Be Involved

It’s nearly time to decide which candidates will run for councils to represent townspeople in Columbia Falls, Kalispell and Whitefish

By Mike Jopek

So, do you want to make a difference? You live in town for a reason. Do you want to guide the direction of our cities over the upcoming years?

It’s nearly time. Time to decide which candidates will run for councils to represent townspeople in Columbia Falls, Kalispell and Whitefish.

Every odd-numbered year people living in the cities across the valley elect half of the council members in the district. This year, Whitefish also elects a mayor.

In Columbia Falls the city council terms of Darin Fisher, Doug Karper and John Piper are coming to a close. Some of these men have served multiple years as the community has grown and transitioned.

Columbia Falls is facing many big issues in the upcoming years, which will cement the vision of the town for the foreseeable future.

In Kalispell the terms of Kari Gabriel, Wayne Saverud, Rod Kuntz and Phil Guiffrida are up for renewal come fall. These councilors have served a combined 40 years with Gabriel and Saverud performing the majority of the years in service.

Kalispell remains a fast-growing town, stretching countless miles in multiple directions.

In Whitefish the terms of councilors Richard Hildner, Frank Sweeney and Katie Williams are up. They along with Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld must decide whether they’re filing for reelection in the upcoming months. I hope they do.

Valley-wide, 10 councilor and one mayoral seat are open for election come fall. Currently those seats are filled with nine men and two women.

It’s not like women don’t win elections as much as men. It’s simply that women don’t run for office as often as men. That may be changing locally like it has statewide and nationwide, as more women are getting into governance.

When Katie Williams ran for office several years ago, she campaigned on a plank comprised in part on the need for affordable housing for workers. Over her council years, she’s worked hard to deliver.

Whitefish has made good headway. The movement is promising. There’s plenty of decisions ahead. Housing that is affordable to the workers of the town is a major policy focus for Whitefish.

Williams along with Sweeney, Hildner and Muhlfeld have done a good job representing the 5,000-plus voters of Whitefish. I hope they run again. You too should encourage them. They work well with others. The job is clearly lots of work.

Whether 11 leaders from Whitefish, Columbia Falls or Kalispell run for another term will become evident in the coming months. The time to declare a candidacy for municipal office in the valley is from mid-April to mid-June. City elections are held in November.

Two years ago over 1,600 people in Whitefish cast a vote to elect city councilors. Newcomer to politics, Melissa Hartman won a seat with 1,137 votes. She garnered nearly as many votes as longtime public servant Andy Feury, who was the top vote getter that cycle.

Last election in Columbia Falls, the top vote getter earned only 500 votes and won a seat on the city council. Kalispell, which is divided into 4 political wards, elected city councilors who earned as few as 300 votes in 2017.

Anyone can lead; it doesn’t take a degree or specialized expertise. Leaders are not born, rather groomed by their community. Listening helps.

Running a town takes many people. From park boards to library boards, leaders are all around us. If not for the work of good people on school boards and city councils we would enjoy a much different society.

Get involved, do your part to keep our towns open and thriving. Run for office, volunteer at the food bank, or simply encourage current leaders to run again. Do your part.