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, October 28, 2010


"He recognized that anything he said would be scanned scrupulously for partisan purposes. The slightest departure from the printed record would be distorted by friends as well as enemies. Even his simple reiteration of a previous position might, in the midst of a campaign, give it new emphasis."

Are we talking about one of the candidates for governor of Minnesota or a candidate for Senate from some other state? No, we are talking about Candidate Abraham Lincoln in the campaign of 1860. (Taken from "Team of Rivals" - Doris Kearns Goodwin.) I think there is a song lyric about "everything old being new again". So true. end

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Reply to Justin M

I agree that people would observe meetings or watch if on the internet. However a large percentage of rural county citizens do not have access to high speed internet.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


Every two years we have the opportunity to voice our opinions as we vote for people to lead us at the local, state, and national levels. Often times we hear of candidates running on platforms of "increasing public participation" or "developing greater connections" between the citizens and the governmental leaders. These are noble goals.

Sixteen years ago, I was in the position of some of these candidates. I was running for public office for the first time. I, too, felt it was important to encourage more public input. I was interested in finding ways to help citizens get more involved in government and creating an easier access for citizens. There are many ways to do this and after I was elected, I tried to support some of them.

One of the first things I did was hold listening hours. My efforts were barely worth the time and mileage. After holding four or five sessions, I had met with only four or five people. Another effort found me writing explanations of various county activities and submitting them to the local newspapers. The newspapers were receptive and printed all of my submissions. Nicollet County does not have a library. I held meetings in Lafayette, Courtland, and Nicollet to solicit input from local citizens regarding library services for the rural areas. This effort garnered about five people who shared their interest. During my first year in office I put forth the idea of holding one of our county board meetings in the evening. This would be an attempt to allow working folks to attend meetings. This idea failed for lack of a second on my motion. A different suggestion did become reality. We changed our budget process to hold full board budget meetings, thus making them open meetings. This allows the public to attend. Even, so, in the past ten years we have seen fewer than ten citizens come to the meetings.

These real life experiences have led to a perception on my part that most citizens do not have strong feelings about how their local government is spending their tax dollars. Of, if they do have strong feelings, these traditional ways of setting up opportunities to get involved are not working. Our county board has discussed this issue almost every year during my time in office. It has been hashed over at workshops and retreats and at budget meetings. Everyone involved feels that we would be better at our jobs, if we could get more public input. We need to be held accountable for all of the actions we take. When the public is silent we are in a never, never land - somewhere between "doing everything right" and "doing nothing right".

In 2006, I decided that since so one else had done it, I would develop a curriculum for citizens on the hows and whys of local units of government. My curriculum covers townships, cities, school districts, and counties. I offered to teach this as a class for St. Peter Community education. The first time I offered it, no one enrolled. I changed the course outline and offered it again and I had three people enroll. I continued to offer the class with the same result. Typically, there would be one or two people show an interest.

Then there is the matter of surfacing candidates. I have heard business people say that they cannot afford to run for office because the decisions they may have to make will hurt their businesses or drive customers away. Many positions for city councils and school boards are filled by only one person running, or worse, depending on write in candidates. I ran unopposed for three of my four terms. Local government is not sexy and it is not glamorous, but it is very important. If more people would get involved and increase their knowledge of how government works, there would be a lot less fertile soil for the deliberately distorted and false campaign ads we see every election year.

We are enjoying a "back to local" movement - local food, local stores, local entertainment. We need to add to this movement and include more involvement in local government. end

Thursday, October 14, 2010


The recent flood event provides us with a "teachable moment" regarding the purpose of Nicollet County's land use ordinance. Perhaps this flood disaster can help explain and clarify some questions that have surfaced regarding conforming and non-conforming uses in Nicollet County.

Our hearts go out to the folks in other counties who suffered extreme damage. The fact that Nicollet County was almost spared from the flood, points to the value of good planning and zoning. Excluding the city of St. Peter, Nicollet County citizens, received very little flood damage. Why did this happen? It happened because the officials in Nicollet County long ago put plans in place that prevented development in the floodplain areas of the county. This action made previous conforming uses in the floodplain, non-conforming.

There was a time when many homes, farms, and businesses were located near the river, in the floodplain. And during that time, the river flooded and damaged those properties time and time again. In 1992 Nicollet County officials, listened to the citizens of the county who said, "it does not make sense to allow development in the floodplain." The decision was made to make new development in the floodplain a non-conforming use-thus prohibiting development.

At that time existing buildings or businesses in the flood plain were allowed to stay in place. They were grandfathered in until such time when their use was discontinued for a 12 month period of time, or the buildings became uninhabitable or were destroyed. (See Nicollet County Land Use Ordinance Section 401.4 Non-Conforming Uses and Structures-www.co.nicollet.mn.us) Once this happened, the buildings, businesses, billboards, or other property became a non-conforming use. During the past, after significant floods, some of these properties were "bought out" by mitigation programs using federal and state dollars. As a result, our county can experience a 1000 year flood and suffer little or no damages.

