The city of Choteau has seen a number of personnel changes this year as two long-time employees have left and three new employees have been hired to fill vacant positions in the office and on the public works crew.
In the office, deputy city clerk Mary Corey relocated to Washington state and the city hired Tom Frownfelder to fill that position. On the public works crew, Charlie Joslyn capped off his 35-year career with the city this month and is now retired. To fill his position and one other vacancy on the public works crew, the city hired Kevin Kovatch and Colin Lightner.
In addition to these changes, the city saw long-time Finance Officer Jodi Rogers recognized by the Montana Municipal Clerks, Treasurers and Finance Officers Association with the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Jodi (Welker) Rogers grew up in Conrad and graduated from Conrad High School, then studied accounting at the University of Montana. Not ready to get a degree at that time, she left school and returned to Conrad, where she helped her parents operate their restaurant.
She took a job working for the John Deere dealership in Conrad and continued working there even after she and her husband, Don, moved to Choteau in 1991.
She then took a job with the Teton County Treasurer’s Office — her first experience working for the government. In her nine years there, she said, she learned so much about budgeting and government finance from county commissioners Adam Dahlman and Mary Sexton. “They helped me learn how to budget. I learned how to do the closing entries and the annual report by hand,” she said.
After that time, she worked for the Teton Abstract Co. for five years and then, in 2006, joined the city of Choteau office staff as the finance officer and city clerk, taking over that job from Leona Huidekoper. She has now been with the city for the past 13 years.
Rogers was honored in part because of her willingness to reach out and help other city clerks across the state. She serves on the MMCTFOA’s Education Committee and is the vice president for third class cities. She also serves on the Audit Committee of the Montana League of Cities and Towns.
“For the most part, I love my job,” Rogers said, adding that she has been fortunate through the years to work with a great group of dedicated public employees who really care about the city and its residents.
“I really, really like who I work with,” she said. “I’m lucky that I have such good coworkers.” Even if they have had a rough day, she said, they can leave with a smile on their faces because everyone keeps it pretty light.
Having a sense of humor is an essential survival skill working for a small municipality where there is never enough money to fund maintaining, repairing or replacing all of the city’s infrastructure.
“We try to do the best that we can,” Rogers said. “We are the low government entity on the totem pole.” If the Legislature needs more money, she said, the first place they look is in financing for cities and towns.
The Legislature is, however, often helpful, providing grant funding and funding for new programs. The newest expansion of the gas tax program is providing Choteau with funding to do some of the 3.5 miles of chip-sealing that the public works crew is doing this summer.
“We do okay. We are pretty lucky,” Rogers said, of the city — lucky because there are so many individuals and organizations here that help the city out. The Choteau Lions Club, the Pals of the Pavilion the (now gone) Kiwanians have all helped with city infrastructure from the pool to the Pavilion.
And when temperatures turn bitter and the snow falls, good Samaritan neighbors help out with plowing and shoveling sidewalks. All of this volunteer help can’t be underappreciated. “That’s been a godsend,” she said.
Rogers said she enjoys helping people and that her job is never boring or too routine. “Nothing’s ever the same two days in a row,” she said. And, every time the Legislature meets, changes are made that affect city finances. Because of that, she has kept Teton County’s legislators’ on speed dial to make sure they know how any proposed legislation will affect the city.
Rogers said receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award is deeply meaningful. “It’s a huge honor because it was given to me by my peers,” she said.
The award recognizes her significant contribution to the objectives of the organization, the improvement of city government and her contributions and improvements in the clerks/treasurers’ own community. Rogers has good relationships with fellow clerks and associations and is active in education and furthering the association.
“Jodi, a 23-year veteran clerk, has been and is still, most notably revered as the mentor she has become to fellow clerks around the state and within the Association,” Lifetime Achievement Committee Chairwoman Lanie Gospodarek said. “She is professional, knowledgeable and creative. Jodi has committed herself to the education of others through her participation on the Education Committee of the MMCTFOA and has been known to drop her own work to assist other new clerks in her area with budgeting, brainstorming and required reporting. She has been described as the ‘face of her community’ and more than a mentor — a friend. Without a doubt, this Lifetime Achievement Award is a designation of which she is certainly worthy.”
Jodi’s husband is now retired. Their son, Ryan, graduated from Choteau High School in May and he is working until he is able to join the state’s electrician apprentice program. Their daughter Ashlynn is starting her junior year in high school this fall.
