HELENA — Helena’s mayor says the city has made strides in the last four years, and he wants to continue that work. His challenger says city leadership needs to do a better job of listening to the public.
Mayor Wilmot Collins was first elected in 2017, running on issues like improving public safety staffing. He says he’s proud of the street improvements the city has completed, the support they’ve given to projects like the Red Alder Residences affordable housing development and the fact that Helena was able to continue services without interruption during the pandemic.
“I think I’ve worked well with all, because I think together we’ve accomplished a lot – and I think we can do more,” he said.
Collins, a child protection specialist with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, says the creation of an affordable housing trust fund was also an important accomplishment. If he wins a second term, he says he wants to be more deliberate about finding ways to address housing and homelessness – issues he says require a much larger conversation.
“Most of the things go hand-in-hand – when we talk about housing, homelessness, mental health, all of those things go hand-in-hand,” he said. “We need to have a one-stop shop where we can address those issues as a community, and that’s one of the things I’m trying to work toward.”
Collins says he’s been pleased with the results of the review into Helena Police Department policies and procedures that began last year, after the death of George Floyd. He said the goal of that review wasn’t to undermine the department, but to improve understanding. He noted that he learned through the process that HPD had already banned the use of chokeholds in 2017, saying the city was ahead of the curve on that issue.
Sonda Gaub lived in Montana growing up, and moved back to Helena full-time three years ago. She says she’s lived in a number of cities as her husband moved for the military, and she’s seen those communities struggle as they deal with growth.
“I see some of those same mistakes being done in our community right now, and I want to take a step back and look at how we can solve these in a new and directed way for our future,” she said.
Gaub says the city needs to work on streets, water and sewer and other infrastructure now to be ready for growth and the increasing need for housing in the coming years. She believes there has been a “communication deficit” among various city departments, between the city and other governments and between the city and the public, and she wants leaders to do more to seek community input as they make decisions.
Gaub owns a small tutoring business called Learning Dynamics. She’s said she wants to see the city become more business-friendly.
“I can run a classroom, and I can direct people, and hopefully get people to be prosperous,” she said. “And I want to be prosperous, and the way the city is going now, I will not be prosperous. If I’m not prosperous, I can’t spend money, and it just goes from there. That’s why I’m running for mayor.
Gaub says it’s important to continue the conversations about policing in Helena, and that she is strongly in support of the School Resource Officer program in local schools.