The Blaine County Journal News-Opinion - We've Got The County Covered

Tom Fairbank selected to fill District 3 County Commission seat


June 27, 2018

Tom Fairbank, of Turner, was recently selected by the Blaine County Commissioners to fill the vacated position for District Three County Commissioner. Fairbank will serve from July 1 to December 31, 2018. Fairbank will be sworn in to his new position on Friday, June 29.

On Friday, June 22, Blaine County Commissioners Dolores Plumage and Frank DePriest selected Tom Fairbank to complete the unexpired term of the commission seat vacated by Charlie Kulbeck. The Blaine County Democratic Central Committee met on the Monday night before and selected three names that were submitted to the County Commissioners.

Kulbeck had earlier notified commissioners that he was resigning effective July 1, citing his own health challenges and family concerns. Fairbank will complete Kulbeck's unexpired term-a six month stretch running from July 1 to December 31, 2018. On January 1, 2019, the commissioner elected in the upcoming general election will take the seat for a six year term.

Notifying the central committee about the vacancy, Commissioner Frank DePriest said he hoped to fill the vacancy "by July 1." County Commission Chairman Dolores Plumage and Commissioner Frank DePriest were both in attendance at the central committee meeting, though not participants in the selection process. DePriest told the central committee, "We came to hear the candidates. This will speed up the process because we've heard their qualifications and concerns."

By Montana law the county central committee of the same party as the vacated office holder selects and submits three names from which the current commission chooses a successor. The Democratic Central Committee is made up of a precinct committeeman and committeewoman from each voting precinct in the county.

The Democratic Central Committee selected among four persons interested in the vacancy

When the Democratic Central Committee convened two persons had already stated their interest in taking the vacated county commissioner's position. Kim Hansen, who is running as a Democrat had expressed an interest as well as Turner resident Tom Fairbank.

With only two candidates expressing an interest, there was a question whether only two names could be submitted to the commissioner. Greg Jergeson said he spoke with Blaine County Attorney Kelsie Harwood and she suggested three names be submitted since that was how the state statute read. Jergeson then explained, "If we were to have four or more people interested, we will go to a secret ballot among the central committee members to decide which three will have their names submitted."

Central Committee Chairman Jonathan Walker then asked each candidate to introduce themselves and answer four questions the committee had printed on the agenda: "Please tell us about yourself;" "What experience and attributes would you being to this position?" "Please explain your background and experience with local government budgeting and accounting" and "Commissioners exercise broad authority in many areas. What area of county government is of particular concern to you?" Each candidate then spoke for five to seven minutes about his or her qualifications for the office and answered the printed questions.

Kim Hansen spoke first. He said he grew up in the Harlem area, had farmed with his family until recently when he retired from the farm operation. He's served in a number of political offices including four years on the Harlem School Board and eight years in the Montana State Senate where he was on the committee that dealt with state finance.

After leaving the legislature he returned to Harlem where he served six years on the Harlem City Council. He is now Mayor of Harlem and is also the Chairman of the Harlem Senior Center Board. He added, "I love working with budgets and am ready to go to work immediately, not just for District Three but for the entire county."

His main area of concern is the county budget. He said, "This county is hurting financially, the trickle down from the state just gets slimmer and slimmer." Hansen added, "I'm not necessarily for raising taxes. We have to get our priorities right and that might mean eliminating some county employees. We have to operate within our means."

Tom Fairbank said he's lived in Turner for 60 years. He retired from Blaine County as the Road Supervisor and he believed his ability to get along with the two incumbent county commissioners and other department heads was important. He also said he put together the road budget for the county for four years and felt he understood the budgeting process. Fairbank described his experience with FEMA and his success in getting about $400,000 for the county to repair damaged roads.

Fairbank said he had experience getting the road system information computerized. He also understood TSEP, a state program that helps fund infrastructure expenditures. He closed noting, "I learned with the county how to listen to taxpayers. I can deal with the public."

Bill Taylor, former Mayor of Harlem and a member of the Democratic Central Committee, submitted his name to "meet the requirement of three names to be submitted." Taylor made no statement about his interest, concerns or qualifications.

Interestingly, Miles Hutton, the Republican candidate running for the county commission seat that is contested, entered his name as the fourth name. This caused some discussion about the legality of a person from another party having their name in play. It was decided there didn't appear to be a legal reason why Hutton could not put his name forward, although some committee members expressed that they assumed only Democrats would have their names submitted.

Miles Hutton prefaced his remarks about his qualifications for the job by saying, "I am submitting my name for consideration strictly on my own." He is a rancher as well as an outfitter and gun shop owner. He is the Chairman of the Blaine County Planning Board and has served many years as a volunteer instructor in the hunter safety program. He said his main concern was, "As taxpayers are we getting the most for our money?"

With four candidates putting their names forward, the members of the central committee each got a ballot and secretly marked their choices. Sandi Boardman and Tammy Williams were asked to count the votes. Ballots were tallied and the three names submitted to the commissioners were: Kim Hansen; Tom Fairbank and Bill Taylor.

Commissioners select Fairbank to fill vacancy on Friday, June 22

At an announced meeting on Friday morning, June 22, county commissioners met to make their final selection to fill the District Three commission seat. Chairman Plumage asked for a motion and Commissioner DePriest recommended Tom Fairbank noting, "During the central committee's process we heard each of three prospects speak about their qualifications. Tom Fairbank, as a former county department head, is familiar with the county's budgeting process and how the county operates."

No stranger to county government, Tom Fairbank, of Turner, worked nearly 40 years with the Blaine County Road and Bridge Department and retired in 2014. For the last 12 years with Blaine County he was head of the road and bridge department, responsible for maintaining 1200 miles of county roads, 62 bridges and the operation of several gravel pits. Contacted by phone shortly after his selection was announced, Fairbank said, "I'm a bit nervous but I am hopeful I can help the two commissioners, especially during the upcoming budget process.

Fairbank will be officially sworn in to his new position on Friday, June 29 at 10 am, in the Blaine County courtroom. The "Journal" congratulates Tom Fairbank on his appointment and thanks Charlie Kulbeck for his years of service as a commissioner.


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