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Scott County Administrator shares story of trust, collaboration with local officials

WORTHINGTON — Scott County Administrator Gary Shelton shared a testimonial of trust and intergovernmental collaboration Friday morning in a joint meeting with officials from the city, county and Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp. (WREDC).

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“We spent a lot of time working on how do we work together on this,” Shelton said. “How do we build that trust?”

Shelton was in Worthington to talk about SCALE —Scott County Association for Leadership and Efficiency.

“Going back some time ago, we took a look at it and said, ‘OK, we really need to figure out how does a small county make itself relevant within the metropolitan area?’” Shelton said.

SCALE was formed in spring 2003 and is a model of intergovernmental cooperation, Shelton said. The mission of the program is to explore new and innovative ways through which government entities can collaborate to provide superior services while making the most of limited resources.

“It does mean sometimes we have to give up control,” Shelton said. “We focus on how do we do things together.”

Shelton said people don’t care what entity provides resources to them. Instead, they care about the quality of those services.

“Nobody cares when they call 911 who answers the phone — They just want to make sure someone answers and answers it quickly,” he said. “Nobody really cares if it’s an office in blue, an officer in brown or an officer in maroon — they don’t care who responds as long as they get there quickly.”

And mostly, citizens care about the tax levy.

“What most people do care about is keeping their tax levy down,” Shelton said. “They want to see good government, they want to see good services, and they want to pay as little for those services as they possibly can. The best way to do that is to work together. That sometimes is difficult as well. What may help one person save money is an expenditure by someone else. Sometimes it’s about budget.”

That’s where trust comes in.

“You have to be willing to walk on out on that limb and trust that nobody will saw it off behind you,” Shelton said. “Relationships are first. If you can’t build trust and relationships, then you might as well not even talk about it.”

Building that trust wasn’t always easy, he said, but now, “We had never before in the history of Scott County felt this much goodwill among the governmental bodies.”

And the results speak for themselves. According to Shelton’s presentation, the county has added 4,566 jobs and had a business investment of $454.3 million.

Worthington, he said, could have the same type of success, with its advantage of being located along two major roadways. He also said having a large airport close and a small one in Worthington was a benefit.

“You have a lot of things that could be good for a lot of businesses,” said Shelton, who is familiar with the town as his mother-in-law lives in Worthington.

Nobles County Commissioner Bob Demuth Jr. said he felt even having a joint meeting was a good first step in establishing a similar venture.

“I sense a room full of people willing to move forward,” he said.

Shelton agreed.

“Somebody has to start taking that first step,” he said. “If you show success, success will breed success.”

Shelton offered to return to Worthington or to send staff to help start something in southwest Minnesota.

“We believe everybody has to succeed in order for our state to be successful,” he said.

At the conclusion of the meeting, WREDC Manager Abraham Algadi touched briefly on a new housing initiative.

“The most dangerous thing we can do is to claim we know the solution and get out there and share it with everybody else, only to fall flat on our face,” Algadi said. “It will not help us to do that. We have to assure success. The only way we can assure success is if we mean what we’re doing.”