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For the week of Mar. 22 through Mar. 28, 2000

Harlig to bow out

County’s heavy hitter explains decision not to run again

Express Staff Writer

Leonard Harlig

No doubt, being a county commissioner is a tough job. Low pay, long hours, no privacy, pesky reporters and more work like grist in a mill to wear out a person.

So why get into it? And what makes a powerful incumbent want to get out?

Soon-to-retire two-term Blaine County Commissioner Leonard Harlig offered some answers to those questions during a late-night telephone call from his home Thursday.

Reporter: Is it true that you’re leaving office early and that Sally Donart (local Democratic party organizer) will take over your seat until your term expires?

Harlig: Where did that come from?…I certainly didn’t indicate to anyone that I intend to leave my post before the term is completed. There’s always the possibility that family issues, or my own health might change that. At the moment, as far as I know, I will finish the job I set out to do.

Reporter: Why have you decided not to run again?

Harlig: I had actually decided not to run again the last time, but I had been instrumental in getting the St. Luke’s folks here and in helping to raise the money for the campaign. When I announced that I wasn’t going to run again, a fairly large number of people came forward and said, "You need to see that St. Luke’s deal through to its completion… ." So I ran for the two-year term, but I had already made up my mind that I had done enough. You can only do this kind of work so long… and then you have to think about your health, your sanity, and your longevity.

Reporter: What did you do before you a were county commissioner?

Harlig: I had a restaurant, hotel and banquet facility in the San Fernando Valley—the Sportsman’s Lodge. It was a very successful and very satisfying business for me to be in, but I had decided it was time to do something else, and when my wife and I came to this place in 1973, that was all it took for me to decide to go back and sell my business and move up here.

Reporter: Were you involved in politics in Los Angeles?

Harlig: No. I was in business and nothing more. I wasn’t involved in politics, either, when I came up here for the first 10 years. I was just retired and loving it. I got a call one night from a couple of friends of mine in the south county, Nick Purdy and Robert Gardner, and they said, "We’ve got an opening on the planning and zoning commission for somebody in the north end of the valley; will you accept the appointment?" I said, "Absolutely not." And they said, "Three hours a month—surely you can figure out a way to give that much of your time back." I couldn’t figure out a way to say no to that. Next thing I knew, I was working 40 hours a week as a planning and zoning commissioner, and I decided that if I really wanted to make an imprint and help my community, I needed to be an elected officer, so I ran for county commissioner.

Reporter: You must get some satisfaction out of it to do it as long as you have (for nearly six years).

Harlig: There’s a lot of satisfaction. Otherwise, why would anybody do this kind of work, for that kind of money?

Reporter: What do you find satisfying about it?

Harlig: I think helping to reflect the values of the community and get them into the comprehensive plan and into the ordinances—perhaps set the tone for the future of this valley—is as good a contribution as anybody can make to a place that they love and want to see stay as wonderful as it is.

Reporter: So what part of the job makes you insane?

Harlig: The time is a huge factor, and there’s no privacy, and as you’ve noticed, people call at all hours of the day and night—on the weekends and holidays—and they stop you on the street. That’s part of the public service, and I accept that, but I’ll be happy to go back to a life where I can do what I want, when I want, rather than always being at people’s beck and call.


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