David Hanson discusses the wonders of the county's first "laptop" computer, his introduction to technology as county agent. Photos by Tara Lindquist
By Tara Lindquist
Dodge County held an open house for two retiring commissioners on December 26.
Commissioners Don Gray and David Hanson both made the decision not to seek reelection this past year.
During the open house, the commissioners were honored for their dedication to the county and both were thanked for their years of service. Fellow Commissioner David Erickson said their absence will be felt on the board of commissioners and that they were both a joy to work with over the years.
County Administrator Jim Elmquist said both men were great assets to the board and their memories of past events was always a blessing. "When you have two leaders with 42 years of experience as commissioners between them, their retirements make for a strange time. They were two who could remind their counterparts and staff of the history and transitions many issues have made over the years," Elmquist said. "They were both pragmatic in their stances on issues while at the same time could lend humor to something at the drop of a hat."
Hanson has spent over half of his life dedicated to Dodge County. In 1966, Hanson become the county's agriculture agent and 4H coordinator. During the open house on Wednesday he spoke about his years working for the county as an ag agent and the changes he has seen over the years. "In 1971 Ruth and I bought our farm outside of Dodge Center for $300 per acre, in 1980 land in Dodge County was selling for $1,200 an acre and then the bubble burst," he explained. "I, along with other ag agents in the state, lobbied the legislatures to implement mediation between the farmers and their creditors before they could file for bankruptcy; we wanted to keep the farmers in farming."
Hanson told of their three-day training in Alexandria to get the program started and the first encounter he had with a computer. "We were sequestered for three days in the Arrowhead Hotel," he explained. "We worked with economic majors from the University of Minnesota to get this program to work, and then they gave us computers to run the mediations in each county."
Hanson took the "laptop" when he left his county job in 1990 and gave it back to the county during the open house. "This is Dodge County's first laptop," he said. "I thought today would be a good time to get rid of it, I'm going to give it to the IT guys upstairs, and if they don't want it, they can give it the historical society," he said with a laugh.
Hanson ran for his seat on the board in 1992 and officially took office in January of 1993. At the time he was not interested in politics but was well acquainted with the county staff. "I ran to try to do some good," he explained. "I quickly realized the politics of the county were a whole different ball game than I thought."
Over his twenty years of serving as a commissioner, Hanson said he has enjoyed working on different committees and has always had a passion for planning and zoning problems as well as the railroad. "We've gone through a lot with feedlot and balancing their needs with urban living," he said. "I knew the rules and challenges of the farmers and researched the bio filters that the U of M had developed and I believe that using those has worked with farmers."
Hanson said there have been many challenges over the years but he feels the biggest was when he first started as a commissioner. "We began to work on the governance of the courthouse and just started using a coordinator to develop an administration in the county and to department heads to work together," he said. "We had too many problems in the governance at the time, it was puzzling for a while but today, boy, they have everything working smoothly."
Hanson made the difficult decision to retire partly because his wife retired from the Byron Review in June and they would like to spend more time traveling and spending time with their family. "I also came to realize there was never going to be a time to retire when all the problems were going to be solved, so I thought 20 years was enough."
Hanson said he still plans on being active within the county and staying on rail transportation board if they'll allow him. "We're not going away, we're not going to go south for the winters I'll still be around helping in anyway I can," he said. "I hope to stay active with the Wasioja park project and to stay on the parks and trail committee."
Hanson said it's been a pleasure to work with such great men and one woman on the board over the years. "We may not have always agreed but we could always talk about things and our views and walk away as friends," he said. "We've met some real challenges but my fellow board members always made the work enjoyable."
When Don Gray was first elected as a Dodge County Commissioner he only planned on serving on the board for one or two terms, tops.
Twenty-two years later, the long time commissioner is making his exit from the board, eighteen years later than he originally planned. "Going in to I had strong opinions about elected officials only serving one or two terms," he explained. "I had a lot of opinions that have been changed over the years."
The most surprising to Gray was he had always considered himself a penny pincher. "Boy was I wrong," he laughed. "I found I am actually a flaming liberal." It's his belief if you want good employees, then you need to pay them well, you have to value them. He was surprised when he always found himself voting in favor of the employee's wage increases."We have the cream of the crop when it comes to the staff in Dodge County."
Gray pointed out Human Relations Director Lisa Hagar and her ability to work with unions and avoid conflicts; he highlighted Lisa Kramer the county's finance director for her hard work on the budget and Jim Elmquist for his ability to always answer questions the board has. "Right now Dodge County has great department heads, they work well together."
Gray also said he's been blessed to work with a lot of great men and one woman over his twenty-two years on the board. "No one person can accomplish anything," he explained. "It takes a group to get anything accomplished; I've been lucky to always work with great people, we may have not always agreed on everything, but we always were able to talk about issues and come to a resolution."
Gray has seen a lot of problems throughout his tenure on the board, he sited the land use pertaining to feedlots as a struggle they have faced, along with two judicial drainage ditch systems in Ripley and Hayfield Townships. "I think the ditches were the largest problem I faced while on the board," he said. "Maybe because the project was so near and dear to my heart."
The two ditches were in disarray when Gray was elected, they had not been maintained and were so overgrown, equipment could not get into the ditches to even clean them. "Farmers were oppositional of the project at first, they were worried about losing farmland." When the waterways were finally cleared and cleaned, farmers ended up gaining a little farmland back into production. "To go out and look at them now is amazing," Gray commented. The project; from planning to completion took up the better part of ten years. "We had to work with the soil and water boards and a lot of different agencies to get it accomplished."
Gray is also proud of the highway department for their dedication to keeping the roads and bridges in good repair. "When I was first elected to the board, we focused on where to spend our money, now it's not that way," he explained. "It's about survival. It's about hoping you have enough money to cover the bare minimums." He points to unfunded mandates as the largest problem that is facing government. "We have to do things, especially in the health and human services departments and the highway department but we don't get the funding to do the projects."
December 26 will be Grays' last meeting as a county commissioner but his public service career is not coming to an end. He will be sworn is as the mayor of Claremont on January 8. Gray said his decision to run for mayor came at a time when he already knew he would not be running for county commissioner again. "I think it was the drive, I just don't have it to be a commissioner any more," he explained. "There's a lot more that goes into being a commissioner than just the meetings twice a month, it's a lot of running to joint power board meetings, committee meetings, and I think I'm just tired."
Gray said he hopes his experience, as a commissioner will help Claremont. "I think Mayor Busch did a great job and I know she will be missed," he said. "I hope to keep up the good work."