St. Francois County has received notification that it is the recipient of the 2018 Excellence in Leadership award presented by the National Association of Counties (NACo) for its repurposing of a donated former medical office building into a morgue and additional office space.
According to its website, NACo “unites America’s 3,069 county governments” and seeks to “achieve healthy, vibrant and safe counties across America.”
Last November, St. Francois County was presented one of two 2017 County Achievement Awards by the Missouri Association of Counties (MAC) at its annual conference held at Osage Beach. With the latest award, the county is being recognized for the same achievement on a national level.
“We got an email Wednesday that we had received the award from NACo,” said Harold Gallaher, St. Francois County presiding commissioner. “I got a call back in late March from NACo that they had heard about our MAC award and suggested I enter it in the national competition.”
Gallaher stressed that the award recognizes more than the fact that the county was donated a building by BJC and Parkland Medical Center.
“While we got the building at no cost, we had to modify it for our use,” he said. “It’s like if a company buys an empty factory building, you’d have to set that building up for your application. So, you have two layers of cost — you’ve got the purchase price and then you have a modification cost.
“If you look at the modification cost, we had $200,000 last year and got a little bit more this year. If you look at that cost on a cash flow, we’re getting a lot more cash every year than we spend because of the profit.
“Looking at it as an investment, we have spent between $200,000 and $300,000 total by the end of 2018 and we’ve gained over $2.5 million. That’s about a 600 percent annual rate of return on your investment. It just blows the economics no matter how you look at it.”
Gallaher believes St. Francois County is bearing the fruit of his philosophy that the county should be run like a business rather than as a governmental bureaucracy.
“When I was elected, I didn’t know what a presiding commissioner did, but I did know how to operate a business,” he said. “When I sat back and looked at it, in every aspect we are a business.
“We have 188 employees, we’ve got nine properties, we’ve got a very large fleet of vehicles, we’ve got $31 million in assets — and if you think about our 67,000 residents — they are the customers and stockholders of our corporation.”
Gallaher noted that moving the county commission away from a committee-based system to one focusing on the individual interests and strengths of each commissioner has also been a source of increased efficiency and productivity.
“Each of the commissioners has expertise in different areas,” he said. “Gay [Wilkinson] loves road and bridge. Patrick [Mullins] loves all the agencies. If it’s got an acronym, we just automatically give it to Patrick.
“These guys have developed rapport with all the people. Patrick knows every agency leader by name and they work out a lot of issues just sitting and drinking a cup of coffee. We certainly don’t want to change that.
“The commissioners have an implicit agreement among ourselves that we trust each other’s judgment. So, if I go out and talk to the hospital about donating a building, I can say, ‘We’ll do this if you’ll do that,’ and know that those guys are going to back me up whenever it comes to an official meeting and action being taken. They trust me on that and I trust them on their things.”
According to Gallaher, the commission is run much like a president and vice president of a corporation.
“You’re delegated jobs and you take care of those and then you come in and report to tell us how it’s going,” he said. “We still have to comply with all the rules of government — all the purchasing systems, all the official meetings and making public what you’re doing and all of that. We just handle it differently than a government full of committees. That’s what MAC and now NACo has latched onto.”
In addition to the county receiving the Excellence in Leadership award, it has also been nominated for NACo’s Leadership Brilliance award where an overall winner will be chosen from the top finishers in each of the other Excellence in Leadership categories. Gallaher said the county will learn the results in July.
“I am very proud of the team we have assembled to achieve these wonderful goals for our county residents,” he said. “They work hard for the residents and are justly proud of their work.”
“When I was elected, I didn’t know what a presiding commissioner did, but I did know how to operate a business.” — Harold Gallaher, SFC presiding commissioner
Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or firstname.lastname@example.org