After 10 years of serving Sidney City Council, Alderman Dan Smith is down to his last official meeting this month. Looking back on the last decade, he has fond memories that elicit a belly laugh from him. Other moments require more serious reflection. Through it all, Smith remains proud of his dedicated civil service.
“My favorite memory was when Chief DiFonzo’s phone went off and he had to buy cookies,” Smith said with a chuckle. He still happens to be waiting for those cookies.
Upon joining the council in 2009 at former Sidney Mayor Bret Smelser’s prompting, Smith began his time as alderman on the cusp of the Bakken Oil Field boom. It was a memorable time that came with a lot of hard work and some lessons learned.
“It did bring a lot of problems and a lot of challenges,” he said. “We asked for a lot of help. We took a little more time making decisions rather than making rash decisions.”
Being involved with the new Wastewater Treatment Plant is one of the proudest and most challenging projects for Smith. He is looking forward to the city’s undertaking of the Storm Water Study, another important project for current and future residents. Smith emphasized the importance of doing projects right the first time around, gaining a thorough understanding of why each step is important, and using foresight to avoid future problems.
Smith didn’t grow up with political ambitions, rather it was a role he grew into in his time on City Council. Now he laughs when he says he always threatens to run for governor.
Back when he first began his small-town political career, Smith figured he would serve one full four-year term. After that ticked by, and then another, Smith found himself a dedicated alderman. Few people file to run for City Council, leaving those serving long terms, often unexpectedly.
“If nobody would have filed this time, I would have been in too,” he said. “I’ve spent 10 years there and I think maybe it’s time for new ideas.”
Along with some new blood, Smith hopes to see more community involvement. It wasn’t uncommon for him to get a phone call at home or be stopped on the street by a disgruntled citizen, but getting people to show up to a meeting is another story.
“Everybody loves to be a critic, but nobody wants to get involved,” Smith said. “It was disheartening to see so many people that would have an issue and not come forward.”
Local involvement has dwindled over the years and it often feels like they’re spinning their wheels in council chambers. In essence, the work of many rests on the shoulders of very few. And that work comes with it’s own stress factors.
“A lot of times you do feel the pressure,” Smith said. “If you really think about it, every decision that is made that involves the people, you can keep 50% happy. You can figure whatever decision you make, you’re going to make someone mad. You have to go into the position with an open mind and understand you’re never going to make everyone happy.”
The lack of community involvement is especially relevant come election time.
“You can see that around election time when you have nobody that files to run against anybody. We had three positions this time. Three positions were unopposed,” Smith said. “One thing I would like to see from people, the ones that are out there complaining, they need to get more involved.”
Luckily for Smith, people complaining never got him down for long. He’s always had a thick skin.
“I’ve always been that type of person. I can take abrasiveness. That’s what helped me in that position,” he said. “I think a lot of people out there just don’t understand why you can’t flip a switch and get things done.”
Looking forward to the future of Sidney City Council, Smith said he hopes they can turn a corner when it comes to public participation.
“I would like to see more people at the meetings,” Smith said. In fact, he clarified that he wants so many people to attend council meetings they are forced to remodel council chambers to accommodate the crowd.
Smith was appreciative of those he served with and the rapport they built over the years concerning Smith’s no-nonsense approach to issues.
“I try to make my decisions morally and with common sense,” Smith said.
It’s all an experience he likely won’t soon forget, although he is looking forward to spending more time at home with his wife Pam. While he didn’t always take the easy path, Smith recognized his fellow council members for their commitment to operating with respect for one another.
“We’ve always been able to talk to each other. We’ve always gotten along as a council. We just don’t see eye-to-eye sometimes,” he said. “I’ve have just enjoyed working with the council people.”
Mayor Rick Norby said he is having a hard time picturing council without his “numbers guy.”
“He’s the guy I count on to question numbers. I’m going to really miss that. My other council is good too, but Dan was always on top of that for me,” Norby said.
The two men have spent Smith’s entire 10 years on the council working together.
“He came on council shortly after me,” Norby said. “Dan’s going to be greatly missed. The town of Sidney doesn’t understand — that man was there for Sidney. I have a great deal of respect for him and the community does owe him a big thank you.”