As a Wadena County District 4 Commissioner, Chuck Horsager has found his highlights in working with fellow commissioners and county staff members from 2017-2020. The topics have kept the commissioners listening to one another’s perspectives and expertise, two values that Horsager said are important as decisions are made week after week that impact community members.

One of the changes he’s most glad to have been a part of is creating a positive work environment for county staff. The culture change spanned his term with an environmental scan from August 2016-January 2017 with plans continuing for at least the next two years. Horsager said internal department issues, a lack of communication between departments and people not caring for one another was the environment he stepped into. Now, a positive direction is continuing to be set with Convene training, more review processes and personal improvement plans.

“That’s probably the biggest accomplishment is changing the culture to a more positive one for all county staff and department heads and getting people to work better together to serve the public,” Horsager said. “It’s something I’ve really seen right before my eyes change drastically in a positive way.”

RELATED: County climate: Staff, commission look to resolve strife between and within Wadena County departments

While commissioners debate topics during the three monthly meetings, the points also include notes from constituents, whether publicly speaking at the meeting or having previously called a commissioner. Horsager appreciates these calls and encourages people to participate in local government.

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“I didn’t agree with every constituent but I always sought to hear them out, and I think a few probably were disappointed in a few of my decisions and votes along the way but for the most part I felt very supported and had very good conversations,” Horsager said.

Wadena County Commission board chair Chuck Horsager looks over thoughts from the strategic planning group gathered Monday, Jan. 13 in Staples.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Wadena County Commission board chair Chuck Horsager looks over thoughts from the strategic planning group gathered Monday, Jan. 13 in Staples. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

In finishing out his term, Horsager served as the board’s chair where he made sure to summarize people’s points after giving them time to speak.

“I used to kind of think the chairman didn’t do a whole lot more than everyone else but I found that I ended up doing quite a bit, and I did like it, but it’s extra work,” Horsager said.

His last year was also marked with discussions on the pandemic, including following guidelines, allocating CARES Act funds and discussing courthouse space issues.

“We were able to help local businesses and schools and community organizations to try to offset some of the impact of the pandemic,” Horsager said about the $1,692,093 of CARES Act funds allocated.

There’s still plenty of topics the next board will wrestle with, as Horsager said, including the question of the courthouse space issue with ideas for expanding over the jail and possibly moving departments to the old Wensman building. He hopes some of the ideas will be incorporated in the future and for plenty of public input in the process. The Deer Creek school building is leased through December 2021 for a short-term court space.

“I think this also brings up the question of what we do need after the coronavirus, or if there’s anything similar to it. Do we need to have a big court space or not?” Horsager said.

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One of the lessons Horsager said he’s learned is “that a budget oftentimes drives what we’re all about.” He said the budget requires the balancing of Wadena County as the poorest county in the state with a low property tax base and high property taxes alongside people’s expectations and requirements from the state and federal government for services.

Throughout his term, Horsager served on at least these committees and boards:

  • COVID-19 Emergency Executive Committee

  • Soil and Water Board

  • Economic Alliance

  • Economic Development Committee

  • Parks Board

  • Planning and Zoning Board

  • MAHUBE-OTWA Board

  • Central Minnesota Council on Aging

  • Budget Committee

  • Wadena County Fair Board

  • Wadena County Historical Society Board

  • Personnel Committee

Pictured from left to right: (back row) Commissioners Bill Stearns, Chuck Horsager, Sheldon Munson, David Hillukka, Park Board members Jerry Mevissen, Bob Swenson (front row) Parks Maintenance Operator Glenn Motzko, Commissioner Jim Hofer, Park Board member Dorothy Kennelly, Parks Administrator Deana Malone, and Administrative Assistant Linda Youngbauer. Courtesy photo.
Pictured from left to right: (back row) Commissioners Bill Stearns, Chuck Horsager, Sheldon Munson, David Hillukka, Park Board members Jerry Mevissen, Bob Swenson (front row) Parks Maintenance Operator Glenn Motzko, Commissioner Jim Hofer, Park Board member Dorothy Kennelly, Parks Administrator Deana Malone, and Administrative Assistant Linda Youngbauer. Courtesy photo.

“I will miss committees,” Horsager said. “I’ve always sought to give some inputs and ideas, and again work together as a team to try to think about the best for really the citizens of the county.”

With a planned move in the works, Horsager says he loves Wadena County and will keep his visits coming as his parents, Clarence and Mary, live in the area. He and his wife Carol will be moving to Clearwater County to Carol’s great-grandparents homestead, which includes a lake cabin, fields, woods and another cabin they’re working to build. Alongside his business manager position at Birch Lake Counseling, he’ll still be open to another round of community involvement.

“I just thank people for the privilege to serve and think that we’re (the county) going in the right direction in a lot of ways,” Chuck said.