This is an excellent example of why land use ordinances allow only permitted uses in various areas. Thus, we are saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in the way of personal losses, insurance losses, and FEMA claims. end

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Learning about Social Services

County departments cover the gamut from road building to burial of indigent citizens. The Nicollet County Social Services Department under the direction of Joan Tesdahl is the largest county department. It employs the most people and its budget is the largest. Because the whole area is "overwhelming"- what is a good way to get the word out about the many programs and why these programs are important?

That was the challenge as the steering committee for Connecting Nicollet County, the local leadership program, designed a session to allow the 22 participants to learn about county social services. Under the tutelage of Katie Rasmussen, University of Minnesota Extension Educator, the information was presented to members of the class(who were divided into groups of three) and then the groups shared what they had learned with the full class. It is a brief form of the "teacher the teacher" technique. Ms Rasmussen shared that studies have shown that people remember more of what they have been presented when this method is used.

Ms. Tesdahl divided her supervisors and staff into seven groups which included: Children's Services, Adult Mental Health Services, Financial Services and Fraud Investigation, Child Support, Accounting, Office Support, Foster Care licensing, Child Care licensing, Adoption Services. Supervisors and staff from the various programs met with the individual groups of class members and explained the programs. The seven groups then returned and shared important "take home information" with the whole group.

The following is a listing of some "take homes" or "aha" learnings.
  • I did not realize there are so many children needing help.
  • The family is the focus. "Protect the child, while fixing the family."
  • I was impressed with the coordination that Nicollet County has with many other counties.
  • I did not know there were so many people with so many needs.
  • There is just tons and tons of paperwork to access the programs.
  • I was impressed by the accountability.
  • It is really very hard to qualify for some of these programs. You basically cannot have hardly any income in order to qualify.
  • The whole area sounds like it would be easy, but there are really a lot of things to think about.
  • During this election year, we hear a lot about cutting welfare. It is not that simple.
  • There is so much CARE and RESPECT.
  • They are using technology to save on drive time.
  • The client comes first and the goal is recovery and self-sufficiency.
  • Detox is very expensive and Nicollet County must provide the service, even if the violator is just driving through on the way to training camp.

The Nicollet County social Services staff are to be congratulated and praised for the outstanding job in presenting information and enlightening 22 leadership participants. This day presented value and new understandings of the fabric of Nicollet County. end

An Answer to the Campaign Ads

I got a response from someone who knows about these things. "The web ads are targeted to the internet provider and ISP that I use. The web ad doesn't know who I am, but it knows the 'door' through which I entered the internet and where the door is located." end

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Targeted Campaigning

In the past two days I have logged on to two different web sites only to be treated to Minnesota election campaign ads. This is quite a sophisticated way to get the word out-- in my opinion. It is mind boggling to try to understand how the programmers can tell if I am from Minnesota when I log onto Live Science and a corresponding ad comes up for one of the three governor candidates. And how does Cooks.com know that I live in Terry Morrow's House district? I am also wondering how much this costs the candidates or their sponsoring groups.

Obviously the old door knocking method is out of date - in favor of popping up on thousands of computer screens right inside homes. It may reach a lot of people - but is hugely impersonal and does not allow for intelligent discussion.

I am glad I am not in the Bachman-Clark legislative district. I can imagine if I turned on my computer, it would explode with all of the ads and slogans coming at me through the stratosphere. end

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Our State Fair is a Great State Fair

That song was written about the Texas State Fair, but is is more applicable to our fair here in Minnesota. A week ago, we attended the State Fair in Texas. It is also known as the Dallas Fair. The fair rivals our own Minnesota State Fair for the biggest and best. I am biased, but the Dallas Fair is a shade lower on the totem pole than our Great Minnesota Get Together.

Okay, the Texas fair may boast a larger attendance figure. That is helped by the fact that the fair lasts for a month and the Cotton Bowl is located within the boundaries of the fair grounds. All attendees at the games that may be played during the month long run are also counted as fair attendees. Today, there was a sell out crowd at 96,009 fans who saw Texas get beat.

Football takes its place right along side of the livestock and the pie competition. Instead of butterheads of queens, the Texas Fair displays two football players molded out of butter. Each is trying to "spread" the other. The Texas Hall of State on the fair grounds has a nice commemorative display of Tom Landry and his history. Speaking of pies, the day we were there, 280 pies of all kinds were being judged. (Some of these came from commercial establishments.) In the same building, there must have been 200 quilts displayed.

Taking the cake however, at this great fair was the display of new cars and trucks. Several buildings as well as many outside displays of vehicles meant that fair goers could get up close and personal with just about any and every kind of car made. I got the closest I will ever get to a $48,000 (sticker price) Lexis convertible.

Of special interest was a concert by the U.S. Marine Drum and Bugle Corps band. It was a program that will not be forgotten. From the sublime to the ridiculous, we also got to see pig races. Funny thing is that the size of the audience for each event was about the same. Did you know that pigs race for Oreo cookies? Just one of the interesting bits of information brought home from the Texas State Fair.

Oh, the Texas Fried Frito Pie? Not the lease bit enticing. end