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    Golberg retires after 43-year career with Steele County

    By By JOSH LAFOLLETTE,

    2024-04-13

    https://img.particlenews.com/image.php?url=1aVImo_0sPO66lK00

    After seven years as Steele County administrator — and decades more in civil service — Scott Golberg is ready for what the next chapter of life will bring.

    Golberg retired Friday, bringing his 43-year career with the county to a close.

    As administrator, Golberg took the reins at a tumultuous time for Steele County.

    His mentor, former County Coordinator Dave Severson, led the county for 29 years. Following Severson's retirement in 2010, the Steele County Board of Commissioners restructured the role into that of the administrator, which has more direct authority over county departments.

    Including interims, the county went through four administrators between 2011 and 2017. Over the course of two elections within that time frame, the board of commissioners experienced a full turnover.

    For Golberg, then environmental services director, the instability was palpable.

    "I think it sent a message that the public just wasn’t real happy with the way things were going. As a director in the organization, you serve the public and you build the public trust. You want people to trust you and the work you do," said Golberg. "I just felt like we were in a position where that was lost. It was time to get off the sidelines and step into more responsibility and see if I could help move us forward."

    He had job offers from the private sector, but felt civil service was his calling. Hoping to bring some stability to the county, he signed on as administrator in 2017.

    When Golberg took over, board meetings often ran in excess of two hours. As he and the commissioners settled into their roles and strengthened their rapport, they got the same work done in a fraction of the time.

    Golberg presided over the county throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, trying to keep up with constantly changing guidelines from state and federal agencies.

    "It wore you down. It beat you down. But you didn’t have time to catch your breath, you just had to keep fighting and be on the top of your game. As a leader, you had to reassure everybody we can get through this," he said.

    While that ordeal was unprecedented, his goal was the same as ever — provide steady, even-tempered leadership.

    In his final weeks on the job, Golberg repeatedly downplayed the significance of his retirement. He'd been asked if he wanted a retirement party, but preferred a quiet exit.

    "If I want a party, I’ll throw a party," he told the People's Press with a grin.

    Regardless, Board Chair Jim Abbe was intent on celebrating Golberg's career at the conclusion of Tuesday's board meeting, Golberg's final meeting as administrator.

    Abbe, one of three commissioners who joined the board in 2017, said Golberg was exactly what the county needed in that moment.

    "Without you, I know we wouldn’t be where we’re at. All of us, we were all new and trying to learn our way, and you helped us through that process and for that we are very grateful," Abbe said.

    "We learned together, didn’t we?" said Golberg.

    Abbe called Golberg a "guiding light" and a "steady force" in county government, presenting him with a certificate commemorating his retirement and a decanter set, a gift from the commissioners.

    With kind words exchanged and the meeting adjourned, Golberg said, "enough of this fanfare."

    "You didn’t think you were going to get by that easy, did you?" Abbe retorted.

    A long career

    Golberg's family moved to Owatonna in 1961. After high school, he attended Gustavus Adolphus College, studying biology and environmental studies as well as business. He attributed his interest in environmental studies to a longstanding connection with nature, including hunting and fishing.

    Fresh out of college, he was hired as environmental health and safety coordinator in 1981. Golberg was the sole employee in the budding environmental services department.

    In a document prepared for his colleagues to mark the occasion of his retirement, Golberg made note of what a different world county government was back then — smoking was allowed in the office, and the IBM Selectric typewriter reigned supreme.

    Amongst his many years of service, 1987 stands out as a challenging moment in Golberg's memory.

    After the planning and zoning director retired, the board delegated those duties to him. While shouldering the weight of a larger workload, he was diagnosed with cancer.

    "Chemotherapy is hard on your body. It’s very indiscriminate. It doesn’t just kill the cancer cells. It kills a lot of other cells, too," Golberg.

    Those challenges coincided with the beginning of county water planning, a result of legislation enacted two years earlier. As environmental health and safety coordinator, Golberg was responsible for protecting water quality for the county.

    In challenging times, Golberg said he takes a day-to-day approach — "this too shall pass."

    And pass it did.

    A few years later, environmental services grew into a proper department as new staff were hired, and Golberg became its director. He served in that capacity from 1991 to 2017, the largest stretch of his career. However, it will still a time of constant change.

    "There was nothing real static about it. It seems like a long stretch at the same position, but what we do in county government is really dictated by what happens up in St. Paul, the legislation thats passed. We’re the arm of state government that implements those laws," said Golberg.

    The Steele County Landfill, previously the domain of the county engineer, was reassigned to him a year into the new role, and evolving regulations meant new environmental protective measures there. The county also began offering recycling services in accordance with state statute.

    Around 2001, Golberg had a hand in hiring Planning and Zoning Director Dale Oolman.

    "I always looked to him as my mentor in this line of work," said Oolman.

    Oolman characterized Golberg as "even-tempered" in dealing with the public, always cognizant that county government should serve the community. It's an attitude he's strived to live up to in his own career.

    In the wake of Golberg's retirement, Oolman now finds himself one of county's senior employees.

    "I’m happy for him. He deserves it," said Oolman.

    "We’ll miss that institutional knowledge," he added.

    Golberg is confident he's leaving the county in good hands, pointing to his administrative assistant Rebecca Kubicek and incoming interim administrator Jan Fransen, who previously served as interim before he was hired.

    Golberg hopes to find new ways to serve the community in his retirement. For the moment, however, he's content to take a breather as he looks back on a "fulfilling and rewarding" career.

    "This is a place where things can get done. I think the public also feels much more of a direct connection to local government, whether it’s township, city or county. They know where to find their elected officials. They can drive to the rooms where they meet to make decisions. It’s more connected and communicative," said Golberg. "It’s very gratifying to be able to work in that kind of a government where you can help build a better, more transparent and efficient way of doing things."

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