Often when I read any news related to the Kalispell City Council, I think of Bob Hafferman. I loved Bob. I loved him because of his kindness, energy, deep devotion to his wife, Claire, and his allegiance to Kalispell residents. He represented his ward in Kalispell with conviction and integrity. Bob wasn’t without his faults, and his dissertations on any given topic could get long-winded, but no one ever questioned his priority as a councilman: the taxpayers, especially those on a fixed income. We were comrades and rarely found ourselves crossways. But when we disagreed, the debate was fierce, loud, and usually ended with sharing a beer at a local tavern.
Before I became mayor, Bob told me about some monumental issues he thought would be the city’s financial undoing. He was not shy about his opinion that perhaps the city of Kalispell should suffer the consequence of filing for bankruptcy due to its past poor financial decisions. He and I disagreed that bankruptcy would be “good” for the city; I didn’t think the city taxpayers should suffer from an impaired bond rating and inability to finance because of local officials’ poor decisions. Bob was mainly concerned (as I learned for good reason) about the fiscal cliff Kalispell faced with limited impact fees to pay the costs of the Wastewater Treatment Plant expansion, the inability of the city airport to generate enough revenue to cover its expenses without taxpayer subsidy, and the bond payments at Old School Station that the taxpayers were left to pay as the development was unsuccessful and the city guaranteed the bonds used to develop the property. Kalispell was in bad shape financially, and amid the recession, no light glimmered at the end of any tunnel we looked through.
Bob said in 2009, “I’ll be dead long before anything will happen with Old School Station,” referring to it as a “boondoggle.” He was right. Some 15 years after the development began, it appears to have a new life with the sale of lots the city took over five years ago. I imagine Bob is mumbling something about the development being “a day late and a dollar short” in heaven. Bob’s wisdom should be cataloged; he may have been blunt at times, but his approach to government was to keep it simple. He advocated for limited government, paying as you go with no debt, and not getting “starry-eyed” with new and fancy programs or propositions that could change the city’s look but come at substantial financial risk. Luckily, a few Hafferman acolytes remain in local government, and I hope we continue to elect leaders with Bob’s perspective. His influence made me a better mayor and the city a better place.
Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.
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