Mark Johnson woke up June 28 as Kalispell’s next mayor.
The 44-year-old financial advisor was the only candidate to file for the upcoming municipal election, effectively making Johnson the 30th mayor in Kalispell’s history when the deadline passed last week.
“It’s a surprise,” he said, describing his reaction as puzzled yet relieved.
“This gives me six months to ramp up and be prepared to step in.”
With the filing period for the Nov. 5 election now closed, the field of prospective public officials has solidified.
Without an opponent, Johnson sidesteps the six-month campaign season and automatically replaces Tammi Fisher, who opted not to run for re-election after one term. This marks the first uncontested race for Kalispell mayor since 2005, when Pam Kennedy (Carbonari) ran unopposed.
Johnson, who was born and raised in Whitefish and has lived in Kalispell the last 12 years, will step into public office for the first time when he begins a four-year term in January. He said he feels ready to give back to his community through his background as a certified public accountant and financial advisor, which is what inspired him to run.
He said his priorities as mayor will be rooted in efficient and responsible budgeting, and “looking at how the city can improve from a business perspective.”
Kalispell, like Whitefish and Columbia Falls, operates with a city council and mayor, who give direction to the chief administrative officer, the city manager.
Each of Kalispell’s four city wards feature open seats, but only two are contested, while a ballot measure deciding the fate of the city airport is in the hands of voters.
Tim Kluesner, an incumbent in Ward 4 since 2005, retained his seat after being unchallenged for the second consecutive time.
Chad Graham will take over the Ward 2 seat after incumbent Jeff Zauner declined to run for re-election after one term. Graham was unsuccessful in his 2011 bid to unseat Ward 2’s other councilor, Wayne Saverud.
Graham and a group of residents gathered enough signatures to place a referendum on the November ballot to let voters decide whether to repeal city resolution 5572. The council approved the resolution last summer, deciding to follow the latest airport master plan’s recommendation and develop the site to B-II aviation standards in collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Longtime councilor Bob Hafferman announced in early May that he would not seek re-election at the end of his third term, due in part to increasing hearing problems. Hafferman has represented Ward 1 since 2002 along with decades of involvement in city government.
Two candidates emerged to replace Hafferman: Joseph Apple and Sandy Mundahl Carlson.
Jim Atkinson, the longest serving member on the Kalispell council, will have to defend his seat against two opponents: Jason Mueller and Karlene Osorio-Kohr. Atkinson has represented Ward 3 since 1988.
The 2011 city election in Kalispell also featured two contested races and saw a voter turnout of 28 percent.
Lori Adams will remain Kalispell’s city judge after no other opponents emerged. Adams replaced Heidi Ulbricht, who was elected to district court last November. Adams is a former Flathead County deputy attorney.
Similar to Kalispell but less unusual, Columbia Falls will not see a contested race for mayor yet again. Donald Barnhart successfully retained his seat for another four years after no other candidates filed. Columbia Falls has not had a contested race for mayor since 2001, when Gary Hall and Claudette Hohn squared off.
“I invited people to run,” Barnhart said afterward. “I think it’s an important community service. You have to pay your community back. I assumed somebody would (run for mayor).”
On the bright side, Barnhart said perhaps the lack of opposition reflects the community’s approval of the way the current local government is operating.
“We always invite people to come and let us know what they’re thinking,” he said. “We’re staying on top of things and I think we’re doing real good here.”
Five candidates filed for three open seats on the Columbia Falls council, including three incumbents. Shawn Bates, David Petersen and Michael Shepard are running for re-election against newcomers Jenny Lovering and Duane C. Moore.
Columbia Falls’ last municipal election attracted five candidates and saw a voter turnout of 16 percent.
In Whitefish, four new candidates will vie for three open council seats. The incumbent councilors in each of those seats — Phil Mitchell, Bill Kahle and Chris Hyatt — opted not to re-run. Pamela Barberis, Andy Feury, Jennifer Frandsen and Life Noell are running for the city’s open council seats. Noell ran unsuccessfully in 2011.
The last city election attracted six candidates and saw a voter turnout of 53 percent.
“We have an awful lot of people who are community minded but don’t want to do this job,” Mitchell said of the small number of city candidates. “It’s an awful lot of hours. Maybe that’s what some people don’t want to do.”
Mitchell said he needed a break while juggling several other volunteer efforts, which was the main motivator behind his decision to step away from council.
Yet he expressed concern about the council’s future as a politically balanced entity, while acknowledging that he didn’t know much about the new candidates.
“The nice thing about our present council is politically speaking we have half left and half right,” Mitchell said. “I wish more people had applied because I think we need people from both sides. We don’t need (the city council) leaning too left or leaning too right, and I’m worried about that.”
Bradley Johnson automatically retains his position as municipal judge in Whitefish after no other candidates filed yet again.
In Lincoln County, two candidates are squaring off to be mayor of Libby. Incumbent Doug Roll will take on Allen Olsen. Roll, the mayor since 2008, and Olsen, a member of the city council, have publically butted heads over the past year. Olsen filed a civil lawsuit accusing Roll of ethics violations after Roll’s business fixed a city-owned vehicle. Roll reimbursed the city $363.70 for the work and denied any wrongdoing.
Seven candidates filed for three seats in Libby, including three incumbents. Robin Benson, Barbara J. Desch and Vicky Lawrence will attempt to defend their seats against Arlen Magill, Joanne Woods Newman, Michael Shock and
Troy has two mayor hopefuls in Anthony Brown and Darren Coldwell. Brown has served as the appointed mayor since last summer after voters recalled Donald Banning, who served since 2009. The ousted mayor stated earlier this year that he would run again, but did not end up filing.
There are five candidates for Troy’s city council, with two seats open. Incumbents Phillip Fisher and Frances McCully will seek re-election against Kimberly Rowse, Donna Lee Rugani and Dallas Carr.
Two residents filed to replace Ethel White as Eureka’s mayor: Shirley M. O’Brien and Richard Payton. O’Brien previously served as mayor of Rexford.
One candidate for city council filed in Eureka: Peter Lemer.
LeeAnn Schermerhorn ran unopposed and will be the next mayor of Rexford. Jennifer Hannay will retain her city council seat unopposed.
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