With Second District Commissioner Don Williams taking office last week, the Lake Sun asked him to go on the record about some of the issues facing Camden County. Here’s what he had to say in response to our questions via email.

Q How did you prepare for taking over as Second District Commissioner after winning the election?
A Well, the election consumed my entire life for approximately a year (in addition to attending to the daily operation of my business), so first, my wife and I took a badly-needed vacation.  By the way, my family worked very hard to help me during the election and I want to take this opportunity to thank them publicly.  I could never have done this without their support, dedication and hard work, especially that of my brother Nathan Williams and my sister Michelle (Missy) Smith.
Knowing I had a lot to learn, I had many meetings and telephone conversations with Presiding Commissioner Greg Hasty and First District Commissioner Bev Thomas.  I had a lot of questions regarding many subjects.  A few examples:  How much and exactly what preparations are usually involved prior to commission meetings?  What are the details regarding organizations, groups and boards under the authority of the commission?  How does the commission operate in relation to governmental functions which are the direct responsibility of the commission - the Road and Bridge Department, for example?  What processes are implemented in order to determine the budgets of each individual county office on a year-to-year basis?  These are only a few examples.  Former Second District Commissioner Cliff Luber emailed information to me regarding the county budget and last year's tax receipts and explained several government procedures to me as well.  I had scores of questions because I wanted to be fully prepared to begin working effectively on the first day when I took office.  All the commissioners were extremely gracious with their time and went out of their way to help me.  Being a Commissioner in a First-Class County is a job with wide-ranging and diverse responsibilities.  There are many different functions and I can already tell that doing a good job requires a wide range of abilities, knowledge and skills.

Q Were you involved in any of the 2017 budget discussions or conversing with fellow commissioners on issues facing the County?
A Yes, but only very briefly and very informally. We discussed how Camden County is only recently beginning to recover from the economic downturn of 2007/8.   And we discussed the fact that, since a county government operates on sales taxes and real estate taxes, government tends to run a bit behind the private markets during an economic recovery.  As far as the 2017 budget specifically, our discussions mostly consisted of the other commissioners answering my questions and explaining the factors that go into the decision-making.

Q What do you view as your main priorities for the position?
A What are the biggest challenges facing your district, and the county in general?
My main priority is the well-being and the future of Camden County.  Beyond that, the issues and concerns that are important to the people of Camden County in general and the people of the Second District in particular are my priorities. 
Being overwhelmingly rural, the main service that the Second District receives from county government is the performance of the Road and Bridge Department.  During the election, I traveled every single county road in the Second District.  The voters are not happy with the condition of their roads and I saw for myself the reasons why.  I don't yet know exactly why the roads are in such poor condition.  It could be a management issue.  It could be a funding issue.  It might be a result of the extreme flooding we experienced over the last couple years.  Last winter, for example, we had a very severe flood in December - an event that was unprecedented, at least in my memory.  While it it's true we have added quite a few miles of road to the county's workload over the last 10-15 years, we haven't added that many in the last 5 years or so.  Therefore, I I'm not certain that is the issue.  So, one of my main priorities is to learn why the roads are in such poor shape, frame the problem appropriately, and then fix it - whatever it is.  I want to accomplish this as soon as possible.
There are other issues that need attention.   We need to completely re-work P&Z so that it makes better sense for Camden County.  Luckily, we have an excellent Planning and Zoning Administrator in Kim Willey, so, after it is overhauled, I expect P&Z to begin working smoothly and effectively to everyone's satisfaction.  The roof on the Justice Center needs repaired.  Also, as is true in all levels of government, waste is rampant.  I would like to change the culture of county government and make efficiency a norm.  Even completely aside from the large structural changes geared towards improved efficiency and cost-savings (which I plan to address and hopefully the commission can implement, probably in my second or third year in office), if we can get all areas of our county government to begin focusing on small, day-to-day ways to reduce to waste and increase efficiency, we can create a corporate culture of streamlined, cost-effective, economical county government.  Just a cursory examination has led me to believe we can easily operate with about 35% more efficiency - ultimately savings tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars.   These are some of the issues I'm looking at now.  I'm sure many new ones will crop up as time goes on. 

