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Greenspace: Do you know your soil and water conservation supervisors?

August 12, 2018
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Roland Wood

Roland Wood, soil and water supervisor for Wabasha County’s first Soil and Water Conservation District, has served for three four-year terms. In that time, he says, he’s never been opposed in an election.

He’s also never campaigned, and as far as he knows, most of the voters in the county don’t recognize his name on their ballot or have any idea what he does.

That’s fairly typical for members of the soil and water board of supervisors in every county in Southeast Minnesota, where their role as an advisory committee doesn’t get much attention and is certainly not a hot-button topic during election years.

“It’s up to who knows who when it comes to the ballot,” Wood said.

Who’s on the ballot?

Wood’s third term ends this year, and he doesn’t plan to run for re-election. Neither does Tom Gosse, supervisor for Wabasha County’s fourth soil and water district, who has served on the board for 22 years.

In some counties, this could be a cause for concern. It’s not uncommon for the number of candidates filing for a seat to range between one and zero, so when a longstanding member like Wood steps down, there’s reason for uncertainty about whether anyone will step up to take his place.

But Wabasha County voters should expect plenty of options on their ballots this fall, because a total of five candidates have filed for the two open seats on the board.

The turnout is unusual but encouraging.

“I went out and asked a few people,” Wood said of his recruiting efforts, but since no one had committed to anything, he didn’t know what to expect. “I was looking for people that were conservation-minded,” he said. “I didn’t want it to just go open.”

Why run?

Lynn Zabel, a farmer in Viola Township who filed for Wood’s seat, said he’s not surprised that few people file for a place on the board compared to other county offices. However, he feels the lack of interest doesn’t accurately reflect the importance of the board as an intermediary between citizens in the district and policymakers at various levels of government.

In addition to serving as an advisory board to county officials, the board’s responsibilities include approving annual SWCD work plans and prioritizing projects, overseeing SWCD financial management and approving grant-funded cost-share projects. In Wabasha County, the board of supervisors is also responsible for approving contour strip-cropping proposals.

“These positions don’t just affect farmers,” Zabel added. “They also affect cities and anything to do with soil and water issues in the county.”

Zabel is one of three candidates who filed for Wood’s seat. The two other candidates, Kevin Meyer and Joseph Zarling, could not be reached for comment.

Wabasha County isn’t the only one receiving above-average turnout for soil and water board seats. In Olmsted County, the seat for the third soil and water district has two candidates, John Pries and Cheryl Winters, who would replace current Olmsted County Soil and Water supervisor John Keefe. But the rest of Southeast Minnesota should expect to find one name (or in some cases, none) on their ballot this year.

Don’t expect to find them on Aug. 14, however, because supervisors don’t run in the primaries, even if there happen to be a lot of them this year. Instead, they’re elected at-large in November by the voters in their county.

In other words, there’s time between now and then to familiarize yourself with their names and the purpose of the board of supervisors so you can be less confused and more intentional about filling out your ballot this year.

To find out who your soil and water supervisors are, visit the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website at candidates.sos.state.mn.us/CandidateFilingSearch.aspx and look under candidate filings at your county.

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