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It’s my sixty-ninth birthday and I’m sitting in a meeting. As meetings go, this one’s not bad, but it certainly isn’t beer and smart talk with my friends, which would probably be my first choice for how to celebrate my birthday. Since I’ve been a commissioner for almost twenty years, and the county commissioner convention is always the same week in December, I’ve spent most of my birthdays the same way for many years. 

I’m not complaining. If you put this day on a continuum, all my birthdays on a graph, I’d have to say today is in the upper middle. I’m not shoveling snow or manure, I’m not in a hospital or worried about someone in the hospital. All my bills are paid and we’re meeting our youngest daughter and her husband for dinner. So, not a ten, but a solid seven out of ten. 

So far today, I’ve listened to a speech from the governor of Minnesota, did a couple hours on The Five Concurrent Themes for Success, and dabbled in Restorative Justice and Building Flourishing Teams. I get to finish out the business portion of my day with the annual meeting of the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust. (Be still my heart.).  

There are 87 counties in Minnesota, most have five commissioners, and when you include coordinators, administrators, engineers, public health people, etc., it adds up to enough people to fill a large hotel. 

I wish every citizen could be a part of this type of event, at least once. If they were, I think they’d go home thinking, “Wow, what a bunch of dedicated people,” and “I had no idea small-time government is so complicated.” And maybe, “I can’t believe anything ever gets done.”  

The convention offers a huge trade show with nicely dressed, polished people giving away trinkets.  Since we’re elected officials, they’re not allowed to give us anything spectacular, so there are lots of pens and mini chocolate bars. I haven’t purchased a pen in twenty years, and I have to suck in my belly to fasten my jeans. Such are the pluses and perils of public service. It’s a little daunting to walk down the rows of booths stocked with engineering firms, rehab centers, business software, and ditch lawyers thinking that I really should know more about them. I reassure myself, as I have for a couple of decades, with the thought that I don’t need to know stuff, I just need to know the people who know stuff. 

Birthdays at this age are kind of weird. I can’t complain about having another birthday, because the list of people I cherish who had far too few birthdays keeps getting longer and longer. On the other hand, it’s tricky feeling celebratory about arthritis and comparison shopping for bran. And nobody needs to see sixty-nine candles on a cake. 

Oh, well. One more half hour discussion on workman’s comp and cybersecurity and I’ll be done for the day. Just up the street from the hotel is a Vietnamese restaurant. I don’t know much about Vietnamese cuisine, but I do know that Vietnamese restaurants are a little thin on the ground in Big Stone County, so I’m going to grab the opportunity. If nothing else, I bet they’ll sell me a beer. 

Life is good. 

Copyright 2023 Brent Olson 

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