Kuntz Eager to Help Kalispell Find ‘Common Vision’ as Development Picks Up

Voters elect Ward 3 incumbent to four-year term as city experiences economic growth

By Dillon Tabish
City Hall in downtown Kalispell. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Rod Kuntz was nearly asleep Tuesday night when his family broke the news.

Voters elected the Ward 3 candidate to a new four-year term on the Kalispell City Council, keeping Kuntz in a seat he was appointed to in August 2014.

“I’m thrilled to finish what I had the privilege to get started with,” he told the Beacon after the Nov. 3 election.

Kuntz edged Karlene Osorio-Khor by a mere 21 votes, 221-200, according to the final results released from the Flathead County Election Department on Nov. 5.

Christopher Cunningham, a third candidate, garnered 62 votes.

The overall voter turnout in Kalispell was 14.31 percent, according to the election department. Turnout in Ward 3 was 14.18 percent.

Incumbent councilors Kari Gabriel, Wayne Saverud and Phil Guiffrida all ran unopposed.

Kuntz said he is eager to tackle some big topics in the near future.

“The city is at the precipice of some really incredible opportunities, and I think you’re going to see that unfold. It’s going to happen quickly now that the TIGER grant is here,” said Kuntz, who was appointed to the council in August 2014 after Randy Kenyon retired after 14 years,

The $10 million federal grant, announced last week by the U.S. Department of Transportation, will put into motion sweeping changes in the core area, including the creation of an industrial rail yard off Whitefish Stage Road.

With the grant’s arrival, the council will have the chance to kickstart the core area revitalization plan that has been waiting in the wings for five years.

At the same time, the U.S. 93 Alternate Route, or bypass, is slated for completion in winter 2016, creating an opportunity for the council to realign the city’s transportation grid through downtown.

Also, the city is poised to review the South Kalispell Urban Renewal Plan, a new effort to study the southern end of town and analyze possible redevelopment opportunities.

Kuntz, who has lived in Kalispell since 1985, said it will be important for the city and its residents to find common ground when tackling these sizeable topics.

“First and foremost, we have to have a common vision for the direction the city wants to go with all of this,” he said.

“The city has never really had a common vision. We’ve always just been the hub. We’ve never been in a stage where the whole community has galvanized with our whole identity.”

Kuntz and fellow Ward 3 councilor Jim Atkinson have been hosting monthly town hall meetings in city hall. He said the events have been very productive and he hopes the entire council considers adopting similar gatherings. The informal events offer residents a chance to sit down together and discuss ideas and topics that impact the city.

“These town halls really help bridge the gap between that disconnect between our government and the citizens,” he said.

The meetings are on the first Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. inside Kalispell City Hall.

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