The folks in the packed auditorium for Tuesday evening’s Butte chief executive debate, if nothing else, learned the two candidates agreed on very few things.
Incumbent Paul Babb outlined his eight years as chief executive as progressive and fruitful and makes him worthy of another chance at the helm of Butte-Silver Bow County. Matt Vincent described a government that had become complacent in that time and needs a change at the very top.
“We cannot afford four more years of what we’ve seen in the past eight,” Vincent told the spectators gathered at the Montana Tech Library auditorium.
The event was sponsored by The Montana Standard and moderated by Standard Editor Gerry O’Brien and reporter Nick Gevock.
Vincent was dogged at times in his criticism of Babb’s tenure, claiming he lacked leadership and accountability to the public.
Babb largely ignored these barbs by pointing out specific instances where the city has seen economic growth. In his time as chief executive, Babb claims there have been more than 40 new businesses that have developed in the Uptown. He also patted himself on the back for added retail operations on the Flat and more businesses moving into the Industrial Park.
“Our community is growing and we are investing in our community,” Babb said.
Vincent took the opportunity to question Babb’s leadership when asked about the fate county-owned historic buildings that have recently been torn down or are on the chopping block. Vincent painted it as a “lack of planning” by Babb and the country needs a more “proactive and not reactive leadership.”
He said it was a shame the Greek Café had to be demolished and Vincent said he would fight to maintain other endangered buildings.
Babb noted that the county inherited many buildings from “absentee landlords” that were in ill repair. He said he and the Council of Commissioners had to make tough decisions on these dilapidated buildings.
“Unfortunately, they need to come down,” Babb said.
The equitability of recent local government employee pay raises for department managers drew some strong words. Vincent suggested that, while many government employees deserved pay increases, Babb may have given inappropriately higher raises to “personal appointees” on his staff.
“It’s offensive when someone questions my integrity,” Babb said in response.
The issues of improvements to Butte’s water system and the Superfund cleanup in Butte had the candidates at odds. Babb championed what he called major improvements to the Basin Creek Water System.
“The water you are drinking is safe,” he assured the people of the Butte.
Vincent said Babb doubled the water rates on an unreliable system. He also said Babb’s administration wasted time by considering a proposed water system out of Silver Lake.
Vincent also claims Babb has been slow on the Superfund cleanup, while Babb believes the county has done a “fantastic job” and Butte is “coming to the end of the Superfund era.”
If elected chief executive, Vincent promises an open and accountable government. He says he would release annual report cards to the public to measure if his administration reached its goals.
If reelected, Babb promised to secure funding for the Basin Creek water system, get funding and develop the Southwest Montana Veterans Home in Butte and have a more permanent facility for the Alley Rally recycling program in Butte.
Vincent promised to “create a new culture of excellence” in Butte. He also added that making the Bert/Mooney Airport more sustainable was vital to Butte’s economic future.
Babb said he will focus on trying to bring “good, livable wage jobs” to Butte that he hopes will bring the city’s population to the 50,000 mark.
The pair faceoff in the Nov. 6 general election.
— Reporter John Grant Emeigh may be reached via email at email@example.com or phone at 496-5511. Follow him at Twitter.com/@johnemeigh.