GILLETTE — Gillette’s new mayor doesn’t plan on coming in and making a lot of changes.
Eric Hanson, who was appointed to be mayor by a 4-2 vote among the City Council earlier this week, said his top priority is to help repair the city’s image and its relationship with its residents over the next 11 months.
Hanson said he doesn’t plan on running for any elected office this year, because campaigning would take away from that goal.
“My sole focus is to help the City Council be in a better position than it is now,” he said. “I feel that if I’m running for something, my time is going to be focused on that (campaign).”
The way he sees it, his role is to help bring stability back to the city so that whoever is elected mayor this fall is “set up for success.”
“I’m plowing the way, clearing the path so it’s a lot smoother,” Hanson said. “My goal in the end is to hand the city over to the new elected mayor in January 2023 better than when I got it.”
Hanson, who turns 49 in March, is a mechanic at Eagle Butte mine. He served for six years in the U.S. Army. He’s married and has three children.
In the 2020 primary election, Hanson received enough write-in votes to move on to the general election, where he defeated incumbent Bruce Brown for the Ward 1 seat.
As mayor, Hanson replaces Louise Carter-King, who resigned in January days after thousands of texts between herself and former city administrator Pat Davidson were released. In those texts, Carter-King made disparaging comments about a wide range of people in and out of public office.
Hanson’s been on the City Council for 13 months, and he’s learned a lot since then. The biggest thing he’s learned is how the city’s finances work, not so much the amount of money that’s coming in to the city but the rules dictating what can be done with that money.
“I came in thinking you can run the city budget like my household budget. That’s not the case,” he said.
“The nice cliché word out there is transparency, whatever we need to do to be transparent, and make sure the citizens are informed of what we’re doing … that’s it.”
He said he believes the city has taken steps in the past month to be more open, from moving the meeting times an hour earlier to having the pre-meetings in the chambers to eliminating the work sessions.
Although the work sessions have been open to the public, many people were under the impression that they were not, Hanson said.
And the third-party investigation into the text messages, which is ongoing, is another good step.
“If there was anything (the city) did wrong, we own up to it, and do whatever we need to fix the situation,” he said.
At a retreat in December, the City Council set goals for 2022. While the text message scandal may have put a damper on the enthusiasm the city had for the new year, it’s time to get back on track, Hanson said.
Councilman Billy Montgomery said he thinks Hanson will do a fine job as mayor, and that the City Council can put the past behind them.
“We can all pull together, and I think we’ll get going here again,” Montgomery said.
Hanson commended city staff for helping throughout the process, and said that whoever the new mayor is will be in good hands.
“They’ve been through it all, they’re resilient, you couldn’t ask for better people to help run the city,” he said. “We’ve got great people here, and I know whoever comes in, they have a good group of people to fall back on.”