WCR: Frank, welcome to the program.
Frank Sweeney: Thanks, glad to be here.
WCR: Could you please start by telling us a little about your background?
Frank Sweeney: Well, I’m, I came from Texas, as many people around here know, but I’ve been here about 17 years. My wife and I made our home here right around 2000 and became full-time residents then. I’m a lawyer, I’ve practiced law for over 30 years now and I’ve practiced in very large law firms. I was in a corporate setting for, with a Fortune 50 company for about 15 or 18 years, effectively left that and then moved here. And I took about 5 years off from practicing law because there’s no reciprocity in Montana. I did take the bar exam here, passed thankfully, and have had a private law practice, very general practice, for the past 5, 6, 7 years.
WCR: You first served on the city council starting in 2009, why did you first decide to volunteer for the city council and why do you want to stay on the council?
Frank Sweeney: Well, I, prior to 2009 I had been on the planning board and been chair of the planning board. I’d gotten involved with a number of developments that were going into some neighborhoods where my neighbors were very concerned about. Very, very high concentrations in areas that are essentially farmland and weren’t connected to sewer. And so, I spent a lot of time working with them at their behest and an opportunity to get on the planning board was presented to me and I said, sure, I’d like to do that. I think probably the thing that encouraged me the most to participate was the reaction we had from Mike Jopek in particular when he was on the planning board, the city-county planning board about listening to exactly what the city of Whitefish wanted and its citizens wanted. Really took it to heart and really said, this is what we’re gonna do because you people have said what you want we’re gonna do this. The city council was as responsive and as open. And that, you know, coming from a big city that was a huge eye opener for me that the city of Whitefish or that it’s city officials were that open and that responsive. And so, again, when an opportunity was presented when Shirley Jacobson resigned from the council, I applied for and was appointed to her open seat and I really…what was happening in Whitefish was very important to me and to all of us and I thought I played a very nice role, or enjoyed the role that I was able to play in that and that’s why I sought re-election in 2009 and that’s why I went back and sought re-election, or sought election in 2011, yeah 2011. I really, quite frankly, like…it’s almost…I’ve told people it’s almost embarrassing to say but I actually do like the work. You know, politics is a terrible, is a tough thing to talk about liking and that’s not what I like. I really appreciate the opportunity to do the work of the city and to do the work of the citizens of Whitefish and so that’s what I really like about it and that’s why I want to do it again.
WCR: What would you say were your major accomplishments on the council and what are you most proud of?
Frank Sweeney: Well I think we’ve done a number of things and I think probably the one you’d have to put up front and center’s Haskill Basin. The protection of our water source and preserving that area, not only for continued economic development with the logging that will continue with that forever but also preserving our, the easements that are gonna allow for recreation or continued recreation and protect our water source which is a huge deal for this city because the cost of replacing that water source is over the top. So I think that’s probably the biggest accomplishment that we’ve occurred and that was one that was presented to us. It wasn’t like we went out and got it but that’s a huge deal. And coming up with a way to fund that that was both sensitive to the needs of the city and its citizens as well as the businesses and that was a very tough call for us. Because there are other ways we could have funded that but I think that’s probably…coming up with that and getting the endorsement, the very, 84% endorsement of the citizens to fund it through the resort tax was really quite gratifying. I think the other things that we’ve done that you’d have to point out as accomplishments or something this council has done is we’ve got the downtown master plan that we have redone and it’s been approved. We have the 93 west corridor plan which is re-designing exactly how 93 west oughta grow and will grow over time. And then sorting through the issues associated with the city hall and where it oughta go. Those, I don’t whether you call that an accomplishment but I think it’s an important accomplishment in reality because there are so many moving parts and so many disparate voices over time to really have to sort through that problem logically and economically, I think it was a great accomplishment for this council.
WCR: When you first began serving, it was around the time of the great recession. Whitefish was able to weather the recession better than some other resort towns. Why do you believe that was?
Frank Sweeney: At the time I think one of the reasons we were able to do it is our Canadian friends. I mean, a number, I mean, at the time, their dollar was very, very strong vis a vis the US dollar and so they spent an awful lot of time down here. I think that probably helped us an awful lot. I also think that one of the reasons they continued to come and that we were able to continue to attract folks was because of what Whitefish is and what it has to offer from Big Mountain to Glacier to just being a real place and I think that’s probably what made us able to weather it more. And we were never, we were never and never want to be an Aspen or a Vail. We have some expensive real estate in this town but the town is still structured around people who work here and its affordability is also a big part of that. And so I think that’s what made us able to weather it better than some others. But make no mistake, you can ask anybody around here, it was a brutal time, it just really was.
