Smaller offices play large roles in communities

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Some Clay County residents may find the names of their their friends and neighbors below names like McCain or Harkin on the ballot

You won't find yard signs for offices like township trustee or soil and water conservation district commissioner. Contested races are rare -- from time-to-time, no one in the small jurisdictions even turns in nomination papers to appear on the ballot. When that happens, neighbors write in neighbors and the work seems to get done.

Here's a look at three offices that tend to be overshadowed on Election Day:

Township Trustee

Sharon McKeever of rural Spencer is a former Clay County Recorder who has served Riverton Township as a trustee since 2000. She's on the ballot and doesn't face an opponent for another three-year term.

She says the main responsibilities of a township board are "upgrading the fire truck and making sure all of the volunteers have their schooling, which is done regularly." McKeever should know -- she pays all of the bills as treasurer for three Clay County townships.

McKeever estimates townships get about $30,000 each year. They use the money to keep the fire trucks in working order, make sure the firefighting equipment is up-to-date and to pay for continuing education for the firefighters.

Trustees need only a handful of meetings each year to address fire service and other duties.

"We make sure the cemeteries are taken care of and generally, if there are any zoning problems, they will contact us," McKeever said.

The former county recorder remembers why she allowed herself to considered for trustee eight years ago:

"It's finding out just how the system works," McKeever recalled. "So many times, as we go through life, we see that all of the stuff is done -- and who knows how it's done. At least I'm going to learn how all of this is handled. You find out about all of the volunteers who are involved. It's amazing."

Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioner

Once a month, residents also will see Julie Christensen of rural Royal make her way to the Soil and Water Conservation office in Spencer for another line of volunteer work.

As a soil and water conservation district commissioner, Christensen helps decide whether a waterway creation should be funded, whether a filter strip should be added or whether a wind break is feasible in rural Clay County.

"We have cost-share money to do that," she said. "We're always trying to promote those types of conservation practices."

The commission reviews proposals and often is able to offset the cost of a landowner's conservation investment by 50 percent.

The five commission members each serve four-year terms. Like McKeever, the township trustee, Christensen is unopposed and on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Agriculture Extension Council

The Clay County Agriculture Extension Council has four seats set to expire on its nine-member board. Seven people have filed for the four spots.

The extension council meets once a month. Members are responsible for Clay County ISU Extension policies, including those related to finance and personnel. Council members "see the big picture," according to Marcia Langner, the County Extension Education Director. "The staff does the details."

"It's one of the best ways that people can really learn and see what is happening," Langner added. "It kind of like serving on a school board. You get to see a more detailed picture of what actually happens and what actually goes on. So, to have that many people interested in seeing the details of Clay County Extension -- I think it is exciting."

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