PAT: A Mayor for the multitudes
Park Rapids' incoming mayor is not ashamed of being a working stiff, a blue-collar guy, a regular Joe in a sweatshirt.
Those are his constituents, the ones who urged him to run. Pat Mikesh squeaked out an election victory over incumbent mayor Nancy Carroll by 11 votes.
"Citizens wanted a change," he said.
He was sworn into office Tuesday night and is itching to get to work.
First things first, though.
The Park Rapids City Council needs another member to replace his position. Mikesh is one who likes to weigh his options and build a consensus. The city has put out feelers and is looking for the right person. Mikish admits the pay isn't what's important, but the commitment is.
Remember, this is a working class guy. He doesn't want empty seats at a council table.
"If you accepted the position," through appointment or election, you owe the public a duty to attend meetings, he maintains.
Pat Mikesh moved to the Park Rapids area, specifically Osage, from the Cornhusker State, Nebraska. He was in seventh grade.
By the age of 13, he was independently employed, helping manage a farm.
That's how he says he learned fiscal conservancy.
"If you don't have it don't spend it," is his motto. To Mikesh, it's a no-brainer.
He has been the conservative voice on the City Council for the past six years, questioning the timing of certain luxuries he thinks should be put off in hard times.
The divorced father of two girls, one a teenager he's raising himself, is also a grandpa to two.
He finished high school and trade school. For the past 14 years he's served on the volunteer Park Rapids Fire Department, where he was recently appointed training officer.
He's worked the past 10 years for Minnesota Energy. He's the first firefighter called in when there's a gas leak.
He said some have questioned whether he has the time to be mayor, but he said he put the time in as a councilor, and believes he can manage his schedule to accommodate the mayorship.
"You punch out at 4:30," he said. "What do you do then?"
The outwardly laid-back man can't stand sitting around.
"I figured it was time to step up to the plate or step out," he said of his decision to run for mayor.
He heard from plenty of fellow conservatives that it may be time to slow down the projects so the public and businesses can catch a breather.
He didn't support the Red Bridge project and wishes it could be put off, but the plan to revamp the park, add a trailhead and a new bridge, is now tied up with state funds and moving ahead full-speed.
He likewise didn't support the city's purchase of a vacant lot near the bridge.
He refers to it as "the trail to nowhere."
He agrees that the city's infrastructure needs to be maintained, but as more water and sewer pipes are replaced, he said the focus now becomes maintaining those systems.
He said a sewer truck could be a good investment rather than hiring out cleaning service.
He also agrees the city will need a water treatment plant.
"We have great department heads," he said. "We need to focus on what we can do to help them."
He doesn't support merging the Police Department with the Hubbard County Sheriff's Department, as some have suggested in the past to save money.
"It won't work," he said. "We couldn't afford to pay the county to take care of the city."
Plus, he doesn't see any reason to tamper with the current situation, which works well.
He said city cops back up county officers and vice versa. He's been on plenty of accident scenes where a wide variety of officers from the State Patrol and the DNR pitch in if needed.
One thing he does want to curb is city overtime. He believes managing for contingencies is a good practice. Right now, the city is ahead of the ball paying for street cleaning.
"That could change tomorrow or the next day if we get a foot of snow," he said. But the niggling overtime incurred in the ordinary course of business must stop, he pledged.
He'd also like to lower the cost of hooking up to city water, now around $1,500.
"That's outrageous," he complained. At that cost homeowners don't have much incentive to switch from septic systems.
He praised interim city administrator John McKinney's work with the city, and said he wished the city could wheedle McKinney into staying past August 2013.
McKinney is a seasonal resident from Iowa who took the position temporarily and agreed to extend his tenure over next summer.
But Mikesh can't see mounting an expensive search when there are untapped resources available.
The League of Minnesota Cities had leads on good candidates.
"We even have people here that could do it," he said.
Whether the city should hire an administrator or a consulting firm would be up to the council, he said. But finding an administrator should be a top priority, he added.
He worries that the city's salary structure doesn't give the council many options.
"We can't afford to pay much so we're always going to be a stepping stone," he said, for a young person on the way up or someone about to retire.
Mikesh is hesitant to criticize the job Carroll did in office, even though the two differed frequently. But that's his nature, too.
He's not a finger pointer or a second-guesser. That, too, comes from his work ethic. The buck stops with him.
He promised he would be tough on the city's finances.
"It's nothing personal," he said."
And if he shows up for mayoral work in the same worn navy sweatshirt, that's his way, too.
Because with Pat Mikesh, what you see is what you get.
Just an ordinary guy.