WCR: I want to touch on the affordability issue and some of those other topics in a little bit but before we go there, the reconstruction of city hall is among the more controversial issues this election cycle. Some in the community believe that it would be cheaper to relocate the city hall over by the emergency services building or elsewhere. You voted with others on the council to reconstruct it at its current location with a new parking garage. Why did you decide to vote that way rather than relocate city hall?
Frank Sweeney: Well, when I ran for election in 2011, with Richard Hildner and John Muhlfeld that was actually a very significant topic at the time. Where do you want downtown, are you open, and the question was, are you going to be open to having it downtown or do you want to move it. And I think I took the position then and I followed through with it that I am really open to having it downtown, it’s been there for over 100 years. But I think we need to look at it from an economic perspective. What’s it going to cost, is that really worth it. And, notwithstanding some in the community who either weren’t paying attention or weren’t working through it with us, we did an extensive analysis of what it would cost to replace city hall someplace else and at the end of the day, we were going to be plus or minus six and a half million bucks no matter what we did. Whether we tried to buy some more property up by the emergency services center, because we don’t own any more notwithstanding a rumor that’s been going out there we own some property up there, we don’t. The Wave owns some property but we don’t own it. And, the other buildings that were available, because of the cost of the building themselves plus the retrofit that would be required to make it accommodate city hall, we’re gonna end up in about the same, you know, plus or minus, it was going to be a rounding error at the end of the day and we wouldn’t have gotten exactly what we wanted. And the citizens of Whitefish made it really clear throughout this process that all things being equal, they really want it downtown. So, ok, that made some sense to me so I’m more than happy to have it downtown. We’re going to spend $6.5 million on city hall itself. That’s what it’s gonna cost. And if we’d have gone out to the emergency services center, we would have spent $6.5 million at the end of the day I’m sure of it, based on all the numbers we were presented. The cost of city hall on a per square foot basis has not changed since the analysis was done 4, 5, 7 years ago. Even right before the recession so we’re not…nobody’s spending more money than we planned on, even 7 years ago. Notwithstanding the economics. That’s a long winded answer to your question but that’s why I voted to keep it downtown. And then the other piece of the thing is that, I think everybody wants to separate or lose sight of is that if we had moved city hall from downtown, we still have a parking issue. We still have a parking issue we have to deal with downtown and so that lot was in likelihood going to stay effectively a parking lot. Owned by the city and not on the tax rolls. I disagree with some who said it would be a perfect block for retail. None of the analysis that we saw from Crandall Arambula, who helped us with the downtown master plan, and have worked with us for years and years, nobody thinks that’s a primary retail block. Just because of the traffic and because of the intersection. So, I hear what folks are saying, I appreciate that, but we did look at that and we did analyze that as we went through this process and so that’s why I voted to keep downtown, or keep it downtown and to keep it in that spot. It just made sense.
WCR: Late in the process those opposed to the city hall decision called for a public referendum on the issue. You’re opposed to a referendum, why is that?
Frank Sweeney: Well, 2 reasons. Number 1 is this process has been going on for, like I said over 10 years I think at the end of the day if you try to take it all back and maybe further. You could argue, and quite pointedly so that in 2011 when I ran for election and Richard and John did, and John Anderson were elected to council, that was one of the questions we were all asked, would you support downtown, keeping city hall downtown. We all said yes. There were those that said no and they, quite frankly, were not elected. I think, so we could argue that that was effectively a referendum at that time as to whether that was…but we had a number of iterations even over the past 4 years about, do we really want it downtown, does everybody really want it downtown and overwhelmingly, the public that showed up, and they did show up, supported having it downtown and wanted it there. So at the end of the day, I still think, referendum is a, I appreciate it, I endorse it, it’s not a good way to run a business and it’s not a good way to govern a city. It’s, makes it really tough and if you look what’s happened in California, referendum has made a mess of their entire system. I appreciate it, I endorse it, I would foster it and I would, as a general proposition I don’t think it would lead to a good answer under these circumstances. Now, if you wanted to have a referendum, it’s about, you’re challenging a question or a decision by the city council. The decision to build this thing was made 5 years ago, not after we’re ¾ of the way through the process, we’ve spent money and we’ve already got plans. If you wanted to challenge this by referendum, the time to have done that was 4 years ago or 3 years ago or 2 years ago, not now.
