Warren County had a hefty to-do list when Aaron DeKock was elected to the Warren County Board of Supervisors in November of 2018.
That’s part of why he ran.
DeKock and his wife, Sarah, and three daughters moved from Grimes to Norwalk in 2016. He soon saw issues. The state had closed the county jail in February of 2018. A bond issue to replace the courthouse in the center of the Indianola Square had failed.
“How could this county not have a functioning courthouse?” he asked. “Why do we have a temporary facility and we're busing inmates, that seems a little off?”
In addition, DeKock said, few realized the state of the county’s 911 communications system — “there were dead spots, there was liability, there were big issues,” he said. Roads were drawing complaints and work on a county engineer’s shop site south of Indianola was stalled.
To top it all off, DeKock learned the supervisors planned to replace 80th Avenue near Norwalk with gravel and repave it sometime in the future.
“Norwalk only has two main arteries,” said DeKock. “If that’s what these folks think of Norwalk, we need to go a different direction.”
DeKock encouraged others to run for the seat. Instead, they encouraged DeKock to run.
“I was my own third choice,” he said.
He defeated incumbent Dean Yordi in a Republican primary in June. In August, county voters overwhelmingly approved a $29.9 million bond issue to replace the Courthouse with a new one on the Indianola Square.
“That is a huge weight off my shoulders,” DeKock recalled thinking. “The Justice Center funding has passed and you know, I'm mentally checking a box, thinking, ‘that should be easy.’ It became a lot less easy in time.”
In November, he defeated Democrat Skip Phillips and took office in January of 2019.
The learning curve was steep during his first year in office, he said.
“I think most people have don't have a very good idea of what occurs and the funding mechanisms,” he said. He went into office with dreams of paving “a bunch more miles of gravel roads and then everyone would be happy,” he said. “But there’s a reason why we haven't paved 600 miles of gravel roads. It's a billion and a half or $2 billion that we don't have.”
During his first year in office, the supervisors approved a budget that slightly increased taxes, but fully funded the county engineer’s roads budget. 80th avenue got paved, but the Justice Center “sure hit a lot of bumps in the road,” he said.
Initial bids on the project were as high as $37 million. Some supervisors, architects and engineers clashed on the project. A majority of voters approved a vote to spend an additional $3.5 million on the project, but it didn’t meet the 60-percent needed to pass.
While DeKock said he likes many aspects of the new building “the one aspect that I'm not pleased about is the location.”
DeKock said he would have preferred to see a park at the center of the Square, and he thinks people in Indianola would have been happier too. But he says people who say he could have changed the location are oversimplifying the issue.
“There was no path to move off of that location because it was written right into the bond language that folks voted on,” he said. The only option would have been asking for a new vote on a new location and increasing the cost from the $30 million earlier approved to more than $40 million.
“As I read the pulse of the county, I didn’t think we had the votes to do it,” he said.
So the county forged ahead, using American Rescue Plan Act money and a controversial reoffering premium, in which the county sold the bonds for a higher interest rate to generate extra cash, to complete the building. The new justice center opened in July of 2022.
“If it was not for the wisdom and hard work of Aaron DeKock, we might not have a justice center at this point in time,” said Supervisor Darren Heater at DeKock’s final meeting as supervisor.
The pandemic and spending $9.9 million in ARPA funds marked the last two years of DeKock’s tenure. While he says the ARPA money is likely contributing to inflation, he adds that he is happy with how the county spent its money.
“There wasn't much point in telling them I might personally disagree with this level of spending so have it back,” he said. Instead, the county first paid for maintenance needs. Another chunk went to pay for economic development projects in Indianola, Norwalk and Carlisle. And a large chunk went to community projects, ranging from $125,000 for a future new home for the Kiya Koda humane society to $500 to educate county residents on recycling.
One of DeKock’s favorites was a $6,000 request for a dog park in Lacona.
“That young lady had a beautiful presentation,” said DeKock. “It was heartwarming to hear a young person be engaged and want to make her community better The world needs a lot of that.”
DeKock decided not to run for reelection. Mark Snell of Norwalk ran unopposed to replace him. DeKock said he is leaving county government with most of the big projects checked off.
“The shop site is coming along. Towers are up, the Justice Center is done. We didn't turn 80th Avenue into a gravel road, economic development is moving, the tax rates are decreasing,” he said. “From a broad viewpoint, I’m pretty pleased about that.”
In addition to completing the big projects, Supervisor Crystal McIntyre said DeKock made the job fun.
“He made this job very enjoyable,” said McIntyre during the Dec. 20 meeting. “He is a person of fairness and I’ve really grown to respect him very much.”
DeKock said during remarks at his final regular meeting that he wanted to thank both citizens of the county and employees.
“The more I did county government the more I understand how blessed we are,” he said. “Most counties would change places with us in a quick minute. We have growth, look at the census numbers, the rezoning numbers, the home starts, we’re really on the right track.”
And while growth can be hard, he said, “growth helps massage and fix a lot of issues.”
While there has been disagreement during his time in office, DeKock said he realized the only person he would agree with “100 percent of the time is myself. Even when you disagree,” he added, “people are coming to disagreement with the best of intentions.
“Thanks for the opportunity to serve,” he concluded. “Be kind to one another.”