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Lessons from Dale Strong

Comments by Dale Strong deserve a greater audience than just the ears of the Fayette County Council.

Strong sat in a chair watching the council on Wednesday. It was the first time in eight years that he hadn’t been in front of whatever crowd came to a council meeting. At meeting’s end, he asked for a few minutes to speak.

Strong has served well on the County Council for eight years. He has led the council’s finance committee for most or all of that time and has been a lot of the backbone needed to put Fayette County back on a firmer financial footing.

When Strong first joined the council, many meetings included dire warnings about the county’s financial position. With the county spending more money than it took in each year, the county hired a consultant to confirm how bad it was: if trends continued, the county would spend through all the money on hand and be flat busted in just a few years.

The County Council controls that spending. They looked at the projections and agreed to put the brakes on.

It has been painful, especially at first. Office hours were cut for many parts of the courthouse. Hiring freezes were put in place. Some positions were done away with; others were combined for efficiency. The county’s budget process took on new meaning and, sometimes, officeholders and department heads left with (figurative) paper cuts all over and bloodstains on their budget requests.

Strong kept his eye on the prize: a solvent county that could continue to do business for the citizens. Things that didn’t make fiscal sense were done away with. When it made sense, county and city partnerships were created: one that springs to mind is the IT department, which is shared and now deals with hundreds of computers and massive amounts of email, as well as cyber threats that have held data hostage in some other Indiana counties.

Strong is widely credited, I think rightly, with being a big part of holding feet to the fire to ensure Fayette County spends no more than what it takes in.

And last winter, he had the pleasure of announcing that for the first time in his tenure on council, the county had a small financial surplus at the end of the previous year.

Not surprisingly, and to his credit, Strong told the council on Wednesday that he didn’t do this himself. It took all seven of the council members, all three of the commissioners and the rest of the elected officials, department heads and county employees working together. 

To this day, when a department loses an employee, the council and commissioners discuss whether the position is necessary and they have to approve every new hire and the wage that will be paid. 

Strong took his position on the Board of Commissioners earlier that day, continuing his service to the county in a new role.

He told the council three things.

First, as a commissioner, “I want to to be the best partner with the council that I can be. I’m putting myself at your disposal at any time for any reason.”

Second: The county is “starting out a brand-new year with a brand-new budget that I think will work -- if you enforce it.”

Third, and just as noteworthy: “In the eight years I was on the council, there never was a Democrat way or a Republican way, just what made the most sense for the county.”

It wasn’t hard to agree that lawmakers and other politicos farther up the pecking order ought to focus themselves on Strong’s remarks. I have to think we wouldn’t have a government shutdown over the building of a border wall if leaders of both parties operated like that.

For, as Strong, one of only two Democrats on either body, reminded the council members: “If you’re successful, we’re all successful.”

Gotta say I’m glad Strong is continuing his service to Fayette County. 

Bob Hansen is the News-Examiner’s editor; email bhansen@newsexaminer.com or call 765-825-0588 ext. 235.