost an infrastructure project. In most respects it was a model for how to involve the citizens in the design of city projects. We have no choice but to replace our aging downtown water and storm water systems. More than 98 percent of the money spent on the downtown project is being spent on these infrastructure needs, storm water, water and moving the utilities underground. The council might have been clearer on the purpose of this summer’s test, what it hoped to learn and what it would do with any findings.

4. At one of my first meetings on council, I voted to make finding a way for those in the “doughnut” to have representation in our government a top goal and priority. This may require state legislation and I will work with our local legislators to help us to accomplish this goal.

5. A. Representation for doughnut residents.
B. Water quality. Addressing septic and other pollution sources in the lake, the ongoing BNSF cleanups.
C. Growing and diversifying our economic drivers, the relationship of the city with its citizens and making city government more user friendly.

Name: Chris Hyatt
Age: 43
Occupation:Business consultant
Hometown: Whitefish
Years in the valley: On and off for 30 years, last 17 years in Whitefish

1. I have been a retail business owner for 12 years in Whitefish. I am someone that will listen to the people, ask tough questions, foster civil debate, protect our watersheds, facilitate economic development and structure positive change for the future of our community.

2. A. Economic development: We need to establish a pro-business attitude, and champion businesses that complement the community of Whitefish.
B. The doughnut issue between Whitefish and Flathead County. The city of Whitefish needs to establish representation for the doughnut or allow them to go back to the county.
C. The recession and what it will do to our community’s economy for the next 12 to 18 months.

3. Not when the city council approved a six-week test for wider sidewalks at a cost of $8,000 but approved the contract for widening sidewalk only three weeks into the six-week test. The city council needs to follow through on what it tells its constituency it is going to do.

4. Establish representation for the doughnut or allow them to go back to Flathead County. If they go back to the county, communication and trust needs to be established between the county and the city.

5. Transparency is a good place to start. Solve problems without getting into lawsuits. More communication is needed even in the most difficult of situations, and the budget being published and updated quarterly on the city’s website.

Name:Phil Mitchell
Age: 56
Occupation:Self-Employed, Retired
Hometown: Bismarck, ND
Years in the valley: 31

1. My business background of owning three businesses in Whitefish over the last 30 years. Also, the consulting business I’ve done for golf course development, which includes budgets, acquiring permits and hiring all project coordinators from beginning to end. We deal with slope issues, water quality, erosion control and major dirt moving on most of these projects.

2. A. Too many lawsuits: Our city is not able or willing to negotiate, which has resulted in the waste of taxpayers’ money. Example: the city filing a counter suit in the Mrs. Spoonover sign/mural case without waiting to see the result of the judicial review by the district court. Also, the Walton lawsuit could have been negotiated out but the city chose to appeal its loss instead. The result of the loss of this appeal will cost the city taxpayers upwards of $500,000.
B. Anti-business climate: We need to be open to new business for the health of our town and working people. Whitefish is known to be a difficult environment for the business community, i.e. the eating disorder clinic, which would have provided 32 well-paying jobs. This is the type of clean business we need.

3. No, but the bids for Third Street are done. From this we will be able to see if changes need to be made for future phases. People were not listened to by the city council during this process. The temporary curbing testing period was not respected. We need to listen to the community when they come to council meetings and respect their opinions as they are the ones paying for these changes through taxes and the Whitefish resort tax.

4. We need to quit addressing it through the courts and appeals (if the city loses). The “doughnut people” need to be represented either through the county, the city or both. What do the doughnut people want? It’s their property and we need to respect their wishes within the guidelines of respectable land management. Let’s work together on this and find a solution for the doughnut people.

5. “Listen to the people.” Why is this so hard to do? I will try and respect people’s opinions and vote with what I believe the majority wants, even if it goes against my wishes. We need reasonable growth with reasonable regulations so both the working people in our community can work and new businesses will want to be a part of our community. We’re not there yet!

Related: Entering Whitefish City Politics

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