(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of stories about the three outgoing members of the Sherburne County Board.)
by Joni Astrup
In his 12 years as a Sherburne County commissioner, John Riebel said he has worked to help people and look out for the bottom line.
Riebel, of Becker, has wrapped up his service on the county board after being defeated by Tim Dolan in the November election. Dolan, of Elk River, was sworn into office Jan. 3.
As Riebel looks back at his time on the county board, he is pleased with the building projects that were completed, including public safety buildings in Zimmerman, Santiago and Palmer, and a public works building in Becker.
The public works building is a particular source of satisfaction. Riebel served on the committee that oversaw that project and said when the price tag on the building initially came in at $16 million, he successfully pressed to keep the cost at $10 million.
“I just wanted the taxpayers to get the best for their buck,” he said.
Riebel said they toured other facilities where they picked up ideas that were incorporated into the new building, and he was pleased with the final result.
He also worked over the years to help his constituents.
Riebel said many people don’t really know how government runs, and government doesn’t do a good job of getting that information to people.
He tried to remedy that, saying, “There’s so many things that a commissioner can do to help people.”
‘He is basically a very honest person’
Riebel said John Kuester, of Elk River, initially encouraged him to run for the county board.
Kuester, who has served on the Elk River Area School Board, said Riebel has been good at determining exactly what county government can do for people and at watching the budget.
He described Riebel as community-minded and said one of his strongest qualities is he is who he appears to be. “He is basically a very honest person,” Kuester said.
Riebel first ran for the Sherburne County Board in 2002, when he was defeated by Roger Nelson. Two years later, Riebel ran again and beat Nelson by 42 votes. He was re-elected in 2008 and 2012.
As one of five members on the county board, Riebel sees being a county commissioner as being part of a team.
“It takes all five of you to do things. You just don’t do it yourself. And we did have a good group,” he said.
In addition to being a county commissioner, over the years Riebel has been involved in the Sherburne County Fair Board, the Becker American Legion and other organizations. He helped start a free community Christmas Day dinner in Becker and has played Santa Claus.
He said he likes contributing to the community.
Riebel grew up on a farm near what is now Xcel Energy’s power plant in Becker. He earned a degree from St. Cloud State University and has owned and operated Becker True Value Hardware since 1993.
He served nine years on the Becker Township Board before becoming a county commissioner, and has been on the county’s Planning Advisory Board for decades.
Even with his background in local government, serving on the county board was a new experience.
“It was quite an education being a commissioner,” he said. “There’s some things you can do, some things you can’t do and then there’s some things that you’ve just got to let go.”
He added, “It was a lot of hours, but I enjoyed it.”