35-year career with city
Charlie Joslyn, who retired at the end of August, spent the majority of his working career — 35 years — with the Choteau city public works crew, working under public works directors including Stan Brown, Earl Armstrong, Jim Christiansen, Kelly Hirsch and Mike Maples.
Joslyn moved with his parents and siblings to Choteau from Helena, when he was 10 years old. His father was an attorney and his mom a homemaker. He graduated from Choteau High School in 1977 and went straight into the workforce, working seasonal jobs with the city and Teton County before obtaining a full-time job with the city public works department in April of 1984.
During his years with the city, Joslyn has done nearly every job in public works: parks maintenance and irrigation, garbage collection, snow plowing, street maintenance, water sampling, tree planting, leaf collection and more. For 18 to 20 years, he was a staple member of the city’s garbage collection crew.
“I enjoyed working outside most of the time, and then working with the people too,” Joslyn said in a recent interview. Most of the time, the public was great, he said, adding that he always kept in mind that only a very small percentage of people were unkind. “The thing of it is, the great people are quiet,” he said.
Joslyn said he enjoyed the friendships he made with other city workers and the sense of doing a good job. “I was always proud that the city of Choteau seemed to do more with the money we had than any other place I could think of,” he said.
He also enjoyed learning how to draw samples for Choteau’s potable water system, knowing that his work was helping to make sure that people had safe, clean water to drink and cook with.
On the garbage crew, he decorated the garbage truck for the Christmas season with a big bow and battery-powered lights on the front. “A lot of people told me that was cool, and they appreciated it,” he said.
He also started the tradition of carrying dog treats for the pets the garbage crew met on their collection routes.
“I just love basically animals in general, but I have a super-huge love of dogs,” he said. He would buy treats at Rex’s and then give them out to dogs, that looked forward to the garbage crew’s weekly visits. “There would be a time or two when I’d forget, and the dogs would be devastated,” he said.
He said he will miss interacting with Choteau citizens and the camaraderie of belonging to the city crew. He said he appreciated Finance Officer Rogers for all her help through the years and especially her extra help as he worked through the process of retiring from a public position.
Joslyn said he has no set plans yet for retirement, though he is running for a seat on the Choteau City Council. For the time being, though, he is just looking forward to staying inside and warm on sub-zero winter days.
New faces on city staff
Tom Frownfelder is the new deputy city clerk. He grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where he lived in Puyallup and Tacoma, Washington, attended college in Bellingham, Washington, and lived in Seattle for four years.
He moved to Big Sky, Montana, nine and a half years ago, and while there met Cody Marney, who is now his husband. He has lived in Choteau for the past five and a half years, and worked at the Stage Stop Inn as the convention/event coordinator for four years before taking the deputy clerk’s job at the City Office.
“I have always worked in customer service-oriented jobs and enjoy helping people,” he said.
Colin Lightner, son of Tom and Amy Lightner of Choteau, grew up here, graduating from Choteau High School in 2008. He joined the city’s publics works crew in June.
After graduating from CHS, Lightner attended the vocational-technical school in Missoula for two years, learning the carpentry trade. He then moved to Helena and worked with Abraham Construction for the past seven and a half years. Earlier this year, he and his wife Daneal decided to move home to Choteau, where they can raise their children (they have three) in a small-town setting with great schools and almost no crime.
“It’s just a great place to raise kids,” Lightner said of Choteau. “Everyone watches out for and pays attention to your kids. You don’t really have to worry about the things you have to worry about in big towns.”
Lightner said he is being cross-trained in all aspects of the city’s public works duties and responsibilities. “I am mainly enjoying getting to help make the town nice again,” he said, adding that he enjoys seeing the results of the work he is doing and hopes that the maintenance and improvements make city residents happy too.
Kevin Kovatch was born and raised at Valier, graduated from Valier High School and attended one year of college in Lethbridge on a basketball scholarship.
After that, he returned to Valier, where he and his wife, Christy, started their family and he worked for the Pondera County Road and Bridge Department for 15 years, for five years with Swank Enterprises and, most recently, for Solo Air in Valier, an agricultural fertilizer and chemical applicator.
He said he and Christy, who still works for Swank in Valier, moved to Choteau four years ago to enroll their three children in a bigger school system that would give them more opportunities. Their three children are Kolby, a senior; Kelci, a junior; and Kylie, a seventh grader. Kevin was just hired this month as the Choteau High School assistant girls basketball coach.
Kevin has been working on the city crew since June and says, “I love it. It’s been great. We do something new just about every day.” He said the other members of the Choteau City crew are great to work with and the community has been very welcoming.