Hobson's Choice

updated 02/14/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/14/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

HARVEY PETERSON MAY BE TOO POPULAR for his own good. Last year he announced he was stepping down as mayor of Hobson, Mont.—a job he has held without pay for 12 years—so that he could spend more time tending the family sawmill. But there was one small problem: no one else in Hobson (pop. 235) wanted to take his place.

On election day last November, the voters of Hobson—about 100 miles northwest of Billings—were given blank ballots and invited to write in their own candidates. When the votes were tallied, 12 names were written in; yet Peterson had 18 votes, six more than his closest rival. "We won't let him quit," says Bill Tumblin, the local tavern keeper at Joe's Place. "He's done a hell of a job."

In fact, all four members of the town council were elected the same way—involuntarily. But Peterson, 52, was more Shermanesque. Just because he won the election, he said, didn't mean he had to serve. His only concession was to agree to stay in office until later this month to clean up the administrative details needed to open the town's new sewer system, the crowning achievement of his three terms in office. Other than that, says Peterson, one of his primary responsibilities (apart from dealing with the occasional bar fight) consists of tending to the dog problem. "People in these small towns think they have a right to let their dogs run," he says, "and you're always getting calls about it."

Married to Merryellen, a retired elementary schoolteacher, with two grown children, Chad, 26, and daughter Skye, 22, Peterson literally talked his way into the mayor's job one night back in 1981, the last time the position was vacant. "I was downtown with the boys, explaining to them how things should be done," he recalls. "After so many hours of that, they teased, 'Smart as he is, he should be mayor.' And a few days later I was elected." Is the council concerned that the town's chosen leader will soon be mayor no more? Not so you'd notice. "Somebody has to do it," yawns councilman Glenn Gore, 73. "And someone always does."

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