Q What are your thoughts on the 2017 budget and the current state of Camden County financials?
A As I mentioned above, Camden County is only now beginning to recover from the economic downturn that began in 2007/8.  One year ago (Jan. 2016) the Wall Street Journal reported on a study showing 93% of United States counties had not recovered to pre-recession levels in all of 4 indicators: total employment, the unemployment rate, size of the local economy and home values.  Camden County had not recovered in ANY of the 4 areas.
With that in mind, I am extremely happy with Camden County's financial condition.  Last year, through the cooperative efforts of almost all the elected officials and the commission, the county was able to give the county employees a badly-needed and richly-deserved raise, said to total around $650,000 per year.  Despite that and despite the recently struggling state of the economy, I understand Camden County's has approximately three-quarters of a million dollars on the books.  I feel extremely positive about the year ahead for our local economy and for the financial condition of the county government.  Regarding the 2017 budget itself, I do not feel that I know enough background information to adequately speak to that subject in any detail.  I can say that, from what I do know, I believe the county financials are on track to bring in even more revenue than last year, especially considering the massive growth I believe is about to take place in Camden County. 

Q Are there any specific issues or goals you're particularly excited to work on, and why?
A As I frequently talked about during the campaign, I am very interested in the economic development of Camden County.  I feel that if there is any single, most widespread, most impactive and generally beneficial thing government can do for society, it is this:  to foster a business-friendly, growing, diversifying, job-creating, wage-increasing environment.  Every positive aspect of society flows from a dynamic economy - everything from more money for schools and education, to increasing and improving housing opportunities, from stable families and flourishing churches to better roads and transportation generally, from more funds being available for charitable organizations to increasing sophisticated cultural opportunities for students... It all flows from a dynamic, healthy economy.  I want to do everything I can to encourage that.     
Throughout the Lake of the Ozarks area, our primary industries have historically been tourism, construction and (to a lesser degree) farming.  All my life, I have watched our people work as hard as they can all summer - only to struggle through the winters, often getting by on unemployment until spring arrives again.  This last recession hit us unusually hard but our economy was having problems even before that.
From 2002-2013, Camden County lost 1,398 jobs from large employers (those who employ 100 or more workers) and that is unfortunate because those larger employer jobs tend to be more stable, offer higher pay, with better than average benefits, with greater chances of advancement and the hope of a career that will sustain our families.  During that same period, we gained 1,938 jobs with small and medium-sized employers - a net gain of only 540 jobs. (Reference: Council of Local Governments).  So our job market has shifted substantially.
While tourism has been - and will probably always be - the major industry in Camden County, the lack of full-time, year-round jobs makes it extremely difficult for young people to find careers that allow them to remain here.  The healthiest, most resilient local economies are ones that are extremely diversified, with many different industries existing alongside each other.  Then, when any one industry begins to suffer, the overall local economy can remain strong.  To that end, I would like to do all we can to attract new employers.  I believe traditional manufacturing would be difficult to attract to Camden County, given our lack of major rail lines and nearby interstates.  But we are perfectly situated, in many different ways, for high-tech businesses and especially the bio-medical industry.
Many people are not aware of this, but we have world-class internet capabilities in the Sunrise Beach area.  I would like to see high-speed, redundant broadband service available county-wide for core business functions and for internet marketing to be able flourish here.  Since the election, while preparing to take office, I've done a lot of research regarding economic development, especially in mid-western small towns and semi-rural areas.  I've found quite a few success stories involving attracting high-tech businesses and I believe several of these could serve as models for Camden County.  My next step will be to contact the economic development authorities in those areas and hopefully, in conjunction with LOREDC (Lake of the Ozarks Regional Economic Development Council), the Council of Local Governments, and the various Chambers of Commerce, we can develop a structured plan to attract many new employers to Camden County.
Considering the rapid growth of our retired population and the fact that we already have a highly-accomplished hospital (with an amazing cancer center) I believe the growth and diversification of our bio-medical establishment would do wonders for our local economy.  Attracting medical and health-related businesses would not only be good for our retired and senior population, it would create high-paying, stable jobs with many avenues of advancement for employees.
I strongly feel that Camden County - and the Lake Area in general - is on the verge of a massive growth phase.  I'm very optimistic about our future.  I believe the next decade is going to be one of the best, most prosperous times we have ever seen and I'm excited to see what the future brings.  
Here in Camden County, we have excellent schools; low taxation and regulation; a hard-working, competent workforce; a proximity to the cities of St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield; great shopping; wonderful state parks (Ha Ha Tonka was voted 4th best in the state, I believe), excellent quality of life standards; and the Number One Recreational Lake in the Country (!) - all rooted in the strong, mid-western, Ozark values of our pioneer forefathers.  I love my home.  I believe there is not a better place in the Untied States to live, work and raise a family.  I want to let the rest of the world know that.