Whitefish Incumbents Sweep Council Race

Hildner and Sweeney re-elected, newcomer Katie Williams wins final council seat

By Tristan Scott
Whitefish candidates, from left, John Muhlfeld, John Repke, Frank Sweeney, Katie Williams and Richard Hildner, pictured Sept. 30, 2015. Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon

Whitefish voters re-elected incumbent city council candidates Richard Hildner and Frank Sweeney on Tuesday night and tabbed Katie Williams as their newest city representative.

Hildner received 945 votes in his bid to retain his council seat for a second four-year term, while Sweeney earned 894 votes. Both councilors were first elected in 2011.

Williams nabbed the final seat with 887 votes and will begin her first term on the council in January. She edged out John Repke for the position, besting his 790 votes to win the five-way council race.

Barton Slaney, who in September withdrew from the race but then re-entered and continued campaigning, garnered 393 votes.

Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld ran unopposed in his election bid and earned 1,191 votes.

Voters also rejected a ballot measure that would have created a citizen advocate position in city government, and approved a change to the city charter that removes a requirement that the city administrator or city manager attend planning board meetings.

There were 1,520 ballots cast out of 3,300 mailed to registered voters in Whitefish.

Williams, 27 and a Montana native, said she’s eager to “hit the ground running” and begin climbing the procedural learning curve of city government while studying its many issues. As a conduit to a younger demographic, Williams said she’s already setting to work on improving access to affordable-workforce housing, and engaging community members for whom affordable housing is critical.

“These are firefighters, our city workers, our service industry employees, and they represent the core of our community,” Williams said.

Looking back on the past four years, Hildner and Sweeney said they’re proud of the city’s work on a voter initiative to raise the resort tax by 1 percent to fund a conservation easement on Haskill Basin, the source of Whitefish’s municipal water supply, and the decision to move forward with a new City Hall and parking structure downtown.

“That truly has been a hallmark of the last four years,” Hildner said.

Both councilors identified improving the city’s relationship with Flathead County as a priority, as well as continuing to responsibly plan for development on the Highway 93 West corridor and Wisconsin Avenue north of the viaduct.

They also said affordable housing will be a key issue moving forward, as well as protecting Whitefish Lake. The veteran councilors said they look forward to working with Williams in her new role.

“She is obviously enthusiastic and we’re grateful for her engagement,” Sweeney said.

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