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Updated: November 12, 2019 @ 1:23 pm
Brian LaMeres is running for mayor of Bozeman in the Nov. 5th municipal election.
A city employee of 23 years is facing a veteran city leader in the race to be Bozeman’s mayor.
It’s Brian LaMere’s second mayoral run and he’s quick to say he didn’t expect to file again after a big defeat by Deputy Mayor Chris Mehl in 2017. But LaMeres said since then, too many commission decisions have riled him up for him to pass on the Nov. 5 race.
“I want to be the voice of the people, question the answers instead of just accepting everything,” LaMeres, 52, said.
He said he's not accepting money for his campaign so "that means I won't be listening to anybody but the people."
He has put more than $7,000 of his own money into the race, according to campaign finance reports.
Sitting Mayor Cyndy Andrus, is campaigning on her near decade of experience on the commission. LaMeres, a certified public accountant in the city’s finance department, is running on what he would have done differently.
LaMeres said the city of Bozeman should have worked with Gallatin County to find a way to house the two governments’ first responders and courts in the same building.
Both the county and city have said they need a fix for the aging Law and Justice Center. Last year, the city made a successful pitch to voters for its own building, dubbed the Bozeman Public Safety Center. Andrus called the decision to move ahead without the county difficult but one she stands by. Gallatin County “wasn’t ready to make a decision” and the cost to build increases each year, she said.
LaMeres said it makes more sense to house police and sheriff's deputies in the same building and he’s concerned separating the city and county court systems will leave residents confused.
He added the split leaves Gallatin County in an uphill battle to gain voters’ approval for its own way out of the Law and Justice Center.
“The city just needs to work better with the county, all agencies,” LaMeres said. “[City] commissioners may think they’re doing what’s best, but I also think egos are involved.”
LaMeres has pitched himself as someone who would follow in the path of longtime Commissioner Jeff Krauss — who is known for voting contrary to the majority and whose term ends in January.
“I feel the difference with him is that he listens to the people instead of presuming to know what is best for them,” LaMeres said.
LaMeres said he’d consider trying to push back when the city votes on its budget until after state property tax information is available.
As is, the commission votes on a final budget in June before its fiscal year begins in July. That’s roughly two months before the Montana Department of Revenue informs the city how much it will be able to collect from property taxes.
When the city’s estimated budget came up roughly $300,000 short last year, the majority of commissioners opted to ask staff to find the difference over time to ensure a balanced budget by the end of the cycle.
LaMeres said commissioners should have made cuts immediately.
“We add in spending when it comes in high and then we don’t make cuts when it comes in low,” LaMeres said. “I think this is the beginning of a trend we need to nip in the bud.”
LaMeres said he’d like the city to pass a draft budget in June and wait for the final vote until after the state numbers arrive.
LaMeres said instead of new policies, he's focused on improving city processes. That includes city employee pay transparency and cutting layers of management.
“[That] leads to higher morale, which in turn leads to a higher level of service to the citizens in addition to a lower rate of employee turnover,” LaMeres said.
He said for policy ideas, he wants to see how upcoming planning documents turn out, including the city’s affordable housing and climate action plans.
During a 2017 campaign panel, LaMeres faced audience pushback when he said he didn’t know whether climate change stemmed from humans. LaMeres said he’s done his “homework” since.
“It’s a contributing cause. Is it the only cause? I think the science and the data shows mankind has a significant impact,” LaMeres said. “I don’t think we can completely ignore it and say it doesn't exist, I don't think we can flip the switch and go all the way to Green New Deal.”
LaMeres said he’s interested in gradually increasing the city’s ability to be sustainable, which he called common sense.
“I think sustainability includes climate change. It also includes resiliency like being prepared for catastrophes like earthquakes, or getting out in front of rotting infrastructure so pavilions don’t fall,” LaMeres said. “I’m about incremental progress.”
Katheryn Houghton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.
Katheryn Houghton is the city government and health reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
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