FAIRMONT - After 16 years on Fairmont City Council, Harlan Gorath admits he is disappointed he won't be serving another term.
He narrowly lost to opponent Chad Askeland in November, but in his own words, he's not "sour grapes" about it.
Looking back on his tenure, Gorath speaks affectionately of his constituents, and the council members and city staff he worked alongside.
In 1996, Gorath was encouraged by then-Mayor Donna Holstein to run for a mid-term election in Ward 2. He said yes, and that was how the high school social studies teacher got started in local politics.
It was an interesting time in Fairmont's recent history. The first big decision Gorath faced as a councilman involved the selection of a city administrator.
"We had some difficulty getting a good fit for the job, and then an opportunity came to combine Jim Zarling's role as finance director with the city administrator position," Gorath said, referring to the recently retired Zarling.
Meanwhile, a commission was in the process of revamping the City Charter. According to Gorath, the commission's efforts changed the way City Hall functioned and minimized micromanagement, giving more authority to department supervisors instead of having everything funneled through the city administrator.
"I don't know how I can give Jim Zarling enough credit for teaching me about political civility," Gorath said.
He praised his mentor for helping him realize that no matter what a constituent's concern, if that person was taking the time to pick up the phone and share that concern, it was a big deal and needed to be addressed.
During council meetings over the years, Gorath frequently spoke up, bringing up problems people had shared with him, from barking dogs, to loose animals, to snowy sidewalks. Publicly, he would make a plea for people to be more conscientious and courteous to their neighbors.
For any of the success the council had during his tenure, Gorath gives credit to the group as a whole, uncomfortable even using the word "I" instead of "we."
"Some good things happened when I was on the council, but those weren't my accomplishments," he said.
Highlights he mentioned include the Fairmont Aquatic Park, the soccer fields, the leaf compost area and tree dump.
"One thing that made my time on the council enjoyable is it seemed like we always had a council willing to listen and compromise for the good of the whole city," Gorath said. "Constituent input was so, so important."
His ward has faced some unique challenges in recent years, due to a number of construction projects, such as the soccer fields, street projects, the demolition of Budd School, the expansion of Fairmont Elementary and the addition of a new water plant.
"The people were inconvenienced, they definitely were by construction trucks and off-street parking, and the noise, and the people were so tolerant. ... They could see the big picture," he said.
While on the council, Gorath also represented the city with Region 9, the Traverse des Sioux Library System, and the League of Minnesota Cities, all of which he enjoyed and all of which he will miss.
"I enjoy it, all of it," he said. "I'll miss the people. I'll miss the people I worked for - the constituents - and I'll miss the people I worked with - the councilors and city staff, just a great group of people."
Going into 2013, Gorath will have more time on his hands, but he isn't worried about how to fill it. He has been active with Early Risers Kiwanis for several years now, and he plans look for other opportunities to get involved in the community. And though he has retired as a high school teacher, Gorath works as adjunct faculty with student teachers from Minnesota State-Mankato. In the near future, he will be working with area schools on staff development programs.
Most important, he will be able to spend more time with his wife, Larainne, and his daughter, Heather, and her family, including his granddaughter, Brenna.
"Nana and Papa will be spending more time with Brenna, there's no two ways about it," Gorath said.