?Hillsboro commissioner served four years.
Roger Fleming capped his four-year run as the 1st District representative on the Marion County Board of Commissioners as the guest of honor at a farewell reception following Monday?s business agenda.
His feelings on the last day on the job couldn?t have been more different than the day he was sworn in four years earlier.
?I missed the first meeting,? Fleming said. ?I got sworn in, then had to leave because my son-in-law had passed away. I almost didn?t go to the meeting at all, but they had scheduled the swearing in with the judge, so I thought I better come for that.?
Beyond the personal crisis, Fleming soon was faced with a more prolonged challenge: chairing the three-member board in his first year as a member.
He jokes now that it was the penalty he paid for preparing himself to be a knowledgeable commissioner before he assumed the office.
?I went to just about every meeting, I think, starting in July,? Fleming said. ?I probably went to 90 percent, if not more.
?It actually came back to bite me in the rear because I had gone to enough meetings that when it came time to elect a chairperson, it was the rotation for District 1 and they said, ?You know what?s going on, you?ve been to enough of these meetings, you?re the chair.?
?They? were fellow commissioners Dan Holub from District 2 and Randy Dallke from District 3. Tradition?ally, the commissioners pass the chairman?s gavel from one commissioner to the next each year.
Baptism by fire
As if assuming the leadership position as a rookie commissioner wasn?t enough, the board happened to be in the middle of a public controversy at the time about funding a new jail. The strategy included conducting a series of townhall meetings around the county to gather public input.
?The (other two commissioners) laugh about it now?and I laugh about it now, too,? Fleming said. ?But that first year through eight months, it was hectic.
?I kept asking, what am I doing wrong? I come to these (commission meetings) and you guys are out by noon. Then I come in as chairperson and we?re going to 3 or 4 o?clock in the afternoon.?
Fleming said the hectic pace finally slowed around August. And it prepared him for another go-around as chair this past year.
?I started my commission career as chairperson and ended it as chairperson,? he said. ?I got the opportunity to do it twice in four years. It was a lot more comfortable this year.?
Looking back on his tenure on the board, Fleming said the jail issue was the biggest challenge the commissioners faced, but it certainly was not the only one. As he leaves the board, the commissioners? plate of issues is still full.
?(The jail was) just the beginning of what needs to be dealt with,? Fleming said. ?We need office space?we need to get the health department and planing and zoning?all those offices?by the courthouse so we don?t have to send people here and there.
?We also need storage. We?ve got equipment in (the Cooperative Grain & Supply) building, we need to get a building built for that.
?We need a new transfer station because there?s issues there, too. We don?t feel like we can pour more money into it?and it really needs to get out of the city limits. And we need a new shop for the road and bridge.
?There?s a lot of things coming up that need to be dealt with, and the difficult thing is: Where is the money going to come from??
Fleming said the jurisdiction of the board is far broader than he realized.
?What really surprised me is the different aspects of things you have to learn and understand, whether its employee relations and wages, health department issues?it?s such a wide variety,? he said. ?It?s not like the only thing we have to concentrate on is roads.
?There are a lot of things we dealt with that I never dreamed we?d have to deal with. I thought I had a grasp of things, then something else comes up. At times it was overwhelming.?
Although some issues proved to be contentious, Fleming said the relationship between the three commissioners hasn?t been.
?I?ve been told by the other two that I balance them out very well,? he said. ?To put it more in their words, when they butted heads I would listen to both sides and try to make the best decision.
?I felt like all of us got along very well,? Fleming added. ?No one held grudges because they didn?t get their way. Most of the time their way wasn?t necessarily a bad way, just sometimes I elected to go the other way because I felt it had better opportunities.?
Fleming said his colleagues from District 2 and District 3 would occasionally tease each about favoring their respective districts.
?It?s more of a joke between Dan and Randy, between north and south,? Fleming said. ?That?s all it is. We all got along very well.?
He said one of his biggest frustrations is the way open government is required to function. Fleming said he understands the need for rules about public sessions, but it does make it more difficult to address issues efficiently.
?I felt like there was a lot of things that should be discussed, and that I would like to be discussed?without something being taken outside the conversation as a headline,? he said.
?I felt like all three of us were very open to explaining what?s being done,? he added. ?We didn?t have an agenda to hide anything. It was just that there were times when we would like to be able to sort things out. I know we got chastised for going into executive session a lot.
?I?m not trying to belittle the media. They have their job to do. They?re making sure we follow the law.?
After four years of weekly meetings?around 60 per year?Fleming said he has mixed emotions about leaving his post.
?There?s a lot of things I enjoyed and a lot of things I didn?t,? he said. ?I enjoyed the experience, and I?d recommend it to anybody else to go through it, and they will understand a little bit better what you can and cannot do. What sound simples in the coffee shop ain?t easy in reality.?
Fleming complimented the people who head up the various county departments.
?Our department heads take their job and responsibilities very seriously and try to save and cut wherever they can,? he said. ?It?s hard as a commissioner to stand back and let them operate without trying to help run their department. I find that very difficult for some people to do.?
Fleming also had positive words for his District 1 constituents.
?They were very cordial and not bugging me on a regular basis,? he said, ?When I got a call, there was definitely an issue. I always tried to be honest with the people who called me, and tried to follow up whenever I could.
?I think that?s what the people actually expect out of a commissioner?being heard, following up and doing the best they can to resolve the issue. If it?s resolvable. Some issues are not resolvable.?