Tammi Fisher knows the meaning of hard work.
She worked her way through law school while dealing with her late husband's cancer treatment, raised a family and opened her own law firm where she now practices land-use law and handles professional negligence litigation.
Now, with her education, training, background and experience, she says she's ready to tackle the duties as mayor of the Flathead Valley's largest city.
Fisher is challenging incumbent Pamela Kennedy in the mayoral election. Early voting begins Wednesday; election day is Nov. 3.
"I bring a good sense of common sense," Fisher said, eyeing her first run at public office. "I have the perspective of, 'I'm a business owner.' I have the perspective of, 'I'm just like every other citizen in Kalispell.'
"We lost perspective in the city of Kalispell government. We hold the taxpayer money in trust," she said. "That's our highest fiduciary responsibility. I recognize it's not mine to spend."
Part of her common sense, she said, would propel her to market Kalispell as a business-friendly community and advocate for regulations to make it so.
"The mayor can be a strong voice on the council and set the policies for the city. The policy should be: 'Don't spend it all in one place,'" she said.
"There should be some foresight. During the economic bubble they should have been saving. That perspective was lost."
Saving money for a rainy day is a directive the council should have set for the staff, she added. Even though the mayor is just one voice on the council, she said, it can be a strong voice that sticks with strong positions in order to steer away from such problems.
When it comes to tax increment financing, Fisher is mixed on its benefits to the city.
"If the TIF is targeted to one group … Should it be done to make up for the sins of the past? But if we need utilities, that can be looked at," she said.
Raise the tax base for the whole city, she advocated, by bringing new businesses to Kalispell. When tax increment payments are collected in a specific district by taxpayers in that district, however, "they should get the benefit," she said.
Expansion of the city airport is going to have to get a stronger argument than Fisher has heard so far to win her unqualified support.
"I think we need more evidence other than if you build it they will come," she said.
It will serve a need for locals with jets, she said, but it's a danger to redirect flight patterns directly over Kalispell's Main Street as called for in current plans for runway realignment.
Small-plane use on an expanded airport would be a benefit to the citizens, but "I don't know that we need to accommodate [executive] jets … because the noise level is significantly higher," she said.
"I don't think the city airport is in a position to compete with other airports in this area."
Fisher is very specific on the issues that need to be dealt with in Kalispell city government - the budget, not going into bankruptcy, fiscal responsibility, job growth, business expansion and development, and personal and property rights.
As mayor, she would "have a full audit done to see where the surplus is, where the money has gone," from the flush budgets the city enjoyed during the boom years around 2006 and 2007 to the skeletal budget this year that required drastic cuts in city departments and left the general fund with projections of just $309,000 in cash reserves.
"I would ask department heads to cut their own budgets," she said.
But she would retain a strong police and fire presence in the city. Statistics show that it only makes sense, she said, to hold the line when economic troubles set in with a populace.
"Poverty breeds an increase in crime," she said. "We need to keep our kids and our streets safe."
Budget shock hit the city last year when pay for overtime hours put in by firefighters and emergency workers far exceeded the year's budget, prompting calls for better oversight and, eventually, censure of the last city manager.
Fisher does not assume that the pay system was abused just because the number of overtime hours went so far over budget.
It requires an "understanding that they are servants to the core" and likely were responding to legitimate city needs, she said.
But perhaps her biggest concern in her mayoral campaign is the financing arrangement for the new City Hall.
She says the city signed over ownership of the building to a New York financing corporation. If the city defaults on its $80,000 semiannual payments, she claims, it risks its occupancy of the building. She said the city will not regain ownership until the debt is paid in full, and that debt cannot be retired early.
And if the city goes bankrupt in the meantime?
"If our reserves went from where they are statutorily mandated to be in 2007, to a million dollars less than where they're mandated in 2009," she pointed out, "that would indicate there are some significant financial issues with the city.
"And why go to a New York firm? We should be able to get somebody local to finance this," she said.
"Pound the pavement. It's a Kalispell project. We should have Kalispell financing. If anybody should benefit from that, it should be a local business."
Fisher figures her work is cut out for her if she wins the mayor's office. But she's up to the task of "clean(ing) up the fiscal mess," she said.
"I'm not here to cut ribbons and kiss babies. I'm here to provide the city with my best asset, which would probably be my brain," she said.
"I'm here to get in and fix it and get out, and help the city that has provided me with more opportunity than I could have ever dreamed of. It's not the city, it's the community."
Reporter Nancy Kimball can be reached at 758-4483 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org