Applicants for vacant City Commission seat interviewed

Challenges facing Livingston and their ideas on the ideal city manager were two of the questions posed to City Commission applicants at a special meeting held Tuesday night.  

Three applicants — Quentin Schwarz, David Herman and Patricia Grabow — vying for a vacant seat on the commission shared their views on the town’s future and how they hope to contribute to that future during a cordial interview with current commissioners at a public meeting Tuesday night. 

Schwarz, is a 25-year resident of Livingston with a background in the construction industry. He is partially retired and said he has the time to devote to the commission. 

Herman is a 14-year resident and the father of triplets, who are in kindergarten. He is a self-employed painting contractor. 

Grabow, a former City Commission member, lived in Livingston as a young child and returned 16 years ago. She operates the Grabow building on East Callender Street.

Interim City Manager Lisa Lowy asked the applicants to name what they each saw as the town’s three greatest challenges and what might be done to address those challenges.

Schwarz’s reply was an aging infrastructure, maintaining a strong and vibrant business community, and meeting the needs of education and youth. 

Long-range planning could help address aging infrastructure, he said, and that a year-round swimming pool would be an asset many could enjoy, which could be paid for with grants. 

Grabow said her top three issues are an aging water system, access to the north side of Livingston, and stimulating the local economy. She praised local downtown business owners who have gotten together on their own to address those issues. But she added she had spoken with a local resident recently who outlined three entirely different topics — housing, transportation, especially for access to Livingston HealthCare, and the lack of jobs in Livingston. 

Herman said the issues he perceives as critical are business retention and growth, urban renewal, and transparency in government. 

“People need to see exactly what we’re doing and what we’re spending money on,” Herman said.  

Promoting Livingston as a great place to live, work and create a business should be a priority, Herman said, and pointed to the PrintingForLess campus as a model. 

Commissioner Sarah Sandberg then had a follow-up question, asking what is the role of city government in promoting job creation and business growth. 

Schwarz said that while the city can’t give away money, it could help guide business owners toward Small Business Administration loans, for example. Grabow noted that the Rocky Mountain Economic Development Corporation and Montana State University Extension Agent Katie Weaver are “working very hard to attract tech businesses right now.” 

Herman, who has a degree in marketing, said the city, as a gateway to Yellowstone National Park and a fly-fishing destination, could be promoting these attractions as way to bring jobs and businesses to town. 

Lowy asked what qualities the applicants would hope to see in the new city manager, who will be hired in the coming months. The city is accepting applications until Jan. 31.

All agreed the next manager should be a good listener, have experience with finances, and be able to think about the long-term. 

“We need someone who actually listens and hears what people say,” Schwarz said, adding, “They should have a good understanding of small towns and small town budgets.” 

Herman said he’d like the new city manager to be family oriented. 

Grabow said the new manager should have a depth of experience, a strong growth policy background, and be a visionary.

“They should be a good listener to the commission — they need to be empowered,” Grabow said, as well as understand labor relations, budgets, economic development and demographics. 

The vacancy on the five-member commission was created by the resignation of Jon Reddington, which took effect Dec. 31. By state law, commissioners have 30 days from the resignation date to appoint a new commissioner to fulfill the term. The seat is up for election in two years. Whoever is appointed to the seat will have the option of running for election when the term expires. 

The interview was not a debate, Commission Chairman James Bennett pointed out, so there would not be time for rebuttal from other applicants after one responded. City Attorney Erik Coate kept track of the time, and Lowy posed the questions, taking care that each applicant answered in turn. 

The questions were provided to the applicants in advance. The questions were developed during the commission’s Jan. 19 regular meeting. 

The four sitting commissioners will vote to appoint one of the three applicants at its Feb. 2 meeting, and the new commissioner will be seated immediately, Bennett said.