WCR: People lead busy lives and aren’t usually checking the local paper for notices about public meetings and workshops and don’t necessarily have time to attend even if they were aware of them. Mayre Flowers with Citizens for a Better Flathead recently called on the council to improve its public notice process to a high level of excellence and fairness. For those who don’t read the papers for public notices, what other ways can we generate awareness of these meetings and for those who are aware but don’t have the time to attend, what alternative ways can they participate in city decisions?
Frank Sweeney: That’s a really good question and I mean that in all sincerity, That’s something I think I have been challenged with since my days on the planning board, We do what is required under state law in terms of the notices that you’re supposed to post. One of the things that I, I think we could do more, I would like us to do more is that I required, or that I endorsed and pushed through a process by which we were giving, particularly on planning board matters and land use matters, we were getting those not just to the hundred feet, 200 feet within the property, I think I expanded it to almost ½ a mile or longer…as far as I’m concerned those kinds of notices should be circular not just linearly from the property. But that, we’ve got a ways to go on that but I think that’s something that I really believe in cause I think everybody oughta be aware of what’s going on and I think they have the opportunity to do that, even know, even with the…and I’m sorry, I just had a conversation today with our city attorney about notices and making sure that we have complete, full notices and we give everybody the opportunity because I want the, I want us to err on the side of more even if it costs us a little bit more because it just costs us money to print these things and send them out as well as publish the notices but I think we need to do more rather than less and she’s endorsed that and so I think that’s going to come forward I think as part and practice of what we’re gonna do from now on that’s gonna be expanded and it’ll be earlier so I think we’ll be responsive to the requests of Citizens for Flathead, Better Flathead. But I think it’s the right thing to do. Nobody here is being dragged kicking and screaming, I think it’s the right idea. And in terms of how people get to participate on a lot of these things, we always accept, and endorse receiving written responses if you can’t…I mean, we’re happy to have them. And quite frankly, unlike the county we’ll take them till the very end. We like to have them early so people can read them before the morning of, before the evening of the city council meeting, but we’ll take them. That’s what I mean by the responsiveness of this council and particularly of Whitefish city councils. We have always, as far as my note, they have always been sensitive to that so more participation is better. Again, it’s one reason we decided to have a mail in ballot rather than a polling place, although I kind of like polling places as a general proposition, I’d like to have both but we did it because we want more participation from the citizenry in what’s going on.
WCR: Water quality in Whitefish Lake is a concern for most residents and I understand that leaks from septic systems around the lake are a major contributor to water quality problems. There is currently some engineering analysis being completed about options for addressing this, but what actions would you like to see to address it?
Frank Sweeney: I, well I think we need to wait for, we need to wait for to see what these engineering studies will show us in terms of what our options are because that’s what they’re studying ok…we’ve got these areas of concern, what are our options for pulling these people off of septics for those areas. Because of the distances that we’re talking about and because of the fact that much of the ground that goes around the lake is not actually within the city of Whitefish that presents a huge challenge for us, notwithstanding the fact that the lake and the lakebed is actually in the city of Whitefish or part of the city of Whitefish. So what I would like to see us do is I’d like to see us pursue vigorously the results of these engineering studies and then bring our citizens and our neighbors along on how to best solve this problem. Everybody goes to articulate it. Nobody, nobody I’ve ever heard says, oh the heck with it we’re just, we don’t care, we’ll let our septic poison the lake, we don’t care. Everybody’s at least articulated that they’re interested in that and so this will put, this is where the rubber will meet the road. We’ll find out just how important it is to folks. We have to lead by providing the funding for some of these engineering studies for some of these areas so that they can get done and again, the city of Whitefish is doing this for areas that are not exclusively within city of Whitefish. The lake is very important to this city and is part of the city but this is something that we feel strongly enough about that we’re willing to spend city dollars on a county, what amounts to a county problem.
WCR: Following adoption of the Critical Areas Ordinance in 2008 the city and the county engaged in a 6 year battle that eventually led to the Montana Supreme Court awarding the county jurisdiction over regulating development in the so called “doughnut” areas adjacent to the city boundaries. How much does this set back the city’s ability to ensure the protection of Whitefish Lake’s water quality?
