‘People person’ elected Douglas county commission chair
January 14, 2010
GARDNERVILLE, Nev. – Newly elected Douglas County Commission Chairman Mike Olson said he’s the people person while Vice Chairman David Brady is the money man.
“That’s whyI feel confident we can do this,” he said.
The two were named by their colleagues Jan. 7 to head up the five-member board in 2010.
Olson, 47, said he will bring his skills as a communicator to the one-year position.
“All of us worked hard last year to get to know each other and work together. I have the ability to communicate. I like people and I like to see people succeed,” he said.
Olson, who flavors his conversation with phrases like “you betcha,” and “much appreciated,” said he doesn’t intend to let people walk over him.
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“What you haven’t seen is how I am when something becomes passionate with me. Part of the ‘you betchas’ is that I want people to know I understand them. I may not necessarily agree, but I want them to see I think they have value. I love solving problems, and I also want to know what’s valuable to people,” he said.
Olson plans a slight restructure to county commission meetings to streamline the sessions which can run as late as 11 p.m. or midnight.
He wants to allow public comment on items before board discussion so commissioners know what’s on constituents’ minds and can answer questions instead of having to bring the item back before the board.
“I want to make sure to offer the public the right to contribute, but I think we can make the meetings more efficient. I don’t want to give the impression that the board won’t listen,” he said.
He’s planning to install a light system to alert speakers when their three minutes are up that would apply to applicants as well as public.
Olson is cognizant of criticism that an agenda item might be timed for 10 minutes, but often runs 45 minutes to an hour, backing up the entire meeting and making for late evenings for commissioners, county staff and public.
He also is considering having meetings open with an invocation offered by a local clergyman.
“I believe Douglas County has always been a community that has faith. In these times, there are many uncertainties, and I need all the help I can get,” Olson said.
He is aware that he’s crossing into sensitive territory.
“People have a right not to worship, but there’s a right to worship, too,” he said. “If it happens, and some people don’t like it, I would invite them to stick their fingers in their ears.”
Olson said he would confer with other commissioners before making a decision, and would leave it up to the designated minister what to say.
“We don’t have all Christians, or Jewish people or Muslims here, or people who share Native American beliefs,” he said. “I’m not here to say one faith is better than another. I’m just saying that maybe someone created us and this gives us a chance to say thank you.”
In a Record-Courier poll which asked if an invocation would be appropriate at commission meetings, 60 percent of 243 respondents said yes.
As in recent years, Olson said he believes the county’s biggest challenges will be driven by the economy.
“I believe the economic future lies at Lake Tahoe and I would like to see the casinos reinvest in themselves. I think that’s happening to an extent with the hotel at Edgewood, Heavenly Village and the Embassy Suites remodel of a few years ago,” he said.
He said the county was fortunate to have the services of “fiscally responsible” County Manager T. Michael Brown, and “a great group of county employees.”
“I am more impressed with the people who work here than I have been with any community where I’ve been involved. They are very conscientious and want to do a good job.”
Olson said if residents could prioritize their expectations, the top three concerns would be safety, fiscal responsibility and limited government involvement.
“We’re a very conservative county. A good portion of the residents don’t want to be taxed. They require few services and want a smaller tax base. On the other hand, you have people move here who are used to more services that are paid for with taxes,” he said.
Olson said he believes the differences can be bridged.
“The people who live here are good, intelligent people who want to achieve their potential. If you can’t work with that, I don’t know what you can work with,” he said.
Olson said his style is along side the commissioners.
“This isn’t ‘the Mike Olson show,'” he said. “They’ve allowed me to be a leader among leaders. I don’t see myself as a person who is all-knowing, but here I am in a leadership position. It’s neat to be involved. We’ve got such a great community.”