Driving County Roads

An on line journal sharing my views. The content reflects my background as a rural person employed in agriculture and as a retired elected official of local government.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Deb Pipes can go home at night with a feeling of great accomplishment. She can do that because her job is to help others be successful! Pipes, a licensed social worker, for Minnesota Valley Action Council is the Family Resource Coordinator for Nicollet County. She runs a class called “Work-Wise”. The students must be Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) or Diversionary Work Program (DWP) recipients in order to be referred to the class. They must also be appropriate candidates for a classroom experience.The Work-Wise class is a tool used to jump start people into the workforce. The goal of the class is to encourage and enable folks to find employment and develop life skills so they can become self-sufficient. What a wonderful idea.

Part of the course work of the class includes identifying the skills that people possess. Another objective is to help folks develop goals and create a vision for their future. Tony Lalor, was a student in the class and made the following statement, “my idea of a goal was figuring out how get a 12 pack for the weekend.” Lalor has changed a lot since he took the class. Now, he is fully employed, has moved into leadership positions at his place of employment-Dotson, Inc. and his weekends include participating in triathlons and camping with his family.
A big part of the class is learning how to “sell yourself”. Students are helped to understand how a potential employer evaluates applicants. They learn about understanding job descriptions, and they learn about how to interview. There is practical experience on doing an interview and also opportunity to learn computer skills in a computer lab. The class takes field trips and a recent trip took them to Dotson Inc. in Mankato. At the plant, Harley Goff shared some timely information on strategies for employment.

He advised to make your job application “jump out of the pack”. The ones that come in and have more than "just" the application are separated out. He said, “it is a delicate situation when I make choices about who I am going to interview. If there is an application that by the looks of it-says-pay attention to me! It gets looked at.” Explaining that further, he said to give the employer more information than "just filling in the blanks". “Tell me something that lets me know something about you. Tell me what you understand, how you think, and what you feel. Add something that will draw attention. Beat your own chest with a bragging letter. Do a sales job on yourself and on the business you want wanting to work for. Give your strengths and don't just say that you are a hard worker. Tell or describe something you did that proves you are a hard worker. Explain what you mean by hard worker.”

Goff said that all of us have areas where we need to strive for improvement. He urged applicants to tell about those areas. He said applicants should figure out their weaknesses and then explain how they can counter these weaknesses He said, timing is everything in the job game. Applicants should come prepared with all of the needed information like proof of high school graduation etc. but he also suggested applicants keep their names up front. As a final statement, the comment was made: "If you prepare to be successful in the job search; you will prepare to be successful in your job."

The Work-Wise class runs for 16 weeks and the clients enter at any point and can stay for the full 16 weeks at which time there is a graduation ceremony. Pipes said, “Many leave for jobs and other reasons before they reach the 16 week mark.We do keep outcome information on our clients that attend the class. We have had approximately 125 clients go through the class and most leave and find employment or continue to work on their education goals (GED, short-term training options or go on to 1 or 2 year college programs.”A person only has to visit with Tony Lalor and ask him about his life to see a real live outcome of the class.

I am sure Deb Pipes will agree that the sparkle of Tony’s eyes as he talks with pride about his life and work is the best outcome of all. end

Monday, December 11, 2006

Truth in Taxation

This past Thursday evening I attended my 14th Thruth in Taxation public meeting. (Twelve of these were during my time in office.) Truth In Taxation (TinT). It sounds good, like so many other devices that are products of political minds. The Truth about Taxation is that the legislative mandated Truth in Taxation meetings cost the taxpayers a lot of money and are of very little benefit. The idea behind the legislation is that this public meeting allows citizens to have input into the budgeting process of their local governmental units.

The problem with this is that the legislation mandates the time frame of the meetings. They are all held in December. This is just way too late in the budget making process of governmental units to make any kind of substantive changes. A few years ago, the Nicollet County Board passed a resolution and sent it to our Minnesota representatives and senator. We suggested modifying the Truth in Taxation process to make it more effective and less costly. At the time, our Auditor, Bob Bruns estimated that the TinT process cost taxpayers over $30,000.

