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Local News: Combination heart rehab, campaign led to 20 years on county commission (1/5/21)

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Local News: Combination heart rehab, campaign led to 20 years on county commission (1/5/21)

Steve Downer was presented a cake Monday in honor of his years on the board of commissioners.

Bruce Crosby/McCook Gazette

McCOOK, Neb. – Steve Downer was serving on the Twin Valley School Board twenty years ago, when Red Willow County Commissioner Eldon Moore decided not to run for re-election. “I thought, I think I can do that job,” he told the Gazette.

He said he lived out in the country and traveled country roads all the time. He was a farmer and understood the tax burden farmers faced. “I thought it was important that we have rural representation,” Downer said.

Downer represented District 2 of Red Willow County for twenty years, attending his final commissioner’s meeting on Monday. His district runs along Highway 6 & 34 and includes McCook east of Norris Avenue extending north to K Street, as well as Indianola and Bartley.

He said his first election was competitive, with several people in the primary. After winning the primary, he suffered a heart attack in early October, a month before the general election. As part of his heart rehabilitation, he went door-to-door with old-fashioned campaigning throughout McCook. He said that his wife, Pat, would drop him off at the top of the hill; he would go knock on doors making his way to the bottom of the hill; and then she would pick him up and take him back up the hill to start again on the next street over.

His hard work paid off, and he continued to be re-elected four more times.

One of the first issues he dealt with as county commissioner was zoning. Prior to that time, there were no zoning restrictions in rural areas. He said those meetings were often contentious, with the final zoning approval causing considerable chaos in the hallways outside the meeting.

Another issue he was involved with was the building of the Red Willow County jail. He said prior to that decision, there were several meetings trying to negotiate a city-county law enforcement partnership. He said the county did not have a lot of choice in building a new jail because of the time and cost of transporting prisoners to area facilities. He said that the current facility has been well used, and that there is room for adding additional beds if needed, by re-configuring the existing space.

Downer said he is proud of improvements that have been made to county roads, although he admitted that they are at the mercy of Mother Nature.

He said listening to constituents and trying to understand their problems is an important part of the job of county commissioner. Whether the complaint is about road conditions, tax assessments, or other issues, he said a county commissioner’s “phone is gonna ring.”

He thinks that constituents today are quicker to complain than they were twenty years ago, but he also thinks that they are better educated about the issues and that they come prepared with evidence for their cases.

Public service is in his blood, as his grandfather was a county sheriff in the early 1900s in Banner County, Nebraska. Another grandfather was county treasurer for Banner County from 1939 to 1955. His grandmother served as a county superintendent, also for Banner County. “I remember as a kid spending a lot of time in the courthouse.”

Downer said that he just decided it was time to retire as a county commissioner. He said that he didn’t want to “die in office” or get to the point that he couldn’t function. The 74-year-old commissioner plans to continue farming. He said that he and his wife also like to travel. He estimated that between commissioner meetings and various committees, he spent about one day a week on county business. He’s hoping to find time for other endeavors now that his time is more his own.

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