Winburn’s run for Hardin mayor emphasizes city transparency, ‘respect’ for citizens
Thu, 10/19/2017 - 11:53am admin
By Andrew Turck / Big Horn County News
Three people have entered the race for Hardin mayor this year, which is set to be decided Nov. 7 by mail-in ballot. Two candidates, Dallas Eidem and Debbie Winburn, made the July 14 filing and will appear on the ballot. A third candidate, Joe Purcell, will run as a write-in.
According to Hardin’s city code, the duties of a mayor are to preside at city council meetings and vote when the council is divided, appoint all city officers, recommend measures that would be beneficial to the city, examine complaints against the city, and ensure officers deliver “all assets” to their successor upon the expiration of their duties.
Finally, the code states, a mayor is to “Perform all other duties required and necessary for the efficient operation of the business of the city.”
To that end, Debbie Winburn's bio is as follows:
A former city judge has entered the race for Hardin mayor and believes she can bring a leadership style dedicated to providing good service to local citizens. Candidate Debbie Winburn – who worked in the city from 2007-15 first in animal control, then as a process server, then city judge – said she missed the time when the city had a sense of transparency.
“I just see that things have changed so much,” she said. “It seems that [City Hall has] moved away from realizing the city works for the citizens.”
Through her leadership, Winburn said, she wants to restore a sense of mutual respect between Hardin officials and the public.
During her time with the city, she learned about its budget process, different departments and inner workings. According to Winburn, she can use this knowledge to help make Hardin more “fair” to its residents.
“I expect the citizens would treat council and the mayor with some respect and dignity, and it [also] should be the other way,” said Winburn, a regular attendee of Hardin City Council meetings. As a former judge, she added, “I’ve had to listen to both sides and then make the decision. The citizen can be upset, the council can have one way of thinking, but if we start the dialogue, we can come to some answers.”
She also intends to encourage city council members to be more active with their constituents. Right now, she believes aldermen often remain silent rather than talk to those they represent.
“When somebody gets up and addresses council and they have a problem in their ward, I wish their ward [representative] would talk to them,” Winburn said. “I understand if it’s…a legal issue…but you can’t just sit there and not address the citizen.”
As an example, Winburn brought up property taxes, which continue to be raised in Hardin without what she believes to be a clear explanation. Hundreds of thousands of dollars move through the city budget, she said, and the headings of city finance reports make it difficult to answer “where did the money come from, where it is going to and why?”
“If you look at the claims sheets, you just see something like ‘Game Time: $5,000.’ Do you know what that is?” she asked. “I had to Google it…that was for the swings for a park.
“I was thinking, ‘Who is buying games?”
Hardin has an aging population, she continued, and many people live on a fixed income. Raising taxes annually, even by small increments, can be a significant burden on many residents – she knows one woman who is living on $620 per month. The Helping Hands Food Bank does important work to feed city residents, she said, but many are too proud to use the service.
“The city has to realize the taxpayers aren’t the city’s bank account,” Winburn said, “and that the citizens’ wallets are not bottomless.”
Any budget has waste that can be trimmed, Winburn said, adding that she has no intention of lowering employee salaries.
To save the city from the cost of lawsuits – four of which have occurred this year – Winburn “would love to see” a human resources department. This, she said, will help resolve potential problems with employees before they fester.
“Your relationship with your employees is only as good as your HR department,” she said. “The HR department has to be separate from the employees and separate from management.”
The city crews, Winburn said, were “awesome” in their efforts to keep the pipes running and parks maintained. In July 2015, they joined the Teamsters Union – more than a century after Hardin was incorporated.
“Something is not going right if, after all these years, that the employees decided they needed protection from their employer,” she said. “We’re not doing something right.”
Winburn is currently semi-retired and works as a paralegal for Attorney Alexander Roth in Billings.