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North Bend Eagle

 

 

Legler saw it all in 13 years of service

by Nathan Arneal
published 8/26/09

North Bend mayor Karan Legler resigned at the Aug. 18 City Council meeting, bringing an end to her 13 years of public service to North Bend. The resignation was made necessary by her impending move across the river to Morse Bluff, where she has purchased a home.

Mayor Karan Legler presides over her last City Council meeting as mayor.
Karan Leger presides over the Aug. 18 City Council meeting, her last as mayor of North Bend.

Legler was appointed to the Council in 1996. Since that time she has served as the one constant in the council chamber, as a revolving door of more than a dozen people filled the other four elected positions in the city government.

After the infamous recall election of 2004, she moved into the mayor’s chair. She was reelected to her own term in 2006.

As mayor of North Bend, Legler forged a no-nonsense reputation in running meetings and was not afraid to censure council members for going off-task or taking the heat for making controversial decisions.

In an interview with the North Bend Eagle, Legler looked back on her years on the Council and as mayor, a time span that included some of the stormiest years in North Bend governmental history.

North Bend Eagle: What got you interested in serving on the City Council in the first place?
Karan Legler: I had someone dare me to do it. At the time there was two open seats and no one running for the City Council. Someone said “Let’s write you in,” and I said “Fine,” and they did. I got 36 votes and I found out that I really enjoyed this.

NBE: What is there to enjoy about the job?
KL: I was giving something back to the city. I could see where there were things that needed to be done, and if my vote could help get it done, I was there.

NBE: Are you a different person now in the council chambers compared to when you first started?
KL: Oh, heavens yes. It is something you grow into. As you go on along you acquire the knowledge that you need for the job. It’s amazing what you think you have to know, but basically what it is is common sense. It’s working with people and listening to people. I didn’t do that before. I do now.
I take responsibility now for things that are done in the city. When I first started I would say “I didn’t do it. What do you want me to do?” and most people would just walk away. Then I figured, I’m on here, let me do something, so I started doing things. At first I worked in the background. I didn’t like being the spokesman. I would put ideas in somebody’s head and let them run with it while I stand back and make a few suggestions along the way. Now I’m more comfortable with (being more vocal and in front).

NBE: What are some of the highlights of your time on the council as far as what you accomplished?
KL: We had a fire in town and we ran out of city water. We needed a (new) water tower badly. My main objective was to make sure we had water in town that would take care of a fire. Before if we’d have had a fire on Main Street, we would’ve lost the whole town. Now we have enough water we can save it.
The sewer system was getting old and dilapidated. Other (previous) councilmen and mayors wanted to save money and show that they had saved money, but they never took care of the sewers. So we spent over a quarter of a million dollars to bring it up to where it should have been all along. Now we have a sewer system that will not only take care of North Bend, but we could also take care of the two new subdivisions out there. If they need us, we can do it.
Getting storm sirens in town. (When I started) we didn’t have a siren that everybody could hear. Now we have two that everyone in town can hear outside. People at the golf course, or in Morse Bluff, or kids at the pool, they had no warning, and I wanted to make sure we had that.

NBE: What’s been the biggest challenge of your time?
KL: Working with Mike Williams. I’m sorry, but that was my biggest challenge. I had to constantly be there and be monitoring what he said. When he was recalled and then I found out I was going to be mayor, I was shocked. I didn’t (support the recall) for that. I did it because I knew if he stayed on North Bend would be in dire jeopardy, and we didn’t need that. I try to do everything strictly thinking of what’s going to happen with the town.

NBE: How tough was it to go through the recall and did it have a negative effect on the town?
KL: At the time it did have a very negative effect. We had relation in San Francisco, Calif. They were following us on their local TV. We had people in New York call back and ask, “What are you guys doing?” I had several phone interviews with the Associated Press. The World-Herald called constantly. It had a very negative affect. (After becoming mayor) I had to find somebody to take my place on the Council, and I had a very hard time because of all the negative attention. If it wasn’t for Dr. Mark Johnson (who agreed to fill the vacancy) I don’t know what I would have done. He was a godsend.

NBE: Did it take a while for things to heal after that situation?
KL: People were happy it was over with and we got back into the grove of things really easy. But it took a while for people out of state and other places to forget that North Bend wasn’t this den of iniquity.

NBE: How different are the roles of a council member and mayor?
KL: They are not similar at all. When you are on the City Council you act, you vote. If you are the mayor, everything is done with and by the consent of the Council. You don’t have a vote. You can suggest, but that doesn’t mean they will go along with you. The power is with the Council, not the mayor.
I work very closely with the city clerk. I have read our city ordinances frontwards and backwards. I’ve read that book about four times trying to figure out what the wording really meant.

NBE: So as the mayor, you are the figurehead and one people look to, yet you have no real power. Is that kind of frustrating?
KL: It’s very frustrating at times. You have to be a good diplomat. You can’t just walk into a meeting and say “This is the way it’s going to be” because the council can say “No, it’s not.” If they vote against it, you have do what they say. I have often wished I was still president of the Council.

NBE: What is your perceptions of the public’s perception of the Council?
KL: I think local citizens do not understand what it means to be on the Council. They think it’s a plush little job that they get paid for and they don’t really do anything. But we do a lot. There’s a lot of meetings that we attend, and we can’t go in blind. We have to do our studying and try to understand what we’re doing. If we don’t understand it we talk to (city clerk) Theresa (Busse). If she doesn’t know the answer, we call the attorney or call the engineer. I’ve called the League of Municipalities several times to find out what the legal way of doing things is. You have to stay above board and legal on everything you do. Now days everybody’s so quick to sue, you have to make sure you know exactly what can be done and what can’t be done. You have to know the law before you go in.

NBE: You have served on the council or as mayor for 13 years. Once you leave the most experienced person on the council will have served just two years. Does that concern you at all?
KL: The Council we have now is so young, they don’t understand what it is to be in that position yet. They have a lot of learning to do. I hope they do their homework. I have drummed into them ‘Before you come to a meeting, do your homework. If you don’t understand it, find someone that does. If there’s an insurance problem, go to the insurance man and let him talk to you.
I’ve tried to teach a lot of this stuff to (new mayor) Jeff (Kluthe), but I put him in a horrible position. I didn’t realize that I was going to buy a house (in Morse Bluff). If it were up to me, I’d travel back and forth. It’s not that far, but the state of Nebraska frowns on that.

NBE: What advice have you given to Kluthe?
To use common sense. Don’t jump off the handle, use common sense. Think before you speak because once you say it, it’s out there and you can’t bring it back. And whatever you do, tell the truth. Do not expect people to say “Oh, that’s just a little white lie.” No. Anything you say in the council chambers or in city hall is open to public scrutiny. Don’t go and say “Oh, that ordinance is nothing. We’ll let it slide this time.” It can’t be done. Don’t put that into people’s heads. We had a lot of stuff when I first started that was just overlooked because (the violators) were “good people.” You cannot do that. You can’t judge. Try to treat people the way you would want to be treated.
I regret that I have to leave, but that house wasn’t going to stay on the market forever. I wanted to finish out my term. But I think it’s time for young blood to come into the Council and the mayor and get some fresh ideas in here. We need this.

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