The first Whitefish City Council meeting of 2014 ushered in a changing of the guard as three new councilors were sworn in to replace three outgoing members of the city’s governing body, potentially shifting the council’s balanced makeup.
Former mayor Andy Feury, Pam Barberis and Jen Frandsen begin their four-year terms this month, joining John Anderson, Frank Sweeney and Richard Hildner, who in 2011 were grouped together as a slate of left-leaning candidates and frequently voted in line with one another.
Outgoing councilors Bill Kahle, Phil Mitchell and Bill Kahle, who came into office in 2009 with more right-leaning support and frequently voted as a slate, decided not to run for re-election.
Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld, elected on that same wave of support, has stressed the importance of setting political ideologies aside in order to best serve the whole community and worked closely with councilors on both sides of the table.
Kahle said the council should strive to be nonpartisan.
“I’ve grown to respect the council for what they do. It’s tough. And most of what we deal with doesn’t have a political bent. We deal with more local issues,” Kahle said. “I hope that the information can continue to flow, that open minds prevail and that all sides of the issues are heard and discussed before decision are made. John Muhlfeld is a great mayor and he is someone I trust implicitly when it comes to governance of our town and I think that he is going to set a balanced tone that’s going to stand out among the new council.”
Whitefish City Manager Chuck Stearns said the new council will make big decisions right out of the gate, including selecting an architectural firm and a design for the new Whitefish City Hall and parking structure.
As growth and development continue to heat up, the new council should also expect to see an uptick in growth-related issues and proposals for new construction, Stearns said.
He expects there will probably be fewer tied votes with the new council, but said it’s still too soon to assess the makeup of a nascent council.
“It’s hard to say. There will probably be fewer three-three votes requiring a tiebreaker but hopefully there will continue to be plenty of debate and balanced discussions.”
Kahle said he intends to continue to participate in the civic dialogue of council meetings, and highlighted a proposed amendment to the downtown master plan and the threat of aquatic invasive species as important issues the new council will face.
“Tonight will be my last council meeting and I have mixed emotions about that,” he said on Monday. “I was happy and proud and honored to serve on the council. It was a great honor.”
Kahle said he has worked closely with one of the incoming council members, Feury, who stepped down as mayor of Whitefish in 2007 after nearly eight years in the position. Feury previously served on city council.
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