Couple years ago it was noted the clay tractor-pulling track at the fairgrounds had a slight dip in it. One of the County road workers, a skilled road grader operator, was kind enough to offer his services if we could get the County engineer, Roger Patocka, to approve using one of the county graders.
Having known Roger for a number of years I offered to make the inquiry. It seemed a reasonable enough request. After all a good portion of the county comes out to the tractor pull every year, it was hardly like we were a for-profit business asking for help or that we were somehow even indirectly lining our pockets.
I explained our problem to Roger who noted that although a fair enough request, there were rules. The track could hardly be called secondary roads, but that he would consider it and get back to me.
The road grader was not made available. I could have been angry, could have vented to my friends, done some trash talking. But you know what? The more I thought of it the more I realized that I had simply ran into an honest man. To my way of figuring if in my daily business I could not accommodate an honest man maybe I needed to reconsider my priorities.
Roger I believe understood it was a slippery slope. A wink and a nod, you do this for us and we will do that for you. Next thing you know not only are you compromised but so is the county.
As a wise man once said" the road to hell is paved with good intentions."
I came away from the experience feeling good to have Roger in charge, glad to have him representing my interests, secure in knowing he was an honest man.
In the last several years there have been a number of dust-ups between Roger and the board of supervisors. The first I noted was after a severe windstorm hit the Ringsted area, Terry Reekers the Emergency Management Director was out of the county for the weekend and Supervisor Ron Smith stepped forward and called the county road crew out directing them to aid Ringsted and it's local residents.
As I recall the problem was the supervisors led by Smith wanted all the work billed out to secondary roads when in fact much of the mission had involved removing trees and debris from not only city but private property. Roger simply asked the board what fund they wished for him to pay for it with as he pointed out by law they could not use secondary roads funds. Smith pretty much popped his cork and near as I can tell he has been on tilt ever since.
This was followed by Smith and the board blocking Roger getting a contract extension telling him he served the board at their convenience. And on and on and on. This latest brouhaha which has resulted in Roger being given a paid absence of leave and now a early retirement has as far as I can tell been brought on by employee issues on secondary roads. At question is a very qualified equipment operator who has gotten a DWI. Smith and others want to keep the employee on in some fashion. Roger made the point that the rules are the rules-if you lose your license due to a DWI, you lose your job.
My father ran a trucking company for the last twenty years of his life. I know what getting a DWI involves for a trucker, which is to a large part what our county road workers are. I do not know a truck driver who is not aware of the fact that his employment is contingent on him NOT getting a DWI.
In another case I understand a very qualified applicant for employment on the road crew is or was being hung up as the Doctor giving him his physical would not clear him. Evidently the supervisors were sore about this and somehow blamed Roger.
I have known Roger for 35 years. He is not only honest but hard working. Years ago when I was putting 60 to 70 hours a week in at work I would leave late in the evening and drive past the college on my way home. At the time Roger was in charge of the CAD program and I would always smile when I saw his truck all alone in the parking lot, last one to leave.
I have made discreet inquires at times over the past couple years. Those working for and with Roger indicated they appreciate and respect him. I know I have never spoken to Roger about anything to do with the county's work that he has not had a firm grasp of.
Former Secretary of Defense Colin Powell once famously said in regards to invading a country, "if you break it you bought it." It certainly appears the supervisors have broken, and taken ownership, of the County Engineers office.
I do appreciate supervisor Jon Martyr for standing up for the rule of law and the Daily News for it's reporting of the supervisors meetings.
I am unsure what Roger has for future plans. I will make the point that with his integrity and skill sets, he would make a great County Supervisor.
Regards, Roy Gage,