ROCHESTER — Olmsted County Administrator Heidi Welsch called it a “momentous day” as four new county commissioners and two re-elected commissioners were sworn in Tuesday. “It feels like a fresh start on many levels,” commissioner Sheila Kiscaden said at the end of the board’s first meeting of the year. In addition to having new faces on the county board, she pointed to continued efforts to transition out of the pandemic and opportunities to take on new countywide tasks.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Welsch outlined several tasks the county accomplished last year, from redistricting and holding successful elections to finalizing new land-use and solid-waste plans. She said many of the efforts were completed with the knowledge that four long-time commissioners were stepping down at the end of 2022 and the new commissioners would need time to step into their roles. “There will be a lot more training that happens for our new members,” she said.
One of the four new commissioners, Michelle Rossman, pointed out that training sessions held since her Nov. 8 election to the District 5 seat have already opened her eyes to the work ahead. “Those sessions have clearly given me a much greater perspective of the vast programs and incredibly impactful programs that our staff are implementing every day,” she said.
New District 2 Commissioner Dave Senjem, who recently retired after 20 years in the Minnesota Senate, said he has a new level of excitement for the work ahead. “The topics that this board engages itself into are really, really important,” he said.
New District 1 commissioner Laurel Podulke-Smith and District 4 commissioner Brian Mueller also voiced excitement about the work ahead.
Welsch outlined some of that work during Tuesday’s meeting, pointing to the anticipation of developing new countywide goals. “We did a lot of work in the past year to set the stage for countywide strategic planning,” she said, adding that the commissioners will begin their work on defining goals during a planned Feb. 3 retreat.
Other work outlined for 2023 included continued road improvements, implementation of a new soil-health program, the opening of the new Oxbow Park Nature Center and a potential plan for the former Seneca Foods canning facility site.
Commissioner Gregg Wright, who was named as the new board chairman Tuesday, pointed out a combined 76 years of experience were lost when the four previous commissioners stepped down, but new insights were added to the board. “Like history, the chronicle continues to be written and Olmsted County has gained four new commissioners who have dedicated themselves to carry on the vital work of the county,” he said.