Haukoos: Tough to make a difference during short stint in office

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 3, 2002

For Bob Haukoos, Mayor of Albert Lea, it’s about freedom and not being tied down to a schedule filled with meetings and speeches.

A week ago he was in California visiting his grandsons &045; triplets who are now eight years old &045; and one asked him why he couldn’t live closer to them, so they could see each other more often. And Haukoos realized it wasn’t the distance that interfered with his ability to be there &045; it was time. As mayor, time with family has to fit into his schedule. It was a realization that didn’t fully come to him until after he took the job less than two years ago.

&uot;I knew some of that, but not at the scale it turned out to be. I didn’t realize my schedule would be so involved,&uot; Haukoos said. It’s supposed to be a part-time job, but it turned out to be full-time, all year long, he said.

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When he was in the legislature as Albert Lea’s state representative, it was busy, but not all year long &045; only when they were in session. Official functions involving the mayor, on the other hand, occur all week long and on weekends.

Haukoos said he knows that politicians usually need to stay in office for at least two terms in order to begin to have a real impact, but said he’s been in public service for many years and isn’t so sure that he’s willing to pay the price anymore.

&uot;I just want a little more time off and more control over my time,&uot; said Haukoos.

One of the reasons his schedule is so full is that he takes the position of mayor seriously, as a full-time responsibility.

&uot;Some things I have to do; some are just good for a mayor to be involved in,&uot; said Haukoos.

Presiding over council meetings and signing documents are required. But among the things he has done are bring official greetings to groups that are visiting or meeting in Albert Lea. For example, he spent over an hour with visitors from England who drove to Albert Lea to see the Historical Society’s collection of Eddie Cochran memorabilia.

Maybe it isn’t required, but that sort of socializing helps Albert Lea by giving a positive impression that starts with the mayor and continues with residents, Haukoos said.

As he was campaigning for the job during the last election, he was looking at making a difference, particularly when it came to economic development.

&uot;Two years ago I was very interested in getting in and seeing how things work in the city,&uot; he said. He’s found out that getting things accomplished aren’t always as easy as they seem to be. And it didn’t help that Farmland burned, the economy went downhill and the state suffered a major budget crisis, all in the time since Haukoos was sworn in.

Whoever the next mayor might be, Haukoos has some advice. Mayors need to approach their position with energy and enthusiasm for Albert Lea, he said.

&uot;You need to make yourself available to people, and you can’t expect them to come to you. You have to go to them. People are more comfortable visiting with you at pancake breakfasts and salad luncheons than they are in your office,&uot; Haukoos said. That isn’t always good for the waistline, he added, patting his stomach.

Although he knows that people have done it in the past, Haukoos wonders if anyone today could do justice to the position and have a separate full-time job.

Haukoos also warns that any new mayor may have an uphill battle to fight on some issues, as people, both in and out of city hall, can be set in their ways and afraid of change.

He feels he’s gotten the message to city employees that they need to approach their contact with residents with openness and helpfulness. But when he’s brought up ideas about how to approach development, he thinks he’s sometimes ignored. For example, a couple of times he has brought up the possibility of permanent maps in parking lots downtown showing people where downtown businesses and institutions are located, but nobody else seems interested.

Haukoos will be working full-time at being mayor until his term is up, but after that, he’s looking forward to working in his garden and seeing his grandsons.

&uot;I’m looking forward to the freedom that comes from not being tied down,&uot; Haukoos said.