HELENA — This year, Helena voters will select two new city commissioners. They’ll choose among four candidates who’ve all served the community in very different ways.
Steve Allen is a general contractor, land developer and part-time school bus driver who moved to Helena with his family 14 years ago. While this is his first formal campaign for an elected office, he was voted onto the Helena Citizens’ Council as a write-in candidate in 2019. He says he’s watched how the city operates since that time, and he feels there hasn’t been enough common sense in leaders’ decisions.
“Rather than wishing that they had made a different decision, I decided to go ahead and put my hat in the ring and be one of them that makes the decisions,” said Allen.
Allen says he wants more transparency from the city, saying many people don’t feel their perspective is heard when leaders make big decisions. To address the need for housing in the community, he favors loosening some regulations to encourage new construction. He believes the city needs to further prioritize replacing aging water lines and other infrastructure.
Allen says he would approach the office with a business owner’s outlook.
“I make decisions on a daily basis that impact people’s lives, and that’s what a city commissioner does, but if they do it from a governmental perspective rather than a business perspective, the decisions they make for people’s lives often are not what they should be,” he said.
Last year, Eric Feaver stepped down as president of Montana’s largest union, the Montana Federation of Public Employees. He began his career in Helena as a teacher, then became a prominent labor leader in the state – first heading the Montana Education Association in 1984 and leading it through several decades and two mergers. Feaver says, now that he’s retired, he’s ready to turn his energy to serving the community.
“I think it’s time for me to give back, and I can give back,” he said. “I have skill, I have experience, I know how to get along with people, I know how to make coalitions work, and this town can use somebody, I think, with my background.”
Feaver says the city has made positive steps on issues like affordable housing and infrastructure. He’s particularly interested in the plans to create an affordable housing trust fund, and he hopes the city can partner with private entities to provide more housing within the city. He’s supportive of continuing Helena’s school resource officer program, which places police officers on school campuses.
Feaver says he would be a commissioner ready to get things done.
“I don’t think anybody should be looking at me as some sort of fossil that’s just going to be around a long time,” he said. “I have a lot of energy and commitment to this community and I can provide the skill and experience that I bring to the table in a positive way.”
Troy McGee is a Helena native, and he made his career with the city’s police department. He retired in 2019, after serving more than 43 years with the department – including 23 years as Helena police chief. He says he’s remained interested in city affairs since then, and people he knows encouraged him to join the race for commission.
“I’ve lived here all my life, I want to make sure it’s a good city for myself, my grandkids – my two children live here, most of my family lives here,” he said. “It’s just important to me.”
McGee says he has an understanding of how the city works from his years at HPD – as well as two stints as interim city manager. He says the city’s decision to launch a review into HPD policies last year made sense, but that the way it was handled – with much of the focus on whether to maintain the SRO program and the public debate centering on whether the department was being “defunded” – was a mistake.
McGee says many people feel the city isn’t listening to their input when making decisions, and he sees that perception as damaging.
“I will listen; that’s the one thing I will say,” he said. “I’m not going to come to a meeting, especially on major issues, having my mind already made up. I’m not going to vote what I believe; I’m going to vote what I believe the community is saying.”
From 2013 to 2017, Melinda Reed was the executive director of the Friendship Center in Helena. Last year, the city commission appointed her to serve several months as interim city manager. She currently works for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services as a specialist on opioid overdose prevention.
Reed says her leadership roles and her experience working for the city have prepared her for the commission.
“My time at the Friendship Center really showed me how strong this community can be when it comes together around a difficult issue, and so I became interested in local government during that time,” she said. “Then when I served as the interim city manager during the pandemic, I really understood how the city works.
Reed says affordable housing is the biggest issue facing the city, and that the next big step will be deciding how to use the new trust fund. She says the city has done a good job of strengthening services and improving infrastructure, but more could be done to share those accomplishments.
Reed also wants to bring her perspective as a working parent to the position.
“I think it is really important right now that we have people on our city commission who both represent and reflect our community,” she said. “I think the voices of working parents need to be heard. I think those are very, very key issues.”
Incumbent city commissioners Andres Haladay and Heather O’Loughlin chose not to run again this year.
Allen, Feaver, McGee and Reed will all appear on the same ballot. Each voter can select up to two candidates, and the top two finishers will be elected. Municipal election ballots will be mailed out to Helena voters on Oct. 13.