An interview with East Helena Mayor Kelly Harris
Prickly Pear Junction invited Kelly to sit down and answer 7 questions about his new position in East Helena. He graciously agreed and met us at Smith’s on Sunday, November 7, 2021. Here are the questions we asked and the answers he gave us “in his own words”.
1) What do you think is the greatest challenge facing East Helena in the immediate future?
First of all thanks for meeting me here. This is another way to reach people and I appreciate the opportunity. I think the biggest challenge facing east Helena is clearly getting our police force back on the ground. And we have no chief. We are required by Montana law to have a chief and we don’t right now, which is a big concern for me. The residents are paying taxes to have a police force.
2) Montana Ave./Valley Drive is the main roadway through East Helena. Tremendous construction has taken place on Valley Drive with the addition of a new elementary school, a new high school, and at least 350 new homes currently under construction. What plans are in the works to alleviate the terrible traffic and road conditions on Valley Drive?
Well that’s a good question David. To be concise the answer is there’s a need for a third turning lane to be put in. The current plan is to put that lane in from Plant Road to Lewis Street. So that entire area will be a 3rd lane and that 3rd lane will alleviate much of the traffic from Prickly Pear Elementary and the subdivision and much of the morning and afternoon traffic around the high school. It will also provide a walking path along the West side. Engineers are working on that right now. Is very necessary and the city and county are working on that right now and it looks like the spring of 2023.
3) Is there any reason specific plans for improvements to Montana Ave./Valley Drive cannot be posted on the city website or elsewhere on the Internet, such as Prickly Pear Junction? Residents are very interested in knowing when and how the road will be improved.
I think the short answer to this question is that there is not a reason. As a Councilman I have no control on saying what goes on the website. I can’t speak for the current administration’s reason for not putting it on the website. They do have public meetings for providing that information. The short answer is there is no reason not to have that information on the website.
4) What do you think is the main message you presented to the citizens of East Helena that made them vote for you as opposed to your opponents?
It’s kind of multifaceted. I think any public service for anybody starts with caring. Anybody running for any office has got to be able to represent the people, why they care and how they care: it starts with caring. That’s easy, that’s the easy part. Knowing that you have to have some ideas, some thoughts, and some plans. If you select a new mayor it’s because some things needed to change. One thing we mentioned earlier is the police. I think that was a big factor. I care about the City of East Helena and I care about the citizens.
5) When do you take office?
So I will be sworn in on the first Tuesday of January, which is January 4th. Until then, I’m still a Councilman.
6) What is the first thing you are going to do when you take over the office as the Mayor of East Helena?
The first thing I’m going to do? You know we have quite a few employees. I don’t know all of them but I’m going to establish myself and learn what they do on a day to day basis because I know we have employees that do amazing work and they’re great people. I already know a bunch of them and as a mayor one of my big jobs is to assist them in serving the community. They’re the front line. They’re the people who see everybody every day who come into the office or to pay bills. So I really want to take a deep dive and take some time with them.
7) What is your one big “wish” or “hope” for the City of East Helena moving forward?
From a personal perspective, when I speak about a wish or a hope for East Helena, we have a proud history, and I’m a big fan of that. It’s a community unto itself, definitely separate from Helena. When the smelter was running, people knew each other and you had neighbors helping each other, people working together. It was definitely its own unique community. I think in the years after the smelter ceased operation East Helena lost some of its identity, a little bit of that neighborliness. I think we have a big opportunity here, especially with the new high school, to become a community again. East Helena has a pride in its own community. As far as a wish or hope for me, I would like to see us develop the feeling we’re all neighbors, we’re all in this together, a really pro-East Helena feeling amongst the community.
Visit J4 Automotive Website
Kit and Vi Johnson started J4 Automotive over 22 years ago in 1994 with an SBA loan, some help from family members and a lot of prayers. Fast forward to today and we find the shop doing close to 1 million dollars in gross sales and still family owned and operated. The second generation of Johnson’s are now working in the business, with Kit and Vi’s daughter Nikita and her husband Chris carrying on the strong tradition of outstanding automotive repair and service and giving back to our community. The third generation of Johnson’s (the grand kids shown sitting with Viola) are growing up in the shop just like their mothers did and will most likely continue the family tradition well into the future.
J4 Automotive’s mission statement stresses community service, which they do a lot of. The yellow veterans ribbons, the kids activity tent in the Christmas stroll, sponsor of the spring school clean-up, the Halloween movie in the park and Frite-night are but some of the events Kit and Vi and the J4 Crew organize and participate in. Their experienced staff of seven, including three Master Mechanics, fix all makes and models of vehicles and are the recipient of many awards. The National Technician of the Year, and the Helena Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year are just a few examples of their commitment to excellence.
J4 Automotive is a Better Business Bureau A+ rated member, AAA Top Shop and NAPA AutoCare center that enjoys a 5 star Google and Yelp rating. Give them a call next time you need advice or maintenance and repair on your vehicle and use their convenient pick-up service while you work! 227-8622 or make an appointment on line at j4 Automotive.com.
Our helpful service advisors, Kit Johnson, Chris Pratt and Ryan Pellerini will take care of you and your auto needs!