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ACGC students spend day in Willmar learning about county government

Kandiyohi County Sheriff Dan Hartog. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

WILLMAR -- All 58 freshman in the Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School District got a crash course in county government Wednesday by hearing first-hand stories from the Kandiyohi County elected officials and department heads that keep the county running.

Some of the stories dealt with mundane issues, like property taxes, road maintenance and why the census results could mean moving district lines.

Some stories were complex, like whether Minnesota should continue to be under the 1872 Dillon rule that permits counties to do only what state law explicitly says or if the Legislature should adopt the Cooley Doctrine that would give counties more flexibility.

And then there was the titillating story offered by Sheriff Dan Hartog who told about arresting a man at 2 a.m. on a lonely road years ago in the northern part of the county.

The hitchhiker had a rifle and claimed he was hunting rabbits. Suspicious of his real intentions, Hartog said he arrested the man for hunting rabbits out of season and put him in jail. The next day he learned the man had killed his roommate just hours before Hartog arrested him.

And that was from a man who said he hated his high school civics class and yet "I found myself in the middle of it" as an adult, said Hartog.

The day-long field trip was part of a pilot project planned by civics teacher Terry Singsank.

"This is the first time doing this. We're very excited," said Singsank, adding that the students each paid $10 to cover the cost of the trip.

Although his civics class involves studying federal and state government, Singsank said he spends considerable time teaching students about local government because that's where local connections are made.

"You can feel local government and you have access to local government," said Singsank, adding that he hopes students see they can make a difference by being engaged in local government.

"They can be difference-makers," Singsank said.

That message was reinforced by many of the speakers, including Jay Kieft, director of family services, who invited the students to consider a career in social work -- a career that's based on making decisions that follow the basic values of promoting quality of life in fiscally responsible ways.

"I'd love to have you work for us someday," Kieft said.

Commissioner Jim Butterfield, the newest member of the Kandiyohi County Board, said voting is one of the best ways to get involved with government. "It's your voice," said Butterfield, who said he decided to run for office because he thought he would do a good job and because he's willing to listen, look and learn.

He encouraged the students to listen to their parents and mentors, look for positive role models and learn to develop a positive plan of action for the future. "You'll impact the future by what you do today," Butterfield said.

The students were also told that they could make a difference in the future of the county and the environment by recycling and getting their parents to recycle. "It doesn't make sense to fill up a big hole in the ground with things that can be recycled and reprocessed," said Jay Baker, from the county's Household Hazardous Waste program.

Recycling can cut county costs and stretch out the life of the landfill for the future. "It's for you and your kids," said Baker.

In a testament that no one ever really leaves high school, the students gave vocal votes of approval to Hartog after he revealed his sons were ACGC graduates, and to Commissioner Richard Larson who was wearing an ACGC Falcons sweatshirt and said his grandchildren attend ACGC.

They weren't so kind, however, to Assistant County Attorney Shane Baker. "I'm a Wildcat," said the 1989 New London-Spicer graduate. He received a good-natured "booooo."

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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