Fitting in: Koeper assumes role as Cape County's 1st District commissioner

Monday, January 5, 2009
Cape Girardeau County District 1 commissioner Paul Koeper works in the commission chamber Friday before his new office was set up.

Today is Paul Koeper's first official meeting as Cape Girardeau County's 1st District commissioner.

He's been meeting with county officials, including Presiding Commissioner Gerald Jones and 2nd District Commissioner Jay Purcell, to get oriented to his new responsibilities.

At 53, Koeper represents the shift between how things have always been done and how they may be done in the future. He calls e-mail "a good avenue" for communications, but would rather use his cell phone to have a conversation than exchange text messages with people.

He arrives in office at a time of economic uncertainty and will likely be confirmed today as the commissioner responsible for overseeing the county's highway administration department and its $3 million budget.

A civil engineer with 31 years working for Jackson-based Penzel Construction, Koeper once prepared bids for county projects, such as the County Road 274 bridge. Over the next several weeks, he'll hand off the last of his corporate duties, taking care, he said, to abstain from any votes related to county contracts held by his former employer.

Koeper's campaign promises included rebuilding trust in the commission, holding evening town-hall-style meetings and rewriting the county's road-paving policy. He is in the process of moving into the office once shared by Jones and Purcell -- Purcell has said he'll relocate closer to the third-floor commission chambers -- and said Friday he plans on working from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

Both veteran commissioners said they are eager to work with Koeper, for his "new and fresh ideas."

On Friday, Koeper took a break from setting up office files to answer a series of questions on what lies ahead.

Among his initial goals, he said, is cleaning out the highway administrations offices by making electronic records of little-used documents to create more space and getting all the road easements in one place. He said he plans to improve customer service for people visiting the county highway department.

Here is an excerpt of the 20-minute question-and-answer session:

Q: If you budget $12 million and only $11 million comes in, then what?

A: In July or August, we'll really cut back, and hopefully by the end of the year, we've got it back to where we need to be. It's the first time I've been through this, so I'm going to be interested to see how it goes.

Q. What do you think of assuming other roles [as a commissioner] that have been traditionally assigned to the 2nd District commissioner -- information technology, building and grounds, parks?

A. I would like to see that all worked out to where it would get back to where it should be, the way it was. Hopefully Mr. Jones and Mr. Purcell would be able to reconcile their differences and get this back to normal.

Q. There's an ongoing lawsuit [filed by Purcell against the body of the commission, which includes Purcell, alleging Sunshine Law violations] -- some people think it is resolved, because a judgment was issued [against Purcell], but that lawsuit is under appeal [filed in November by Purcell[']s attorney, though no court date has been set] -- What can you do to help resolve that?

A. I've talked to Mr. Purcell and Mr. Jones and tried to relay to them that we're here to serve the people and let's try to resolve this thing before it goes any further, costs the county any more money, costs anybody any more money. It gets to the point where it's kind of foolish to carry it on, but if one person -- and evidently Mr. Purcell feels pretty strong that he's got a case and he wants his name cleared -- he's got to do what he's got to do.

Q. Do you see yourself going to the extent of putting it on the agenda?

A. I haven't even thought about that. Probably if I made a motion, it probably wouldn't even be heard.

Q. At this point, or in general?

A. I don't know ... I've got a lot of things to do. Something like that would just mess up things and get the pot stirred up. I'd just as soon move on, but it's going to be hard to do and I understand that.

Q. What would you say would be the strengths [Jones and Purcell] bring or the things they have in common?

A. They both have dealt with the public ... I haven't directly, like they have. [Both] have a lot of dealing with businesses. Gerald does a very good job of keeping the doors open there for bringing in new business and Jay does the same thing and wants to do more ... that's a very, very important part of this. Jay, I think, is probably the most knowledgeable out of all three of us in anything to do with technology and computers. When I was running for this job, I told people if my job has to deal with computers and technology, you'll see me running for the county line, not for this job (laughs).

Q. How do you stand on moving the county into a charter form of government?

A. I'm not sure that Cape Girardeau is quite ready for charter. I've talked to people in Jefferson County about it. There's a lot of work to be done there. I'm not against it, if that's what everybody wants to do. I hope that it's not too costly, because it could be. I don't know all the costs, but I'm not against it, by any means.


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