We suggested to the legislature that the law be amended to follow the process set up by our local county board. We hold at least five public meetings during the time period of June through December and we invite public input at these meetings. Input during the process is very important and can make a difference. If this procedure was adopted by all of the local governmental units, there would be no need for a costly public meeting and mailings etc.

Does it make sense to spend this much money and have two or three people show up for the meeting? In the 14 that I have attended, the highest turn out has been about a dozen people. One year quite a few people came and their concerns were about the valuation of the property. They seemingly had no concerns or opinions on the county budget.

The response we got from our representatives in St. Paul was that the lawmakers would never repeal something like TinT because it "just wouldn't look good". My comment is that each and every member wants to be known for saving taxpayer dollars and repealing this law may not "make them look good" but it should "make them feel good". end

Saturday, December 02, 2006


Recently, the North Mankato city council passed a resolution which requested the Nicollet County Board of Commissioners video tape all of our meetings so they can be aired on public access television. (I have not seen-or to my knowledge, the county has not received the actual request.) The city of North Mankato tapes their meetings as does the city of St. Peter and many other cities. The suggestion is that this will allow citizens who may not be able to attend meetings the opportunity to find out what is going on. I am one hundred percent in support of increasing the knowledge of all citizens in regard to units of government.
In the twelve years that I have served on the Nicollet County Board of Commissioners the subject of increasing access and knowledge of the workings of county government to the public has been discussed many times. About ten years ago, when I was the “newbie” on the board, I encouraged public hearings and meetings be held at times other than during eight to five working hours of most citizens. My argument was that people who are working cannot and will not take off of work to attend a hearing or meeting. I was very aware of this as I had come from the eight to five working world and I had to take time off of work to file for office. At one point, I presented a motion to hold the second meeting of each month in the evening to accomplish more openness. The motion failed by a four to one vote. As new members joined the board, the subject of video taping for public access surfaced. There was a time, if I recall correctly, the board members were in general support. However, there were a couple of reasons why we did not move forward. I think the biggest concern was of equity among all of the citizens of the county. Public access could reach only people living in St. Peter and North Mankato. That left 8,305 of the county’s 30,797 citizens out of the loop so to speak. Add to this inequity, the cost of hiring someone to do the taping or run the camera and the con of this idea has outweighed the pro.
This discussion would not be complete if we did not ask ourselves, “how many citizens are interested in the workings of county government?” This can only be answered by conjecture. Over the years, we have had very few citizens attend our board meetings. In October, we held a meeting at our new Public Works facility in the city of Lafayette. This meeting would have presented a good opportunity for anyone who was free on that afternoon to attend the meeting and observe government in action. No one chose to do so. (There were a few people who stopped to see the building, have a cup of coffee and a cookie, observed the meeting for a few minutes, but then left.) Along that line, this writer has developed a curriculum for a course entitled, “Local Government, It’s Here For You”. This course was offered through Community Education in St. Peter in October. Only one person signed up for the course.
Some units of government are broadcasting their meetings live on the Internet. A county that does this is Charlotte County, Florida. Check it out at www.charlottecountyfl.com This is the way to allow the public to access government.(Their meetings are available on archives if the viewer is unable to watch them live.) However, dial up internet users would be at a great disadvantage. (I am on dial up and I can’t even watch Utube!) So, until all of rural Minnesota has access to high speed broadband internet service at a reasonable cost, we would be picking and choosing who has access and who does not. The equity issue would still be the roadblock.
This issue will continue to be discussed and debated and the Nicollet County Board will continue to improve our methods of communicating with the general public. end

The County says Thank You!

Nicollet County thanked two people this past week for their years of service. Betty Maidl of Lafayette was honored and given a plaque for her 30 years of volunteering for the Senior Transportation Program. She has served as a driver for folks needing rides to medical care etc. and she is also the contact person in the Lafayette area. When people need rides, she arranges for drivers. What a great service to the folks in that area of the county.
On Friday, the county thanked and said farewell to David Blom, a steadfast employee of the Public Works Department. David worked out of the Nicollet facility. We all owe a word of thanks to the employees who are out clearing the roads at 4:00 a.m. so the school buses can get the students to school and so we all can make it to our workplaces by 8:00 a.m. Best wishes for the future and thank you from Nicollet County. end