The three-person board of the Flathead County Commission serves as the legislative and executive branches of government, not only responsible for the financial decisions within the county, but also many of the decisions responsible for development, zoning, and the overall direction the county takes into the future.
The county is broken into three districts, and one commissioner represents each. Once elected, a commissioner holds their seat for six years, with elections rotating through every two years.
This year, the District 2 seat, currently held by Pam Holmquist, has its turn on the ballot. District 2 encompasses the southeastern part of the county, including Evergreen.
Holmquist has held the seat since she was first elected in 2010. As a Republican, Holmquist faces an intraparty challenge from Tim Harmon, who is also seeking the GOP slot for the general election in November.
Voters will choose between whichever Republican wins the primary election in June and Democratic candidate Eileen Lowery. Since Lowery doesn’t have another Democrat to face in the primary, she will move on to the general election, assuming a write-in candidate doesn’t win.
In her tenure thus far with the county commission, Holmquist said she continually learns something new due to the variety of work she faces each day.
“I think I fit the job pretty well, I find it extremely interesting,” Holmquist said. “I’ve always liked a good challenge, and I get that.”
Before joining the commission, Holmquist worked for 38 years in the service industry with her family’s business, Rocky Mountain Marine, in Evergreen. That experience helped her with interpersonal connections, and Holmquist said one of the best aspects of her job is when people stop by or call her with questions.
Holmquist has been part of several significant votes in her term, such as the decision to create zoning in the recently finished saga of the Whitefish doughnut; the emotionally fraught process of upgrading the county’s Agency on Aging facilities with a new building; voicing the county’s opposition to accepting Syrian refugees without further research; and formally opposing the water compact with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.
She has also served as the chairperson of the board since taking over the spot in 2012 after former Commissioner Jim Dupont’s death.
When it comes to her accomplishments, Holmquist, 63, said she’s proud of her work with the county’s finances; as an example, she pointed out a capital lease that was refinanced to save the county nearly $90,000.
Also, as the chairperson, Holmquist is able to take individual actions that she has enjoyed. Once, when there was a logjam at Spruce Park, she signed a letter allowing the sheriff to remove it. Last summer, when the town of Essex was threatened by wildfire, Holmquist signed a letter allowing crews to thin trees in a county park to reduce fuel. Those trees were decked, taken to the mill, and the county’s parks and recreation department earned about $10,000 from the profit.
“That’s why I love the job,” Holmquist said. “It’s just the little things you can do.”
She also said her work creating the Property Owner’s Bill of Rights in the county’s growth policy is a highlight, because “I’ve done what I said I would do.”
Harmon, 54, is no stranger to the inner workings of Flathead County government. As the maintenance supervisor at the county fairgrounds for the last 15 years, Harmon said he understands the county’s issues and believes he can make a difference when it comes to government transparency.
The decision to make a run at the commission came after the county’s tumultuous series of decisions regarding private property threatened by the erosion of a bluff on Whitefish Stage Road. Initially, the county agreed to facilitate a FEMA grant for the project, but then pulled its support for fear of liabilities. The District Court then ruled the commission must work with the homeowners on the grant.
“Those people went to bed for a while thinking their government’s going to help them,” Harmon said. “And that’s what government is supposed to do. Those citizens had to sue to get their government to follow through.”
Before his time with the county, Harmon, a 1980 graduate from Flathead High School, managed the Four Corners Lounge south of Kalispell, which changed from a bar to a convenience store. Harmon managed the family property and businesses for 20 years.
Since this is the first time he’s run for any elected office, Harmon said his position as a relative newcomer gives him a fresh perspective. For example, Harmon said he wants to improve the commission’s transparency with the public by changing meeting times to evenings in different towns within the county.
“A majority of the meetings are Wednesdays at 2 p.m. in the commissioners’ chambers,” Harmon said. “The majority of people are working. We have an engaged community. We have engaged voters. They’re hungry for information.”
The overcrowded county jail will play a major role in the future, Harmon said, and he would like to search for a solution that doesn’t end with generally increasing taxes.
“Why is it always a crisis with government?” Harmon said. “The only input we have in the future is being proactive today. You can’t change the past.”
The primary election is June 7. The general election is Nov. 8.
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