Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Supervisors: It isn't about politics

Two fine individuals plan to step down from the Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors after the coming blockbuster election, and in both cases, they have delivered more than anyone could have asked of them.

Jim Gustafson has been one of the most outspoken, and most hardworking, supervisors the county has had. I have never been able to imagine a question on county workings for which he has not had, or known where to find, an answer.

His honesty, dedication and fearlessness over many years in the courthouse should be appreciated. He has tilted at the windmills of factory farming, unfunded mandates and the like, but let's be honest - somebody needed to have the guts to go there.

It is Gustafson who has made me suspect that county government is not a matter of politics at all. As a lonely Democrat, he is often more fiscally conservative than his Republican running mates (and fellow supervisor Lorna Burnside, the died-in-the-wool Reublican, for that matter is often more socially attuned that the most liberal of Democrats elsewhere in northwest Iowa.)

Despite serving only a single term, Bill Lanphere has made a mark on county government as well. No spring chicken, his boundless energy and willingness to tackle any issue has been impressive, and his enthusiasm contagious. He's a guy you want on your side in a fight.

He has pushed for progress and been unfailing willing to listen to new ideas. Lanphere, too, does little "politic-ing" and serves all with an equal hand.

A good Republican and a good Democrat will leave office at the same time, and the heck with the labels - they will leave a void behind that politics alone will never fill.

So, if it isn't the political labels that define a worthy county supervisor, what is it?

In my humble opinion, here goes:

* It is at essence a man or woman who is not afraid to get their hands dirty.

* They will go to more meetings than you have days on your calendar, and look desperately interested in the condition of every foot of road shoulder, plugged-up drainage ditch and mental health case, because it matters that much to someone.

* They will answer their phone when a citizen needs to talk to someone, and give everyone a fair listen, even if that citizen happens to be out of their ever-loving mind.

* They will step out on the limb for an issue they believe in, whether it be a new jail or a bike trail - knowing full well that their actions may be used against them in a court of coffee shop.

* They will work to preserve the legacy of the rural countryside, and understand that corporate hog confinements the size of football fields and subdivisions of condos to be filled with suburbanites who crinkle their noses at every passing fertilizer load may not entirely be the "progress" some imagine them to be. Our greatest endangered species in Buena Vista County, the family farmers, needs all the allies he or she can get.

* They will stand behind their county conservation board and naturalist to protect the wildlife and the remaining slivers of habitat northwest Iowa has to offer. And yeah, when it's colder than cold, if need be, they will climb out of bed to go feed hungry swans. (Thank you, Jim...)

* They will not be afraid to bang heads in Des Moines, or beyond, when needed. It takes constant lobbying to serve the needs of their constituents, especially the most fragile among them who are so easy to forget under a golden dome. And sometimes those higher-ups need a plain-talking reminder of what is on the minds of the real people west of I-35.

* They will dress for success. No - not a power suit. Save the tie for the election ad photo. I prefer a supervisor in jeans and insulated boots - the kind who after a meeting isn't afraid to hike out to a riverbank, mud it over to a farm terrace or walk a gravel road to check out for themselves the facts behind the issues that come up in the boardroom.

* They had better expect no glamor, little gratitude, and be able to laugh when people refer to their lot as " just a part-time job." More often that they will ever debate headline issues, they will sit and sign reams of paperwork, scan columns of minute dollar figures, make frustrating phone calls to attend to minute details, accept criticism with a smile. And never let it all become going through the motions. Every time one of those dollar figures can be successfully challenged and pared, they will remember, it well serves the hopes of the people who trusted them with their votes.

* They will have the patience to help educate the nearly-hopeless city-bred newspaper editor.

* They will realize that their fate is to accept blame for everything, and receive credit for nothing. And then someone who has never attended a meeting will run against them and shout about all they have done wrong.

* And when they announce that they have done all they can and need to move on, the last thing they would expect to read is a "thank you," for just doing their jobs.

In an extraordinary way.

Putting people before politics all the while.

The corps of candidates does not have to look far to find a couple of fine examples of public service to aspire to.

Thank you Jim. Thank you Bill.

* Dana Larsen is the editor of the Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune. He can be reached at dlarsen@stormlakepilottribune.com