Williams County voters will have a choice in November on who they wish to represent them in District 3. Incumbent Williams County Commissioner Wayne Aberle is being challenged for his seat by Cory Hanson.
The two will square off at a public forum the Williston Herald and Williston Area Chamber of Commerce is putting on Tuesday at the Williams County Administrative Building. Here is a little about each ahead of the forum.
Aberle has been in Williams County since 1978 and transferred to the area with the North Dakota Highway Patrol from Beach, North Dakota. He retired in 2001, but his son had moved to the area in the meantime, so he and his wife Cheryl decided to stay. She has been a teacher in the area for 30 years.
Aberle is serving on the board of directors for the North Dakota Association of Counties, where he represents the northwestern part of the state. He’s also president of the Load Pass Permit System. That initially covered only western counties, but lately other counties have been expressing interest in joining the system.
He is also on the board of directors for the Upper Missouri United Sportsmen. It’s the largest chapter in the state, and covers the northwestern region.
He’s serving his second term as a county commissioner. He ran in 2010 in a contested race after someone had stepped down from the board.
“I’ve got the experience for the past eight years, and I’ve been involved with and I oversee the roads,” Aberle said. “I’m very familiar with the entire county, having worked here all these years.”
Aberle oversees the Sheriff’s Department, which he said is a natural, given his career.
“I worked very closely with the Sheriff’s Department all those years,” Aberle said. “And I know what is taking place in law enforcement.”
He also oversees the State's Attorney Office, and Treasurer and Recorder as well.
“I’ve been involved in government for 29 years with the state, so I am familiar with the budgeting process, and hiring and personnel issues you have to follow as well.”
Aberle said he wants to continue progress on improving roads and budgeting responsibly.
“We’ve come a long way on our roads, in improving them, doing some chip sealing, and so forth, and we are continuing to work on them, to improve our roads and get rid of the dust in the county,” he said.
Part of that effort has been bringing in scales, so that the county can do weight enforcement on the loads going through the county.
“We’re not looking at the income generation there,” Aberle said. “But it’s actually to save the roads from heavy loads.”
At the same time, Aberle said the county has strived to keep the budget down and to keep taxes low, despite enormous increases to market values, and he supports that philosophy.
“If people familiar with their taxes in the county in the last eight to 10 years, the average house has increased probably up to five times the market value,” Aberle said. “But taxes have had little to no increase the last eight to 10 years. We want to keep taxes low and still provide the services.”
He also wants to ensure the county keeps good people, who are knowledgeable and can do a good job for the county.
“I’m really looking forward to getting re-elected and continuing with the job and making Williams County a better place to live,” Aberle said. “And I have the time to dedicate to it, because it isn’t just a couple of meetings a month. It’s many meetings and many phone calls.”
Hanson was born in Williston, and is a Williston High School graduate. He moved away from the area briefly to attend college in Minnesota, after which he returned with a degree in recreation management from St. Cloud State University. He found employment right off the bat with Williston Parks and Recreation.
“I worked there for about 10 years, and then I was general manager and opened the Applebees here in Williston,” he said.
After that, he served for about five years as activities director at Williston High School, and then took over facilities for them, as well as transportation for another five years.
More lately, he has been doing oilfield work and is involved in sales and heavy dirt work for MMI excavation, building locations, doing cleanups, building roads and doing private jobs like constructing dams. He also farms east of Williston.
“I can see things from both sides,” he said. “The oilfield and the farming side. And I think there are some things we can do to work together and improve things.”
He has not held elected political office before, but he does serve on the Williston Parks and Recreation Foundation Board, and he was also with the Williston Volunteer Fire Department for 21 years, the last six as a chief, which is an elected position.
“I was there before it was a full-time fire department,” he said. “I was first assistant, so I ran a lot of fire scenes.”
Among these, he said, was the Harvest Hills fire, and the downtown Gaffney fire.
“I elected not to run for the department chief position on the volunteer side because I decided to put my name in the ring for county commission, and I didn’t feel I could do both,” he said.
His wife’s name is Jodie and they have three children.
Among the clubs he belongs to is Williston Moose Lodge. He’s been a member of that from the moment he was old enough.
“My grandpa was a governor there, and it was important to be involved in the community,” he said.
He has also coached just about every level of community baseball and helped out with a lot of other kids programs.
Running for county commission, he said, is an extension of lifelong community service.
“I guess I feel it’s important that if you feel like you can do better ahd help the community, that you have to be willing to stick your neck out a little and do that,” he said. “I’ve volunteered for many, many years. This is the next step, from volunteering with the fire department, to volunteering over here to try to help out the community and hopefully make it a better place.”
He has attended many commission meetings and believes he can bring a fresh perspective and some new ideas to the table.
“Sometimes people get locked in, and are not able to see some things that could be done to improve,” he said. “One of the things that would be very helpful is just more interagency cooperation between city, county and schools, all the way down to parks and recreation. This is all tax money, so if we find a way to use it more cooperatively that would be better for everyone in the long run.”
Among his top priorities if elected would be continuing to improve roads.
“Being able to say these are my top three priorities is pretty tough, because the first thing I have to do is learn,” he said. “But I know roads are going to be in there, and funding for roads comes right after that.”
The other priority for him is cooperation among different agencies, and for that opening lines of communication will be an important goal.
Public safety is also very close to his heart.
“The funding mechanism is there,” he said. “There is the 1-cent that’s being collected now. Extension of that and continuing to improve public safety is very important.”
Hanson said his experience as a chief for the volunteer fire department has given him the ability to make sound decisions quickly, and to lay things out in a logical and reasonable manner. He believes this will translate to better problem solving for the voters of Williams County.
“I also bring a passion for the community,” he said. “It’s very important to me. Williston and Williams County the entire area is important to me. This is where I grew up. I farmed here, and my children have been raised here.”
He wants to see continued growth, but it needs to be “smart” growth.
“The way we lay it out in the county is very important for future generations, to make Williams County a better place to live and raise a family,” he said.
He sees both oil and gas and farming having an important place in the grand scheme of things.
“It can all be done together,” he said. “A lot of people maybe give one or the other a bad rap, depending on who you talk to. And that’s where I feel that I fit in because i’ve worked it on both sides. A lot of people benefit from the oil, which helps them to farm better. But you also have to keep them accountable for what they are doing. It can’t be free reign, but it can’t be all oil and gas’ fault either.”