Frank Sweeney: You know, I don’t know that it, in reality it has an impact on how we have to go about doing it. I think the county has articulated at least that they’re as concerned about it as we are. Again, the rubber will meet the road when they actually take actions that endorse solutions to the problem that we’ve got so I don’t, I think that’s more about how we go about it, what hoops, yeah, it reduces our ability to work autonomously but that doesn’t remove our ability to influence and cause change because Montana law still requires that the county respect our growth policies with respect to the areas we’re going to grow to over the years. And I think that that, it isn’t the same as having the extra territorial jurisdiction that we had before but it gives us the same, it gives us the ability to have the influence that’s necessary to help us grow.
WCR: Do you feel there were any mistakes in how the City handled the issue and how might it have handled it differently with the county?
Frank Sweeney: You know, quite honestly no. I think that there was a, the city of Whitefish, we worked very hard, even after coming to loggerheads and ending up in litigation to attempt to work with the county and to mediate a resolution to this. Quite frankly, the county appeared through their commissioners and refused to participate in the mediation. Literally refused to participate. They were there but they would not respond, they would not proffer any opportunities for resolving the matter at all. The city of Whitefish really worked very hard at that. It remains important to us, we still want those doors open. I for one will do anything I can and given any opportunity for us to talk with them and to help them continue to understand that the city of Whitefish and its citizens are as much their constituents as anybody outside the city of Whitefish, we are. So I think that’s, that quite frankly has been lost in the us versus them approach to life so I think there’s some things we can still do and I want to do and I still want that relationship repaired but again, it takes a couple of folks to talk before that can happen and we have done everything I know that we can do. Our mayor John Muhlfeld has done yeoman's work in trying to continually approach the commissioners to talk about all these issues and quite frankly it’s been met with a very deaf ear and rejected summarily. So I don’t know, again it only works if 2 people are willing to talk about it and I think that’s where we have to go at this point.
WCR: Earlier this year we had a successful vote on the funding for conserving Haskill Basin as you noted. Another new conservation effort has been announced involving Plum Creek lands in the Lazy Creek drainage north of the lake. Do you support efforts to preserve the Plum Creek lands?
Frank Sweeney: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. It’s not a game that the city of Whitefish individually gets to participate in as we did with Haskill Basin because of the interest but it will protect the watersheds at the north end of Whitefish Lake which is again, part of the city of Whitefish and it’s a water source for us. So I think it’s incredibly important, I think it’s a wonderful thing that we’re gonna, again, that that opportunity is out there. Again, the thing to remember about this is that at the end of the day, if we approach these kind of conservation easements this way, it does a couple of very good things. It doesn’t remove these properties from the tax rolls, it remains, they remain in private hands and they remain productive forests. So that I think is again, a boon to the forest industry, the logging industry and to us as a community and our heritage when we’re able to do that because these lands will then be preserved to do what they’ve always, historically done, which is provide jobs. So I think it’s a great thing.
WCR: There is currently around $4 million in unallocated Tax Increment Financing or TIF funds that need to be spent by 2020 or it’ll be lost. You stated in the Candidate Forum recently that one of the things you would like to see the funds used for are infrastructure projects for new businesses. Can you elaborate on the type of infrastructure projects we need to invest in to attract new businesses?
