One might assume the city of Three Forks doesn’t struggle with the same challenges as its larger, neighboring cities to the east, but the new mayor of the picturesque town located on the western edge of Gallatin County would disagree.
“Problems around the globe aren’t that different than they are at home,” said Sean Gifford, citing public safety, business, infrastructure and good schools as among the issues he is most eager to spotlight during his tenure as mayor.
Gifford, 37, was appointed by the Three Forks City Council to finish the term of Stephen Hamilton, who stepped down in June to focus more on his teaching career. Gifford will finish out the term ending Dec. 31, and will run in November against Gene Townsend and Carl “Bud” Mohler for the next two-year term beginning in January.
Only a couple of weeks into the new job, Gifford said he is “getting up to speed” and learning more about how city government works. On Tuesday, hours before presiding over his first city council meeting as mayor, he said he is looking forward to serving the community in a new capacity.
A native of New Orleans, La., Gifford spent 11 years on active duty with the U.S. Army, during which time he met his wife, Kira, in Colorado. They moved to Three Forks 10 years ago to be closer to Kira’s family, and Gifford studied at Montana State University while working part time as a police officer with the Manhattan Police Department. Gifford then became a full-time deputy of the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office until three years ago, when he and Kira opened V42 Fitness, a gym on Three Forks’ Main Street. The business happens to be located right across the street from City Hall, so Gifford jokes that “everyone knows where to find me.”
During his 10-year residency of Three Forks, Gifford said he has observed how the city’s “unprecedented growth has driven the cost of living higher, strained critical infrastructure, and stretched city services to the limit as they are constantly required to do more, often with less.”
Gifford said that all his life experiences have helped him identify where and how things could be improved. As a businessman who still notices “a lot of empty buildings on Main,” he would like to see some zoning changes that would make it easier for small, local businesses to open up and operate in town. As a former law enforcement officer and current member of the Three Forks Area Ambulance Board, he believes new subdivisions have “stretched emergency services to the limit,” so he favors more consideration being given to how growth will affect those resources in the earlier stages of residential development. Currently, he said, the four Sheriff’s deputies assigned to Three Forks are busy all the time, and the ambulance service fields a call a day, forcing its all-volunteer responders to frequently leave their jobs and other responsibilities.
Outside the purview of Three Forks government, Gifford believes that Gallatin County needs to do a better job of funding local services. And as the father of four daughters ranging in age from 4 to 11, he believes that addressing such issues as affordable housing for teachers in Three Forks’ schools is critical to maintaining the city’s quality of life.
“I’d like to work with them,” Gifford said of the school district, while acknowledging that as mayor, he “can’t really effect change on that, but I can bring light to the issues.”
In the future, Gifford said, building on Three Forks’ attributes – i.e., its proximity to three rivers, excellent fishing, bike trails and recreational amenities – could help it draw more tourists, who would in turn support local businesses and contribute to a more thriving town.
“We have a great community in general,” Gifford said. “There’s no reason Three Forks can’t be a destination city.”