In Paul Franke’s eyes, too many people give up on the chance to serve in county government because they have a fear of losing.
Despite winning seven elections, serving 10 years on Bartholomew County Council and 16 years as a county commissioner, Franke said he never went into election night with a winning speech prepared. Instead, he was ready with a speech should he lose.
“There are people who have won election after election after election, and then one day it is over,” Franke said. “I decided that before the voters told me to go home, that maybe at the age of 68 it was time to go home. It was time to close this chapter on my life and retire, turn it over to a young guy like Rick (Flohr.)”
Franke attended his final Bartholomew County government meeting as an elected official Thursday morning. Flohr was sworn in Tuesday as his replacement for the District 3 seat on the Board of Commissioners.
Franke said serving as a commissioner and a council member were great experiences, but he observed that few people take a chance on running.
“That fear of getting beat keeps a lot of good people from putting their name on the ballot,” he said.
Losing can be a humiliating experience, “but you have to accept that when you put your name on the ballot,” Franke said.
The county commissioners are the county’s executive body, supervising employees and daily operations, while the County Council appropriates funds to pay the bills.
Former County Council President Keith Sells served with Franke on the council and recalled going through the budget, line-by-line with Franke looking for places to trim.
“I kid him all the time, ‘I would like to see you recirculate back to the County Council. When you and I were on there, we cut everything. You become a county commissioner, and you have never seen a dollar you didn’t want to spend,’” Sells joked.
Sells said he appreciated Franke’s common sense.
“He was always the sort of a guy who brought everything back to ground pretty quickly,” Sells said. “He had a little bit of wit to him that put everything back in the right perspective.”
Council member Evelyn Pence recalled Franke’s wisdom when he balked at a $25,000 matching grant to unlock more federal funds for a youth services center.
“Paul said, ‘Before you know it, it will be $1 million,’” Pence said.
Franke’s prediction eventually came to pass.
“I always thought he had good judgment, and he was always interested in serving the county,” she said.
Franke said his philosophy has always been about getting taxpayers more bang for their buck.
“There (are) a lot of people who say, ‘Well if I was on the council, this is what I would do,’” Franke said. “But then when you get on the council, you have to make the system work. And it is the same way with being a commissioner; you have to make the system work.”
Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz has served with Franke for 16 years as a commissioner, but he was first elected to the board when Franke was on County Council. He remembers Franke and other council members helping him learn the ropes of county government.
“They understood how government worked,” Kleinhenz said. “They were very helpful. It was a learning relationship for me to go up there and have meetings with people who had been on the council for almost a decade. It was easy to learn from them, and they were very good teachers.”
As a council member, Franke also served on the Bartholomew County Plan Commission. One of his first meetings involved the relocation of the county landfill, which resulted in a room packed with angry people. Since being on the Board of Commissioners, he said he can remember fewer than a handful of hostile meetings.
Franke first ran for County Council at the request of longtime Republican Party chairman Virgil Scheidt. It came by way of Jackie Duke, a precinct committee member and former party secretary and clerk. Franke’s father had served on the council in the 1960s.
But the evening after filing for County Council, on a drive to The Brick in Jonesville, he told a friend that he really had his sights set on the Board of Commissioners.
Since then, he has encouraged others to run, including Flohr and County Commissioner Carl Lienhoop.
“Paul has been a great mentor,” Lienhoop said.
Lienhoop said he has been impressed with Franke’s honesty and with his knowledge of history.
Franke attributed the storehouse of knowledge from his years going to a one-room school in Waymansville. While the teacher spent time with students in other grades, Franke would pull encyclopedias off the shelf to read them.
As a public servant, Kleinhenz said Franke had impressed him with his forward thinking.
“He would analyze things, the jail, whatever we have done with buildings, whatever we have done with policy, he was very quick to be forward thinking and ask, ‘How will this affect us 10, 15, 20 years from now?’” Kleinhenz said.
Franke, Kleinhenz and Lienhoop agreed that their biggest accomplishment together was expansion at the Bartholomew County Jail.
“Hopefully there will not be a group of commissioners, sitting in this room, for the next 50 years, planning an expansion to the jail,” Franke said. “I hope we planned far enough down the road.”
Franke already has retired from working on his farm, and it has been about five years since he last drove a school bus. He is looking forward to taking a trip with his wife, Jeanine, to Custer State Park in South Dakota for their 10-year wedding anniversary.
After that, he would like to take more road trips. He has a stepdaughter working as a nurse in Los Angeles they would like to visit.
“I’ve thought that I would like to go to Seymour, take a right on U.S. 50 and drive until I get to the end of it,” Franke said.
Now he’s got the time.
Residence: Wayne Township
Occupation: Retired farmer and cattleman, bus driver for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.
Family: Married for 34 years to his late wife, Jean, with whom Franke has two daughters, a son and a grandson; married for nine years to Jeanine, with whom Franke has a stepdaughter and a stepson.
Offices held: Just completed fourth and final term as Bartholomew County commissioner. Served on County Council for 10 years.