Frank Sweeney: Well, it, there…varied. The ones that, historically what we’ve used them for is literally creating roads, streets, repairing or putting in better sewer systems, better water systems into a lot of these areas. The one that comes to mind is the hotel that came in to, that’s going in on block 46 right here in downtown. We didn’t, we were initially going to spend some funds, some significant funds to replace and remove a sewer pipe that was running under that property but because of the reconstruction, the construction that they were going to use they didn’t need that but they did need some help with a lot of the sidewalks, a lot of the bike lanes and creating those type of things to facilitate that project; we were happy to do it. We’ve spent some money and funded some things for some repair of the mall based on a concept of blight and the mall had asked us for some help and we were quite happy to do that. It gave us the opportunity to focus some of our attention on highway 93 south and that commercial area. I think the other areas where we’re gonna have an opportunity potentially, or we had thought we might have opportunities to spend some infrastructure dollars would be like on the North Valley hospital site, where that, the asbestos remediation and the deconstruction of that facility, no matter who went in there was gonna require some, was probably gonna require some help. That’s not presented to us and as I understand it the current owner is not interested in needing our help at this point. I think the Idaho Timber property, which is being, is the subject, part of the subject of the 93 west corridor project, the types of things that could go in there might well need some infrastructure improvement. Again, be it roads, be it rail access because it’s there, they may need help with water or sewer or some combination so I think we’d be willing to do that. I don’t know that we have the ability…one of the things a lot of folks think about when they think about economic development, they think, well, ok, what you need to do is, you know, pay their taxes for several years or give them a tax holiday. I don’t know that we can necessarily do that or we want to do that and I think that the economic studies have shown that that’s not the best way to incent businesses to come and stay and so I think, my preference was let’s have some businesses that really want to come here and I would do anything I could to recruit them, but I don’t want to be a king-maker. If somebody wants to come in and so something, they’ve got a good idea, this council I think, and I in particular would endorse assisting that economic development. Anything we can do to diversify our economy here would be hugely helpful. I mean, we’ve got healthcare, we’ve got the mountain, we’ve got tourism, we’ve got the schools, those are the things that are our economic drivers at this point and we’ve got a number of small businesses. We could further diversify with some help I’d be happy to do it.
WCR: Earlier this year the council adopted the Revised Downtown Master Plan. Most people don’t want Whitefish to become another Aspen or Vail as you state. What actions does the city need to take to avoid that and do you believe the Downtown Master Plan supports that vision?
Frank Sweeney: No I think it does. I think becoming Aspen or Vail and the downtown master plan are not associated, I mean, those issues really aren’t the same. I mean, Aspen, yeah, they got a very nice downtown and they’ve worked hard to keep it but when people talk about whether or not the city of Whitefish would become an Aspen or Vail that has to do with exclusion of all of the people that work here and live here on a full time basis and that’s what that problem is. We, I think the downtown master plan quite frankly does a pretty good job of recognizing that about Whitefish. We don’t want to become that. The master plan is designed for us to be able to grow, maintain a walking city and very accessible city and town for its residents. So I think that the downtown master plan endorses a lot of what Whitefish is and quite frankly services the idea that we are not gonna become, or don’t want to become that type of town.
WCR: The Downtown Master Plan does envision a “boutique” hotel at 1st street between Baker and Central Avenue where Markus Foods is, just the south end of that block. One of the things people like about our downtown is that it is vibrant and serves locals as much as tourists. Does encouraging a hotel in the center of downtown jeopardize the character and “grit” of Whitefish?
Frank Sweeney: Encourage…I mean I think the downtown master plan has set an opportunity or set up a set of, ok, this might be nice here. I think that remains to be seen. I think we have, with the hotel that’s going on block 46, I think that hotel will serve those purposes. I’m not sure I would endorse, somebody wants to come in here and want an opportunity to build a hotel, I think that’d be fine. At the same time, I don’t think that Whitefish is in that desperate need any longer since the hotel’s going in, particularly at block 46 and its location which I quite frankly think is a better location for the whole thing.
WCR: The Downtown Master Plan envisions enhanced mixed use and pedestrian friendly development but this contrasts sharply with the more sprawling, vehicle oriented development south of town along the highway. Would you support zoning the rest of the city, particularly south of town, so that it is more consistent with downtown’ mixed-use, pedestrian friendly zoning plan?
Frank Sweeney: I don’t know that I would necessarily change the zoning, well, I think the zoning out there is appropriate and it’s what the city of Whitefish want and it’s what the citizens want. As is. I think that anything we can do to increase its walkability and increase its availability through pedestrian and bike traffic, I’m all in favor of that. And I think one of the things that we are doing, as we continue to develop going south, particularly along Baker out towards 13th and beyond, we are ensuring that bike paths are in place, walking paths are in place, the landscaping is in place to encourage that kind of connectivity. I think that’s the, that’s where we can play a role, or should play a role, given the history and the development and a lot of the work that has gone into the corridor studies for highway 93 south. And we’ve talked about doing another one and we’ve held off on it for a while now because of, the issues surrounding, the corridor study that we really want needs to go further south than highway 40 and we’re now gonna have to come up with a different plan so I think we’re gonna spend some time on 93 south but I don’t see us necessarily changing zoning. I think we probably focus it a little bit more and concentrate on what else we want out there to create the kind of connectivity that we have downtown.
