Friday, February 25, 2011


The hardest part of writing about a friend who has passed away is changing the tense of the verb “is” to “was”.  On one hand it is so simple we can do it automatically.  On the other hand, it involves a person’s entire life and the impact that life had on so many others.

Dick Stafford, who passed away yesterday, gave definition to the phrase “public servant”.  By way of background he served for decades as Washington County’s Auditor, Treasurer and County Commissioner.  But holding various posts in government is not remarkable but Stafford’s service in those posts was remarkable.

I remember coming in as State Auditor in 1979 desirous of upgrading the quality of local government accounting and auditing and bringing the total system into the computer age.  It is one thing to want change and quite another to bring everyone on board.  Dick Stafford, as Auditor of Washington County, was a game changer.  He ran the updated model of what we wanted but he could have easily opposed efforts towards statewide uniformity.   We are all familiar with battles on local control.

But Dick Stafford quietly and persuasively brought county auditors on board.  He forged the partnership between local and state that allowed Minnesota to lead the nation in uniform accounting and develop programs to provide early warnings relative to debt, deferred maintenance, health care, etc.  In essence, accounting of the past was being used to plan for the future.   That is one of the reasons Minnesota has the truly exceptional level of quality in our local government.

These efforts of Dick Stafford and his colleagues were not headline grabbers but they formed the foundation of local government excellence.

How fitting it is that we reflect on the impact of a selfless public servant at a time when they are under attack.

 I just wish the rock throwers had a bit of the integrity and humility of Dick Stafford.  Dick, we will  truly miss you…..

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