At our most recent Coffee with Candidates event—thanks to all of you who came to see the Ward 3 candidates!—an attendee posed the question to prospective council members, “The statutorily required local government review is coming up next year. Would you support making changes to our City Charter?” Answers varied as candidates tend to differentiate themselves, but there was general agreement that Billings should consider all of its options.

Is a “council-manager” or “strong mayor” form of government the best for Billings? Are 11 council members too many? Should the city and county local governments be combined like Butte-Silverbow? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s probably worth investigating to make sure our system of government is most ideal to serve Billings residents and appropriate for our growing city.

Tonight, Council will be discussing how to proceed on the topic. In 2021, Council approved an initiative to have the City Administrator draft a resolution for a vote to establish a Charter review committee. Although that has not happened, there are a few ways to establish a review committee.

  • Citizen petition: locals can gather signatures to call for a vote
  • Council initiative: the governing body can establish a Study Commission
  • 10-year statutory vote: a mandatory vote is required every 10 years

The last option, the statutorily mandated review vote, is quickly approaching and the following timeline will likely be followed:

  • Feb/Mar 2024 – City Council adopts ballot question resolution
  • Jun 2024 – Voters decide whether to establish a Study Commission
    • (If voters oppose, process stops)
  • Jul/Aug 2024 – Citizens file as candidates for Study Commission
  • Nov 2024 – Study Commissioners elected. Meet within 10 days
  • Dec 2024 – MSU Local Gov Center offers training to Study Commission
  • Jan 2025 – Oct 2026 – Commission studies structure of local government
  • November 2026 – If changes are suggested by the Study Commission, citizens vote on recommended changes.

Billings voters have called for changes in the past, but not recently.

  • 1974Statutory review vote, voters supported
  • 1976Self-governing powers proposed & City Charter adopted
  • 1984Statutory review vote, voters opposed
  • 1994Statutory review vote, voters supported
  • 1996Extending Mayor’s term from 2 to 4 yrs, voters approved
  • 2004Statutory review vote, voters opposed
  • 2014Statutory review vote, voters opposed
  • 2024 – Statutory review vote, voters … ? 

Coffee with Candidates

Hear from the candidates facing off in each ward and make sure you’re ready to vote when ballots come out! Bring questions to ask during the time for audience Q&A.

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