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Ballot features contested mayoral race

| November 1, 2005 11:00 PM

Libby Mayor Tony Berget will face challenger William Dancer in Nov. 8's municipal election.

Berget is seeking a third term as mayor. He was first elected to the post in 1997 and won re-election in 2001. He had previously served on the city council after being appointed in 1995 and winning election to the two years remaining in the term later that year.

Berget grew up in Libby and graduated from Libby High School. As a student, he traveled to Finland on a wrestling exchange and spent a year in Brazil as an exchange student. He said that like many young people from Libby, he wanted to leave town for "the big city" as soon as he got the opportunity.

Berget attended Montana State University, then took a jobs with a television station in Pocatello, Idaho, and a radio station in Seattle. Away from Libby for about 10 years and expecting his first child with his wife, Deanna, Berget decided to come back home.

Soon after returning to Libby, Berget bought a print shop — still in business as The Printing Press — and went to work for himself. Not long after, he began his venture into local politics, first as councilman and then as mayor. A lot of things have happened over the past eight years, Berget said, but he pointed to the development of a long-term program of infrastructure improvements as one of his major accomplishments.

"One of the things I'm proudest of is putting into place a process of replacing a certain amount of sewer lines, sidewalks and curbs every year," he said.

If elected to a third term, Berget said he'd like to finish up some of the things that have been started during his tenure as mayor, such as the Johnston Acres sewer and water project, and continue working toward the expansion of the city limits.

"The first thing you find out as mayor is you can't do a lot overnight," he said.

Berget said he would like to see the day when being part of the city has enough advantages that people want to be annexed, rather than the city forcing annexation on neighborhoods.

He said the city government needs to partner with business owners to revitalize the downtown area. The city can't do everything, but it has taken methodical steps like installing new streetlights on Lincoln Boulevard, he said. Downtown merchants have taken the initiative in other revitalization efforts, he said.

"Different people downtown have taken the initiative to fix up their buildings, and it's contagious," he said.

The city also has to use what tools it has available, like tax increment districts, and to work together with the private sector and with other governmental entities to promote economic development, Berget said. He pointed to the city's working with the Mormon church on the extension of a water line and with the county port authority on sewer issues as examples.

The mayor needs to work in partnership with the city council, Berget said. He said he'd like to continue to work with the council for another term so he can lend his experience to provide stability.

Berget said he sometimes guides the council in the direction he wants to go and sometimes follows along with the council's wishes, even if they conflict with his own ideas.

"Sometimes the council wants to go a way I don't want to go, but if they want to go that way, I work with them and back them," he said.

Berget's opponent, William Dancer, is making his first foray into politics. He moved to Libby two and a half years ago and said he immediately fell in love with community.

"I think it has a wonderful feel and flavor in its culture," he said.

Dancer said he's worked primarily in sales for more than 25 years, selling manufactured homes, dealing in insurance and finance, and handling construction. After moving to Libby from Cheyenne, Wyo., he opened a mortgage business and a publishing business. Since then, he has expanded his business ventures with Independence Home Center, dealing in the sales and installation of manufactured homes, and Smart Bucks, a "dollar-plus" store on Mineral Avenue.

Dancer said he was approached by some local residents about running for mayor, and after considering it for a while, he decided to run. He said he thinks he can bring his business sense to the job along with his sense of what's good about the community and his experiences in other communities.

"I feel that I can bring in some fresh ideas, he said.

As mayor, Dancer said he would look for businesses that could come to Libby to improve the economy "without affecting necessarily who we are as a culture, without really upsetting the flavor of the community."

"I would love to see our downtown — I don't want to use the word 'remodeled' — I would say 'reborn,'" he said.

Something needs to be done, and soon, Dancer said.

"I'm not one for seeing things put down on paper or an idea board and be talked about forever," he said.

Costs for providing for the benefit of the entire community shouldn't be borne entirely by business owners, Dancer said. He said the city's plans for maintaining and upgrading its water and sewer systems are a good start, but he added that the city should have both short- and long-term growth plans that include both current technology and emerging technologies like fiber optics communications. Growth needs to be managed and planned for to avoid trouble down the road when it occurs, he said.

The mayor needs to work in collaboration with the city council and other team members like a city manager and city planner, Dancer said.

"This isn't any one man's doing," he said.

The collaboration should also include the people of Libby, he said.

"I think the best interest of the city is served when we work hand in hand with the people," he said.

In addition to mayor, Libby voters will be filling three city council seats in the election. Three incumbents are seeking election to four-year terms without opposition. They are Charlene Leckrone, who was initially appointed in September 2002 and won election to the two years left on the term in 2003; Wally McElmurry, who was appointed to the council in June 2003, lost his seat in the election that November and was appointed to fill another vacancy in early 2004; and Lee Bothman, who was appointed in September 2003.