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COL Thanks for a job well done

We are indebted to public officials who are leaving office

In January, dozens of public servants across southeastern Minnesotans will return to private life.

Due in part to state-mandated redistricting, there will be more turnover among elected officials throughout the state next month than there has been in at least a decade. Some incumbents would have retired regardless of how the political boundaries had been redrawn. But others decided to call it quits rather than run against a colleague in the same party. Still others were defeated in their bids for re-election.

We'd like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to those who will end their tenures as elected officials in the coming weeks.

Whether it's serving on the local school board or representing their home districts in the state Legislature, these are not easy jobs. It takes a special kind of person to dedicate the long hours it takes to do the work of the people and to deal with the demands and criticism that inevitably come with the position.

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Among the longest-serving local elected officials who will leave office next month are Olmsted County Coroner Paul Belau, Olmsted County Commissioner Carol Kamper and State Rep. Dave Bishop, all of Rochester.

Belau, a retired Mayo Clinic ophthalmologist, has served as coroner since 1980, and was a deputy coroner for 12 years before that. During the 20 years he was coroner, his office investigated about 15,000 deaths. Most of those individuals died from natural causes. But the coroner's office also responded to 1,800 accidental deaths, 80 homicides and 350 suicides. Throughout his tenure as coroner Belau was among the most competent, reliable and accessible public servants in the region.

Kamper is retiring not only as a commissioner but also as a longtime political science instructor at Rochester Community and Technical College. She began her public life 31 years ago when she was elected to the Rochester City Council. After six years on the council, she won election to the county board. She was a quiet but effective decision-maker and leader who helped steer the growing county through one challenge after another. She was on the board, for example, when it made the controversial decision to sell part of the former Rochester State Hospital campus to the Federal Bureau of Prison. She was also involved in decisions to build a waste-to-energy plant for garbage disposal, and to outlaw smoking in the county's restaurants. Evidence of her competence came through at the polls where she was seldom challenged. And when she was, she won by large margins.

Bishop, a longtime Republican attorney and landlord, is retiring from a 20-year stay in the state House. Bishop, who ended his legislative career as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, was highly respected by DFLers and Republicans. Even though his party was in the minority throughout much of his tenure in the House, he used his expertise as a negotiator to get many bills favorable to the Rochester region passed. For example, Bishop is largely responsible for many of the expansions on the campus of the University Center Rochester.

Belau, Kamper and Bishop are just three examples of the many longtime elected officials who chose to contribute to their communities and their state through public service. All of them deserve our gratitude.

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