Prairie Profiles: Shawn Riebe

Published 9:05 am Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What does the basketball court and a city council meeting have in common, just ask Alden City Council member and referee Shawn Riebe.

Riebe, who teaches special education and social studies at Albert Lea, serves as the girls’ golf coach, an Alden councilor and as a referee for football and basketball. Each role has a common thread as Riebe is put in a position to make difficult decisions quickly.

As a basketball referee the decisions come as fast as the action on the court and Riebe has found there is no substitute for experience. He’s been a been a referee for football the past six years and a basketball referee for the last three years, and that role has helped prepare him for his position on the City Council.

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Riebe, 39, is in his second year of a four-year term on the council and said he has always had a fascination with government, especially since he graduated with a degree in social studies from Minnesota State University, Mankato.

As a referee he has learned to be objective and that has been applicable to his new role as a council member.

“I think it’s similar in that you’ve got to make decisions that aren’t going to make everyone happy,” Riebe said. “Constituents don’t always see what’s best for the community, they see what’s best for them and that’s what they have to represent. I have to represent a community or both teams on a floor or a field. You’re always going to make decisions that are tough for somebody to look at from their perspective.”

Making those decisions never come easy and he said he has gotten better with practice.

“I think one of the hardest parts of both was at first I wanted to make the right decision so I wasn’t hitting them as fast as I could,” Riebe said. “I was hesitating on both things. When I was officiating I sat back and let my partners do a lot more of the work until I was confident I knew what I was doing. Now I think I am a little more proficient making those decisions.”

Now his decisions have a greater impact as he weighs in on issues that affect the community he has lived in for more than a decade. His decision to run for office didn’t come easy, either. After some consternation, he filed for office 15 minutes before the filing officially closed, he said.

“Just having lived there for 10 years and having kids that are going to grow up there I just figured I’d try to be part of the solution and try to make it as good of a place as I can,” he said. “I’ve always been involved with politics and I thought it would be fun to see what it would be like on the inside.”

Riebe said one of the most difficult situations during his short time on the City Council came when the city decided to expand the high school and combine the city offices with the new addition. The project carried a cost of around $300,000 and with the city budget around $500,000 there was plenty to consider with the project.

“The school is what Alden is built around,” Riebe said. “The city felt we need to support our foundation.”

As for trying to achieve the greatest good for the greatest amount of people, Riebe said it goes back to the relationships he forms in the community.

“It all comes back to dealing with people,” he said. “I think you just keep getting better and better at reading people. You really try to do the right thing and put your personal beliefs aside to do what’s right for the community.”

Even small-town politics has had a pull on him and proved rewarding. One of the nice things about working in Albert Lea is that he shares an office with Robin Brown, the state representative for District 27A. The two have discussed politics frequently and Riebe said he has gained a lot from those conversations.

With the commitments to coaching, refereeing and the city council, his schedule has become tight. His wife, Sheila, said the phone rings off the hook now and they can hardly walk down the aisle at the grocery store without stopping to talk with someone. The interaction with people is a big part of why Riebe enjoys being on the City Council and being more involved in the Alden and Albert Lea communities.

“The part I like most about it is I meet so many people,” Riebe said. “It’s just nice having a network of people that you know and can trust.”

Being a referee has afforded him a feeling of community as well. He enjoys being able to relate to the students by talking about sports and being a referee or helping out with the scoreboard keeps him abreast in the latest happenings.

“What’s fun about it is you get to see the teams,” Riebe said. “I love being around the student athletes. It gives me a relationship with the kids. I get to talk to them at school about the games. It’s a good way to get an in with the kids. Those kids put a lot work into their stuff. It’s just nice to be able to say the next day, ‘You made a great free throw down the line.’”

While the decisions are often difficult on the court or on the football field or in a city council meeting, being involved in individual sports had a role in preparing Riebe for criticism as well. Riebe grew up playing golf and admits he is his toughest critic.

“I’m hard on myself,” Riebe said. “If I screw up, I’ll beat myself up more than a team ever would.”

The responsibilities can be taxing but Riebe remains energized and enthusiastic when talking about the commitments.

His added responsibilities have taken time away from his love of golf, but as the girls’ head coach he gets to spend plenty of time around the game. Riebe played golf all throughout his childhood, but spent a lot of time away from the game in college. He hardly touched his clubs until he became the head coach at Alden-Conger before he made his way to Albert Lea.

He said he was burned out from the game after high school, but when the head coach position became available he rededicated himself to the game and spent many hours at the course refining his game so he could become a better teacher of the game. It was his first experience as a coach.

His schedule is tight, but he tries to balance everything. Sheila is a teacher as well so the couple works similar hours, which helps, he said. Still they have to sit down and plan everything a month in advance. There’s not much down time with basketball games to work and city council meetings on the second Wednesday of the month, along with his investment club meetings, and special sessions with the council.