It occurred to me Nov. 23 as I was visiting Brent Brown, that this was the third Windom Municipal Utility manager that I had sat with in this particular office. The list starts with Dennis Purrington. Purrington was succeeded by Marv Grunig. Upon Grunig’s retirement, the Windom Commission brought in Brown, from Volga, S.D. Brown has been at it for a year and a half in Windom now, and seems to be diligent, competent manager. Like most municipal utility managers, he has a lot on his plate. Leaving Windom, however, I had the impression that the utility remains in good hands.

I mention this string of superintendents because one of my favorite photos from two and a half decades of roaming around the state is of Purrington. If this isn’t an indication of the ‘Seven Hats’ nature of a municipal utility superintendent's job, I don’t know what is.

This same notion of somehow handling an overwhelming number of simultaneous issues was hammered home later that day in Bigelow. Riding around town in Mayor Brad Meester’s pickup truck was somewhat of an education in the life of a (very) small town mayor.

 A couple anecdotes:

At a home where a remodeling project seems to have ground to a halt, a couple windows are open on the second story. This leads the mayor to make a call. Those windows either need to be repaired or closed, the mayor explains to the lady on the other end of the line. “I’ll tell my husband,” she replies, nicely. Along with a bit of humor over the husband’s suddenly expanding ‘to do’ list, one is struck by the fact that Meester’s contact list is pretty deep when it comes to ordinary citizens in his city.

The second story points out how difficult it is to keep things going in a small city. There is a special council meeting called for that night. The time approaches and the mayor and one other member (who works a full-time day job, serves as the city wastewater superintendent in the evening and farms on the side) are there. The mayor makes a couple calls. Seems a few others can’t make it. The discussion goes on anyway. The end result is a couple people are better equipped to make pivotal decisions for their city.

Things certainly do get done by people who show up.

The part-time clerk is there and fully engaged. The part-time billing clerk also stops in before the meeting. Her mom has just passed away. The mayor balances compassion with the city’s need to get the bills out. It’s not easy. He does the best he can.

APPA has a ‘Seven Hats’ Award. It makes me think a Hans Brinker Award might be more on the mark for the smallest of our cities and their municipal utilities.

People like Brown, and Meester and Steve Schultz (the council member who showed up) keep the state’s municipal utilities going. They have my gratitude and respect.

For more on Meester, Schultz and the Bigelow municipal utility, see the December MMUA Resource newsletter.