Archived Story

Progress 2011: Second Responder

Published 5:00pm Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The tornadoes that hit Freeborn County on June 17 gave Freeborn County Administrator John Kluever a new appreciation for county workers.

Michelle Haacke/Albert Lea Tribune - Cutout by Stacey Bahr/Albert Lea Tribune

“Early the next morning, we didn’t have to call anyone; the county employees were already out,” he said. “I ran into Mark Harig, and then Sue Miller checking out the roads, and Wayne Sorenson was surveying the houses. It’s satisfying to see your staff doing their job and doing it well.”

He remembers that evening well. When the tornado sirens began to sound, he was home. He and his wife, Judi, headed for the basement.

John had remembered someone mentioning that the armory was going to be used as a shelter, so after the storm blew through, he headed over there. Upon his arrival, he immediately ran into Freeborn County District 4 Commissioner Christopher Shoff, who was the board chairman at the time. Shoff appointed Kluever to act as the public information officer, putting him in charge of gathering information, releasing information to the media and setting up press conferences.

At times, acting as the PIO and the administrator was a challenge.

“As the PIO, I had to make sure and get all of the details right — how many homes were hit, how many meals were being served — a lot of information,” he said. “As the administrator, I was also trying to find out if the board needed to meet in emergency session and proper procedures.”

After a very short night, Kluever organized the first press conference at 10 a.m. June 18. Special meetings with heads of other emergency organizations and county departments led to more results and another press release Friday afternoon, followed by another on Saturday.

The tornadoes prepared Kluever for more weather-related emergency operations, such as emergency meetings and presidential declarations, as floods from heavy rains washed across the county Sept. 22-23.

“In comparison, the tornado was the big story. The national media was involved,” he said, adding that the Associated Press tracking down his cell phone number and calling him at home in the middle of the night was quite impressive. “Not to lessen the impact of the floods, but the magnitude of the tornadoes was different.”

In both instances, Kluever credits county workers and organizations like the Red Cross and Salvation Army for helping work quickly to help those affected by the storms.

“They moved quickly, they knew what they were doing and they got it done, without a lot of fanfare,” he said.

Name: John Kluever
Secret identity: Freeborn County Administrator
Base of operations: Freeborn County Government Center, Albert Lea
Superpowers: able to multitask well, communicate well and think ahead for what comes next
Kryptonite: He likes to take time to think through situations and weigh decisions. During the tornadoes, some important decisions needed to be made quickly, which he found tough.
Affiliations: wife, Judi
Origin: John worked in social services for many years before going back to school to get a master’s degree in public administration. He then worked as a grants manager for Laramie County, Wyo., based out of the county seat, Cheyenne. He and Judi, both originally from Wisconsin, wanted to get closer to home. In June 2007, he took his current position and they moved to Freeborn County.