Good elected officials are hard to come by. And I mean that for all levels – local, state and federal.
I have covered them all, and have met a few good ones and some really bad ones. But my job as a journalist is to cover government, and so I have had to deal with the good and the bad over the years.
Well, Ogle County Board Chairman Kim Gouker was one of the good ones. I was leaving for vacation when I found out that Kim had died, and it made me sad. No, we weren’t really friends, per se. I was a reporter, and he was an elected official. Ours was a professional relationship.
But I did like Kim for a number of reasons. First, he was almost always available to me, and as a reporter that is not always the case. Oftentimes, local elected officials either love to dodge tough questions, or they pontificate on every subject – even when they obviously don’t understand the facts at all.
Trust me when I say there can be as many blowhards elected locally as there can be on the state and national level. I have dealt with many.
But that was not Kim. He almost always had deep knowledge of the issue at hand, and would speak freely when asked about details. He was not one to go “off the record” with me, and I always appreciated that.
And Kim did not soft pedal things. He gave his honest opinion when asked – even if it might ruffle feathers – and that is all anyone can ask of an elected official.
He also worked tirelessly for Ogle County. As chairman of the board, Kim had an important job, and he did not appear to take it lightly. And I never heard Kim talk about himself. He talked about what was good for the county.
The jail issue is a great example. Building a new jail in the heart of Oregon was not popular with some, but Kim never let the stinging words and often personal attacks from them slow a project he felt was needed for the county.
He spearheaded public meetings all over the county on the issue, and sat and took a verbal beating that would leave many local officials shaken. But not Kim. He faced crowds, answered questions and listened.
That took guts, something sorely missing in many elected officials. Trust me when I say most local officials would wilt in the face of that kind of criticism.
The jail is now being built, and it will serve Ogle County for decades to come. It seems to me that Kim’s name should be found on a plaque somewhere on that building. He was key in making it a reality for Ogle County.
Kim also ran a good meeting. He made sure everyone had their say, but kept things moving along. That is not an easy task with a body the size of the Ogle County Board.
The county will have a new board chairman by the time you read this. He will have big shoes to fill, there is no doubt of that.
Ogle County lost a fine public servant when Kim died recently at his home in Byron, a town that he loved. I was not Kim’s buddy, or his colleague. But I did watch him work, and I did ask him some tough questions.
He always rose to the occasion. He always did what he believed was best for Ogle County. You can’t ask for much more than that.