Billings mayoral candidates face off in last debate

Originally published in the 10/20/17 print edition of Yellowstone County News

BILLINGS — Billings mayoral candidates Bill Cole and Jeff Essmann squared off for a final debate before ballots went out by mail on Wednesday for the Nov. 7 election.

A quick and lively, back and forth conversation, during the one-hour debate that was sponsored by Yellowstone County News and KULR 8 Television, underscored that voters have two distinctive choices. The debate was on Tuesday evening at Petro Hall at MSU Billings.

Billings attorney Bill Cole offered a vision for a future dynamic Billings that, while requiring public investment now, could promise a prosperous and competitive community, which would draw young people. Cole believes Billings is in competition with other communities and needs amenities like parks, trails and a convention center to attract millennials, who will be needed to fill a projected 30,000 jobs over the next few years.

Former state Rep. Jeff Essmann, also an attorney and local businessman, seeks to complete city government promises of the past, while remaining fiscally restrained and respectful of impacts on taxpayers, which he says could offer just as much to future growth and community dynamics. Specifically, he identified projects such as the more rapid building of the Inner-belt Loop and to finish connecting bike trails, which would be one amenity for attracting people to Billings.

Moderator of the debate was Yellowstone County News publisher Jonathan McNiven, who also posed questions, along with a panel comprised of Yellowstone County News contributors Brad Molnar, a former state legislator, and Evelyn Pyburn, who also owns the Big Sky Business Journal. A number of candidates for Billings City Council also posed questions.

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