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What's on Billings voters minds as City Council election draws near

Candidates spoke at a forum at the Billings Library
Posted at 11:21 PM, Oct 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-16 01:21:53-04

BILLINGS — Candidates running for a seat on the Billings City Council shared where they stand with voters at a candidate forum in the Billings Public Library.

A majority of candidates touched on the topic of public safety, something that concerned the roughly 70 voters in attendance.

"I was concerned about the budget," said Charles Walter of Ward 4. "And how we're going to finance the public safety bonds. I think that's critically important."

New council members will help the city tackle a $5.4 million shortfall in the budget. That shortfall directly affects Billings police, firefighters, and the justice system.

"There are some issues that are really important to me, and I wanted to hear from the candidates themselves. Public safety of course," said Ward 1 voter Valerie McMurtry.

A non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) also struck a chord with the voters.

"What's really important to me is the NDO, and I think that is a real litmus test for me," McMurtry said. "That was really important to me to come and hear from some of the candidates how they feel about that."

Walter added, "The NDO was the one issue that brought us out."

An NDO would prevent discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The measure narrowly failed the City Council in 2014, but outgoing Council member Brent Cromley raised the issue again this fall before tabling it. Supporters have said the issue should re-emerge after the municipal election.

Following introductions at the form, people broke into small groups for each of the five Billings wards.

There, a moderator read questions written by the people in attendance. The small groups lasted about an hour.

"To have all of them here and to break into small groups gave me the chance to hear from the people that are going to be representing me," McMurtry said.

Ballots for the Nov. 5 general election will be mailed to voters Friday.

The League of Women Voters of Billings organized the forum.

Nine of the 10 candidates were able to make the forum. Incumbent Ward 2 representative Roy Neese was absent, attending the regular City Council meeting.

Keep an eye on for profiles on each of the five races.

Related: Final results are in for the Billings City Council primary election

City officials outline priorities for Billings public safety levy

Billings City Council member says he's dropping NDO effort