LIBBY, Mont. — In the three years since Doug Roll was appointed mayor of Libby, it has been the little things that matter most to him: fixing the roads, improving the appearance of the downtown area and appointing the right people at the right time.
But what is perhaps his proudest accomplishment is an artist rendering of a park that's hanging on the wall in his small office on Education Way, two miles from Libby City Hall.
"That right there will be the new picture of Libby," Roll said, gesturing to the wall.
Roll said he hopes that a city park, being built with financial help from the Environmental Protection Agency, will have grass growing by next summer and will become a symbol of a new era in Libby. The park, located just north of downtown, will be squeezed between the Kootenai River and the railroad tracks, where W. R. Grace and Co. once loaded rail cars of vermiculite ore and cancer-causing asbestos that killed or sickened hundreds in recent decades. Roll said most of the city land has been cleaned over the last several years, but a tarnished reputation remains.
"We're trying to get this 'death town' stigma behind us," Roll said. "We're not trying to minimize the problem here, but I've raised my daughter here for 18 years and I'd do it again."
Roll has owned DP Automotive since 1994. Before that, he worked as a mechanic and miner in the town he's lived in since 1968, when his family moved to Libby after his father got a job building the dam.
Roll first got involved in politics in 2003 when he was appointed to the Libby City Council, following a series of vacancies. Roll said he "had no axe to grind," but when the opportunity came along to get into city government, he took it. As a member of the council for six years, Roll quickly realized that compromise had to rule in local government and the experience prepared him when he took the reins as the city's mayor in 2008, after the previous one stepped down to become a county commissioner.
"I was always the big mouth on council," Roll said, when explaining why he went for the mayor's job in 2008. "Of course, it's always different when you're mayor."
Roll said he's had to cut down on some of his rhetoric, understanding that as mayor it's his job to enforce the policies more than make them. But even if he's less openly opinionated now, council member Vicky Lawrence said she enjoys Roll's style of leadership.
"I like Doug as a mayor," she said. "I like that he has a strong personality."
Lawrence said she appreciates the work Roll has done in what she called a "thankless position." She joked that the previous mayor called it a "full-time, part-time job," one taking plenty of time away from Roll's work running the garage.
"There is a lot of politics in a small town and the mayor has to play a balancing act," she said.
Sometimes local residents walk right into the "mayor's office" to talk to Roll about issues. At one time City Hall had an office for the mayor, but it has since been leased out. Roll has chosen to do most of his work at the garage and sometimes the stack of city chores towers over that of the garage's.
Anyone and everyone can come through his shop's door; sometimes it's another customer stopping in to pick up a car and other times it's a councilor dropping off paperwork and meeting minutes. On occasion, Roll said, people come in to talk about their grievances, but for the most part, since the locals already knew him as their mechanic, it's always civil. Roll said his two jobs aren't all that different.
"(Their problems) are sort of like a car. They bring it in, they say they have a noise and you have to figure out what it is," he said, adding that some are easier to fix than others.
But the biggest struggle for Roll has been trying to move the city beyond its reputation as an EPA Superfund site. He said the town is making progress, but every time a "bad report" or "terrible article" comes out and politicians take notice, it's a step backwards. Roll noted a 2011 incident, when Montana's Washington D.C. delegation jumped on a story without talking to city representatives first.
"It kills us every time that happens," he said.
For Roll, his most pressing challenge is making small improvements to the town so that it will attract new businesses to the area, in hopes of turning the page to a new era in Libby. Whether he'll be mayor during that new era is unknown.
In 2013, Roll will be up for reelection and, as of now, he thinks he'll run for another four-year term.
"We'll see how it goes," he said laughing. "I might do something that makes everybody mad and I won't have to worry about it."
Information from: Flathead Beacon, http://www.flatheadbeacon.com