I had been thinking of running for public office for many years, either at the state or county level. Every ten years, when the census data has been updated–and if population numbers have changed in counties and districts–the government entities are required to redistrict so there are the same number of constituents in each district. Wright County, Minnesota, where I live, had a significant population increase and set new district lines for the five commissioners. It left an open seat in my district, so the time seemed right for me to run. Four others ran for the seat which meant we had two elections; the primary and the general.
District One includes three cities and five townships with a population of 24,500 people. I got to know the area, issues, and many new people during the more than four-month campaign. I made it successfully through both elections, took the oath of office, and began serving the citizens of Wright County this past January. Of the five commissioners, there is only one incumbent. Four of us are new so we had a lot to learn.
In a nutshell, a board of county commissioners oversees the operations of all the departments, approves and manages the budget, and sets the tax levy. They provide for public safety and roads and bridges. In Minnesota, the county board is the ditch authority. They approve planning and zoning, board of adjustment, and other committee recommendations, as well. They make any number of decisions that impact citizens and employees. Many are controversial, and draw public attention and debate. Commissioners are bound by the open meeting law and cannot have secret meetings to discuss issues and agenda items.
At our first board meeting we elected a chair and vice-chair. The incumbent became the chair and I became the vice-chair. We had sixty-four committees to divide up, and to appoint our five board members to. Some committees have one board member, some have two. In addition, we all attend the committee meetings of the whole, such as personnel, technology, building, etc. We have two Human Services meetings each month to discuss the three areas in that department: Public Health, Social Services, and Financial Services. I serve as chair of that board.
My other assignments are: Civil Defense, Labor Management/Health Insurance, Labor Management/Loss Control, Personnel, Technology (alternate), Union Negotiations, Way and Means, Association of MN Counties Public Safety Committee, Central MN Emergency Medical Services Joint Powers Board, the local EMS, Central MN Jobs and Training (Workforce), Central MN Mental Health Center Foundation, Central MN Mental Health Center Board, Central MN Mental Health Center Personnel Committee, Clearwater River Watershed District Board, Highway 55 Coalition, Wright County Law Library, Legislative Matters, MEADA (Meth Education), Public Works Labor Management, Regional Crime Lab, Regional Radio Board (alternate), Safe Communities Wright Co, State Community Health Services Advisory Committee, and Hazard Mitigation. I also attend monthly Safe Schools meetings and the three city and five township meetings in my district when possible. Plus the quarterly township officers and county mayor association meetings.
I enjoy hearing from, and working with, citizens and county employees on a wide variety of issues they have, or problems they are facing. Some are fairly easy and have a good outcome. Others are tough and not resolvable the way the people had hoped for. I am working hard and learning more than I could have ever imagined. And I’m having a lot of fun in the process.
Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series, Murder in Winnebago County, Buried in Wolf Lake, An Altar by the River, and The Noding Field Mystery. A Death in Lionel’s Woods will be released November, 2013.