Candidates for City Council agreed, for the most part, that the downtown revitalization is a good opportunity for Gillette’s future .
But there were more differences on whether the city should delve into a citywide smoking ban.
Those topics, among others such as the Field of Dreams and how Gillette should be governed, were some of the hot topics that the nine City Council candidates discussed at its Tuesday night forum.
The overall consensus was similar in that the candidates believed the imminent 2014 reconstruction of Gillette Avenue is a good opportunity, but the city should set limits on what it does and what it pays for.
“The city kind of needs to take a hands-off approach. This is a project that’s by the businesses for the businesses, and it should be done by the businesses,” said Donald Elder, Ward 1 candidate.
This project would beautify the downtown area and increase business there. But there’s a cost, so there must be collaboration, Ward 2 candidate Billy Montgomery said.
The city shouldn’t fund anything that involves the individual buildings because that’s the responsibility of the owners, said Ward 2 candidate Forrest Rothleutner, whose family owns a downtown business.
“I don’t think it needs to be a mandatory type of improvement, and I don’t think the city should fund it,” Rothleutner said.
This is a good opportunity. Government cannot create jobs, it can only create an environment that could attract new businesses. But businesses “need to get some skin in the game” and fund their building upgrades, Ward 3 candidate Scott Clem said.
“This is a chance to add vitality to Gillette’s oldest district,” Clem said.
Ward 3 candidate Robert Kothe suggested appointing a liaison, who can coordinate efforts between the city, businesses and the Main Street group. The city also needs to be flexible with its codes and zoning regulations and provide expertise.
“One of the main things that Gillette needs for it to be successful downtown is an identity,” Kothe said.
Most of the candidates agreed that businesses should have the right to choose whether they allow smoking in their establishments.
“It’s a freedom, and a right,” said Ward 3 candidate John Wayne.
The individual business owners should be able to choose how they should cater to their customer’s wishes, he added.
“If you’re not comfortable being in that atmosphere, then you have the right not to go to that facility,” said Ward 2 candidate Damon Hart.
“I’m not in favor of the city regulating private enterprise or taking private property rights away from individuals,” said Councilman Ted Jerred, Ward 3 incumbent.
The capital market should dictate it, said Clem, who avoids smoking establishments.
But two candidates saw the potential benefits of having a citywide smoking ban for all indoor public buildings and businesses.
“I think Gillette has come to the point that we should maybe join the other cities of Wyoming that have this,” Montgomery said.
The government shouldn’t be in the business of telling businesses how they should operate, but public heath also needs to be considered and second-hand smoking is a problem, Kothe said.
“At this moment, I would probably say ‘don’t pass the ordinance,’ but I could see that changing,” Kothe added.
Field of Dreams
‘“There are so many unanswered questions in my mind about the Field of Dreams,” said Councilman Kevin McGrath, Ward 1 incumbent. “I do realize though that we need to do something.”
The price tag attached to the plan is too much for McGrath, but he said he will continue to look at each project as it comes forth with the park and with other capital projects.
His competition, Elder agreed.
Now is not the right time or place for the Field of Dream. He wants to see the current fields updated first.
Others see the park in a more favorable light.
Kothe supports the Field of Dreams, but said that the city needs to look at the park’s maintenance costs.
Montgomery also said that there were positives with projects like the Field of Dreams, and the pros and cons need to be weighed.
Hart sees capital projects as one of his priorities, which includes the Field of Dreams, and said that the city needs to ensure the community approves of any direction.
“We need to make sure that they’re behind us so that we as a council and a community benefit from all the projects,” Hart said.
The reoccurring trend throughout the forum was each candidate’s commitment to fiscal responsibility.
The city’s budget should be looked at the same as a business budget and should be adjusted accordingly, Wayne said.
“I kind of believe in a holistic approach. You wouldn’t necessarily just pick on one department. You would take a look at all the departments. The one exception to that might be public safety,” Wayne said.
It’s the city’s responsibility to have a balanced budget, said Clem, who also advocated increasing the city’s reserves to sustain it for four to six months.
“Now is not the time to spend money. Now is the time to take care of the things we have already,” Clem said.
The city already has healthy reserves with about $67 million in the bank, Jerred said.
“Being fiscally responsible, you have to still maintain infrastructure and still balance where you are going. There is a fine line there,” Jerred said.
Voters will go to the election booths for the primaries on Aug. 21.