On Tuesday, November 15, 2022, a public celebration was held in the Board Room of the Government Center to honor four of our county commissioners retiring from service at the end of 2022:
- Jim Bier, Fifth District (served on county board since 2002)
- Ken Brown, Second District (served on county board since 2002)
- Matt Flynn, Fourth District (served on county board since 1997)
- Stephanie Podulke, First District (served on county board since 2011)
The retiring commissioners shared some thoughts with the Olmsted County Policy, Analysis, and Communications team about their time in office.
- What are the achievements you’re most proud of? Building the third burner at the Olmsted Waste-to-Energy Facility (OWEF) and all the work that went into putting aside differences with the City of Rochester and the townships within Olmsted County. I’m pretty proud of the work we put in so that we can all work better together and co-exist.
- What did you enjoy most about being a commissioner? I have enjoyed working with the people of Olmsted County and resolving issues. The work of being a county commissioner is about making Olmsted County a better place.
- What are your hopes for the future of Olmsted County? We’ve got a good thing going here in Olmsted County. I’d like us to build on our past success and continue to be a model for other counties in the State of Minnesota. We do a great job of operating and serving people without partisan politics getting the way.
- What are the achievements you’re most proud of? The things I am personally most proud of are extending the “No Smoking Ordinance” to all workplaces; working to stop the Dakota, Minnesota, and Eastern Railroad (DME) from running coal trains through Rochester; maintaining the county’s AAA bond rating; distributing Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) money to local businesses; and being fiscally prudent during some very hard times for the budget. I’m also proud of the work on the Lake Zumbro Improvement District. I served on the Lake Zumbro Joint Powers Board for 13 years.
- What did you enjoy most about being a commissioner? I have greatly enjoyed interacting with my colleagues, our community, and other leaders from various organizations. It has been a pleasure to work with – what I consider to be – the most professional, dedicated, and innovative county staff around, certainly in the state and probably in the nation.
- How has Olmsted County changed since you became a commissioner? In addition to continuous growth in population, the county has become more diverse, which brings its own set of challenges. Foremost, the need to increase service levels to accommodate this growth and diversity. I believe the county has responded exceedingly well to these challenges.
- What are your hopes for the future of Olmsted County? My hope for the future is to maintain the tradition of non-partisanship in the elected Board of Commissioners. To not get dragged down into the political polarization that has gripped the state and nation. To continue to make decisions that are in the best interest of our community and to maintain strong fiscal responsibility.
- What did you enjoy most about being a commissioner? I enjoy working with the citizens of this county, the follow commissioners, and Olmsted County staff. It was always great to work with them.
- How has Olmsted County changed since you became a commissioner? Since I became a commissioner in 1997, I’ve watched Olmsted County transition from more of a rural to an urban county. We still have both rural and urban ways of life in this county and there are great lifestyles with both, but that’s the biggest change for me.
- What are your hopes for the future of Olmsted County? My hope for the future of Olmsted County is that it remains a great community in which to live, work, and raise a family.
- Anything else you’d like to add? We’ve been very successful as a county, and it’s been a pleasure serving as a county commissioner.
“One day, a few months before his untimely death, Commissioner Mike Podulke told me that someday I would make a great county commissioner. I thought he was teasing me since I questioned him weekly about the goings-on at the county and why he was leaning one way or another on a decision. His prediction was uncanny: I did become a county commissioner; the “great” part will be up for debate for a decade or two. Back in 2011, I expected to simply finish his vacated term because I knew what was on his agenda as board chair that year. It turned out, to my surprise, once I was elected, that I had a few plans of my own, and here I am, retiring after 12 years on the board.”
- What did you enjoy most about being a commissioner? Being a county commissioner is exhilarating, fascinating, frustrating, encouraging, and discouraging all at once. County board members are generalists. There is always something new to learn: Staff will have come up with a great idea for a program, a new community need will have surfaced, the environment will have thrown an unexpected problem at us, the state will have sent us a new unfunded mandate … and so on. The job of the board is to listen, learn, and make group decisions, every month, year in and year out. Some decisions are a “piece of cake” as Mike used to say; some decisions are reached after many sleepless nights and lots of self-talk.
- What are the achievements you’re most proud of? One of the achievements I’m most proud of is a project I worked on for about three years (with the unwavering support of the Public Health department) – the passing of T-21 (need to be 21 years of age to buy tobacco and vaping products). I hope we will have preserved the health of many youths who might have started using tobacco products before they were mature enough to understand the long-term consequences of tobacco use.
- Anything else you’d like to add? Looking back, I am thinking about the early childhood programs we have started; embedding mental health practitioners with law enforcement calls; funding safe roads and bridges; working to “reduce, recycle, and reuse” trash; forging new land-use plans; ensuring safe elections; transferring paper files to digital data storage and other IT updates; finally getting the Lake Zumbro Improvement District finished; updating and adding new county parks; placing kiosks in buildings so people can more easily apply for needed services – these are all shining programs that staff have developed for the well-being of residents of Olmsted County. I am proud of the part I played in turning them from ideas into reality.