ROCKWELL CITY - Mayor Phil Heinlen may not have been elected to "clean up the streets," but for 34 years now, he's been doing just that for three counties. Heinlen's full-time job is highway maintenance supervisor for the Department of Transportation.
"I supervise the maintenance of all the state highways in Calhoun, Sac and Carroll counties," Heinlen said. "We have a garage in each county."
That adds up to roughly 500 lane-miles of state highway, he said. But he doesn't have a set schedule for looking it all over.
"I don't try to see every lane-mile in a certain period. Everything is so knee-jerk, you know, when you have a drainage issue down by Manning, you go down there and deal with it. You've got a pavement issue up by Manson, you go deal with it."
The biggest thing that's happened in Heinlen's 34 years is the opening of U.S. Highway 20 as a four-lane road.
By this fall, Heinlen said, four-lane U.S. Highway 20 should be open all the way from Moorland to Early. This will add 20 more miles to his jurisdiction, or 80 lane-miles.
"You've got to get different equipment, and the guys have to have a different mindset when they're plowing snow," he said.
Heinlen has been mayor since 2000, and served on the city council starting in 1998.
"I really didn't have any desire to run back in '97 or '98, but I was asked to be involved, and once I got involved I found it to be pretty rewarding," he said. "It's a way you can pay back to your home community."
Heinlen was born in Rockwell City, and lived there all his life except when he attended college.
"It's interesting work," he said. "Sometimes it's a little mind-boggling when you are dealing with Washington, D.C. ... When you deal with bureaucracy, that's a good lesson learned right there - you don't want to be that way on a local level."
He said the most enjoyable part of his job has been interacting with the citizens. He also said he's had two very good city clerks, and the City Council is fun to work with.
"If I dreaded going to council meetings, that would be a whole different situation," he said.
"When I was elected, I made one commitment to treat everybody the same - treat everybody fair. If you can keep that commitment to yourself, you can get along with pretty much anybody and just deal with issues."
As mayor, Heinlen does a lot of work with Rockwell City's Revitalization Committee.
"At the first meeting, I think there were 107 people in attendance. At the second meeting there were about 67 people in attendance. You know where I'm going with this," he said. "Now a couple years later, there's a core group of about a dozen people that come to meetings. It's good we're still active, but you'd want a whole lot more citizen input than that."
He said the core group is pretty dedicated and not going anywhere. And they've made good progress in the town.
Heinlen has been heavily involved in building Rockwell City's new library and community center, which was finished four years ago.
As a committee member, he was involved with the building concept, planning and fundraising. As mayor, he was the owner's representative, dealing with the contractors and subcontractors. Then, when the building was finished, he moved into another hands-on role.
"I ran some ads for a custodian for the community center side of it; we already had a custodian for the library side," he said. "We ran an ad for two weeks, and really didn't get any response."
So Heinlen went home and asked his son if he wanted to make some money.
Heinlen, his wife and his son eventually decided to handle custodial work and maintenance of the building as a family.
"The three of us are here working. I'm up here more than anyone else," Heinlen said. "I'm up here pretty much every night of the week, cleaning up. You've got your restrooms and the entryway, and you may have to take down one room and set it up for another thing. Say this room is set up for a city development meeting tomorrow afternoon; tomorrow night we'll come in here and totally rearrange it for the Rotary Club dinner on Friday."
Heinlen said the city is moving in the right direction. He also had some ideas about what else the city might develop in the future.
"One thing I'd really like to see is a trail system," Heinlen said. "It would go inside Rockwell City, like from the schools to the parks, or something like that. But thinking outside the box, it would go to Twin Lakes. However, four-lane 20 has put a crimp in those plans. It kind of gotten in the way."
Between the difficulty in crossing U.S. Highway 20, and the money it would take to build the trails, Heinlen wasn't sure if the idea would ever happen. Still, he thought it would be a good addition to the town.
"I was just reading the other day, to draw young people into your community a trail system is huge. A lake is even bigger, if you're lucky enough to have a lake. So you play the cards you're dealt."