WCR: And just to clarify, the corridor plan south of highway 40, you’re not talking about development plans per say out there?
Frank Sweeney: Historically, I mean, historically 5 years ago, 4 years ago, 3 years ago and we started talking about wanting to do a 93 south corridor plan, we wanted to do a corridor plan that went out into the extra territorial jurisdictional area because that’s where we’re going to grow and that is in fact the front door of Whitefish. And so, I think that was our intent initially but now that we don’t have that extraterritorial area, quite frankly, I think we need to plan for it anyway and tell the county that this is what we think ought to happen out there because I think they would respect that. They would appreciate I think the opportunity for us to tell them this is what the city of Whitefish can support and this is what we’d really like to see out there. Because again, I think we are as much their constituents as anybody that’s an individual property already out there, as anybody. And again, all of this land will be part of Whitefish someday so I think that’s an important thing for us to get over and I, quite frankly, 4 years ago when people said well we can’t do anything until we know what the answer is on the doughnut lawsuit, I think that was misplaced and we missed an opportunity to just move forward with it because we were going to do it anyway, we need to, it’s important to the city.
WCR: Workforce housing has become an important issue in this election; but it’s not new to Whitefish. It’s been frequently brought up in past elections with little progress being made thus far. How do we go from talk to action on this issue and do you have any solid ideas on this issue that you would bring to the council if re-elected?
Frank Sweeney: I guess the, I don’t have any, what you call, “solid ideas” that would change what we’re doing because quite frankly I’ve been looking at this for 4 years or longer because it is, it has been, and it will remain an issue until we solve it. Nothing we’ve done to date has worked. In terms of actually providing the kinds of workforce housing that we need. Nothing we’ve done. I mean, all the incentives in the world have just not provided the kind of housing. There was a workforce housing or low income housing summit that was held and sponsored by the Chamber about 2 or 3 weeks ago. And what came out of that summit, which is something I endorsed and I think we came to agreement on was, one of the reasons I think that we haven’t been successful in that area is that is because it’s not been anybody’s job. In other words, we have a city manager who’s responsible for a lot of things; he knows what his job is. We have a planning director who knows what his job is. Nobody has been in charge of bringing, or focusing on what we can do on this issue and what we were able to do is get the Chamber to take ownership of, through its economic development board, which includes members from the Whitefish Mountain Resort and the hotels that are all in need of the workforce type housing that they need. They are now going to, have agreed to take point and take responsible for bringing to this city council how we can solve this problem. The mountain has certain properties up on the mountain that they think would be appropriate for creating workforce housing. Fine, tell us what we can do to help. I think the hotels also have certain needs that I think they now, through a partnership effectively they can all begin to look at how they can solve this problem but I think we also have to recognize that there’s a significant difference in definition between workforce housing and low-income housing. We have a need for both. And I think that there’s some overlap there but we really need to focus on dealing with both, but in particular if we solve the workforce housing issue we’ll probably go a long way towards the low income housing as well.
WCR: What are some of the things the city council can do to bring jobs to help diversify the economy outside of the tourism industry? You spoke to that about some of the infrastructure spending with TIF funds…other thoughts on that?
Frank Sweeney: Well, I think the, one of the things that I, quite frankly, has been an issue for a while is this perception that Whitefish is unfriendly to business or we put too many hurdles in front of folks. One of the things that I have focused my attention on, and we’re probably not there yet, because there’s still a perception to some degree out there is that I wanted our planning department in particular to become much more user friendly, not that they necessarily weren’t before, but much more encouraging with folks on, ok, this is what you want to do? This is how you can do it, come, let’s work through this thing and make this thing happen. And I think we’ve done some pretty good work in that area. I think our planning department has demonstrated that they want to help, they don’t always have time, but they’re finding themselves in a position where they’re willing to do that. They aren’t a ‘you didn’t check that box, get out of here’ routine. I think we’re more in a, you know, we can help you get this thing done, let’s show you how it can work and I think that’s been helpful to us. In terms of getting more, or diversifying our economic base, that’s an opportunity I think for us in terms of setting policy and setting, demonstrating an interest and supporting people who want to come in and start businesses. Its a little challenge for us to decide, ok we’re going to be king makers here…this person gets to come here and somebody else doesn’t that we’re going to pick on. And I, quite frankly I don’t think that’s the role of government but I think we can provide, through planning and through our zoning and through our other regulations an openness and demonstrate and openness to this is what the rules are, this is how you can play, come join us.
