Voice of County Leadership: Larry Holmes, Darke County Commissioner
How long have you been a county commissioner?
Fifteen months, since January 2021.
Can you tell me about yourself? What is your professional background? What other elected positions have you held? Why did you first run?
Carol and I have been married 43 years raising four children in Darke County. We have been blessed with seven grandchildren all under the age of 9. Five of the grandchildren live within 3 miles of home.
My professional career was spent primarily at Fort Recovery Industries as the financial officer of the company and as a member of the ownership group. I was the Vice-President – Finance and Treasurer when retiring in Spring of 2020 with close to 43 years of service.
Why did you want to be a commissioner?
To give back to the community. I spent close to 12 years on the school board of the Greenville City Schools. During that time Carol and I discussed where I could give back to the community in a positive manner when my professional career became less demanding. The role of the commissioner appeared to fit our goal.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve dealt with as a county commissioner?
The most demanding on our time has related to a proposed development of a large scale solar farm within the county. This is proving to be a divisive topic within the community. Our challenge will be how to move forward in manner that respects and recognizes the impacts and the rights of all involved.
What was the biggest surprise or adjustment after taking office?
The amount of time and energy consumed with daily and on-going administrative topics that is required for a commissioner in a county without either a County Manager or County Administrator. With most of our time tied to operational topics of the county there is little time available for strategic planning for future needs of the county. We are taking the time to develop a 5-10 year capital plan for the county. We have a committee in place to manage our the American Rescue Funding dollars with a focus to invest in areas that provide long term benefit to the county.
Are there common misconceptions about your job?
That we have legislative authority to create laws and regulations.
One of the primary responsibilities of a commissioner is to develop a balanced budget and provide adequate resources to deliver county services. What has been one of the biggest challenges in that area?
The budget challenge is multifaceted as there are more needs than resources for employee related expenses and assuring county services are available and are effective. I think the single largest challenge is how to develop and provide resources for capital needs of a county with aging facilities and infrastructure. We have needs to repair the courthouse, improved workspace, renovate or replace the jail and aging facilities that house our health department, board of election and courts. These are items that come to mind. The list goes on.
What has your county been doing to enhance the state-county partnership?
We actively work at keeping the lines of communications with our state representatives with phone conversations, emails and meeting in person. We assure our representatives know they are always welcome to visit. We are never shy to express our thoughts on legislation that impacts our county community. It’s also important to share an ‘atta boy’, ‘way to go’ or ‘thank you’ for their efforts on our behalf.
Could you discuss your involvement with CCAO as well as the benefits of being an active member?
The CCAO gives the counties a central point of information and advocacy for challenges we face as commissioners. It also hosts events that allow interaction between commissioners to share and learn from each other.
How have you been doing or what has your county been doing to participate in the state county partnership?
All three commissioners are actively engaged with reaching out to other elected officials at all levels; state, county and local. We are also active in participating in local, regional and state committees and organizations. While this takes time and energy, it expands the effectiveness of the commission board.
What are your main priorities or personal causes? What is it about those particular issues that matter so much?
Presently I’ve been focused on three topics: 1) Large solar development, 2) Developing county wide broadband access and 3) Expanding our economic base. All will impact our quality of life. The broadband and expanding our economic base are important to assure our county is an attractive place to live and work, now and in the future.
What do you find are the most successful methods for reaching out to the residents of your county to communicate what your office is doing and why it’s doing it?
The two primary methods for us have been to actively engage with the local news media and to be accessible to the community. The local radio station hosts us once a month to share current county news and future events. At our public sessions we directly ask the news media if they have any questions of us or comments. Typically we have three media members in attendance.
Being accessible to community members is more of a ‘soft’ approach of being engaged in community events and ‘being out and about’. This has proven to be effective for individuals to share their thoughts or to respond to questions.