WCR: Some municipalities in Montana are offering curbside recycling. This is, the city service is more feasible due to simplified sorting rules, they allow combining of some materials. Do you thing the city should provide leadership to establish a curbside recycling program?
Frank Sweeney: I would love to and we continue to look at it. One of the things that is the impediment is the cost. The cost of curbside recycling would have a dramatic impact on our citizens if we were to pursue that. I’m not opposed to it and quite frankly I’d like to see us do it. I have a hard time, however, given the economics of it that imposing it on everyone. I think we’re gonna do some work and we demonstrated and interest in and will do some work on providing a bigger and better centralized recycling area that will be much more user friendly and much more available to our citizens than any of the scattered systems that we’ve got now between city beach and downtown and again out on, out off of highway 93. So I think we’ll do some work in that area but every time we look at this thing, sticker shock becomes a real problem. And I quite frankly don’t know us, maybe we should think about subsidizing it, but if we do, the taxpayers have still got to support that so at the end of the day it still comes out of our taxpayers’ pockets. Whether it’s in a direct fee for their garbage which they pay now or whether we cover it with general funds, which taxes would have to be raised so that’s a hard one for me to walk around at this point. I, my challenge at this point is I kind of have a feeling of what it should cost, I know what they’re telling me its gonna cost…that doesn’t make sense to me so I’d like to challenge that a little bit more and focus a little more attention on that to bring those costs down so that it becomes routine and I think quite frankly, one of the things that will make it less costly is by us all doing it. And so I think if we can get over that hurdle of ok this is the system we can put into place and it will effectively drop the cost on a per use basis by doing it that way I think we can, we might get somewhere but I think, we still have some work in that area and that’s where we have to focus our attention is why do you say it’s going to cost that much and how do we make that a different number.
WCR: Cities across Montana, including Billings, Bozeman, Helena and Missoula, have adopted climate action plans to evaluate their contribution to climate change, and to devise goals by which they plan to become “carbon neutral.” Would you support a locally crafted climate action plan for the city?
Frank Sweeney: Yeah I think I would. A locally crafted, I think that’s something we are gonna continue to work on and have to work on. Climate change is happening, we can argue about the causes, it is. We need to understand that, to the extent we can influence it through our actions, we need to take that responsibility. It’s not about, the reality is, it’s not about me, it’s probably not about you, and it’s about our children. And I think, people again lose sight of the fact of, oh no we don’t need to worry about this it’s just not important. If they start to think about it, it really is about their children. Tangentially, those of us that are alive today, we’re probably gonna survive through this whole thing, but it will be important in our ability to provide a livable space, and a functional space for our children. And our children’s children. I would certainly endorse it. It needs to be locally crafted and locally focused.
WCR: Last question for you. How would you differentiate yourself from the other candidates running for city council?
Frank Sweeney: I think I would differentiate myself through my experience and my commitment to the city. I mean, I have, I wanted to and I was willing to participate in all the hard work that we’ve done in this city for the past 15 years or more. I was a participant in the planning board, I worked on city council, I worked on the trails projects when they were first initiated. Quite frankly, this is an important place to me and it’s, for lack of, there are serious problems for people who want to be serious about them. This is not a part-time, to the extent it’s a part-time volunteer position but we have to understand here is you have to have the commitment to do the work that’s necessary for this community. You can’t have pre-examined…pre-conceived ideas about what it should be. You have to be willing to go do the work and I think that’s what differentiates me more than others. I’m willing to do that work, I know how to do that work. I’ve been practicing law for over 30 years as I’ve said. I’ve been in all kinds of settings, I’ve worked with all kinds of clients. I’ve done economic development with corporations on how to put bonds in place and how to do economic development bonds. I’ve done a lot of these things and worked in small communities throughout the country so I think I have an understanding of what our opportunities are. I also have, given our tenure here and our attitude when we came here was…we didn’t come to Whitefish to take, we came to participate. And I think that’s what I have done, and what we have done, my wife and I have done. We want to be part of what Whitefish is and its growth as opposed to making it someplace else and I think that’s what differentiates me maybe than some other folks.
WCR: Great, well Frank thank you so much for your service to the city and thank you for coming in to speak with us.
Frank Sweeney: I’m glad to be here, thanks for having me.