Douglas County, Neb. Commissioner Mary Ann Borgeson was sworn in July 15 as NACo’s new president at the 84th Annual Conference & Exposition in Clark County, Nev. County News interviewed Borgeson at the conference, ahead of her year as president. She discussed why her initiative of helping the elderly is a very personal one and the international leaders who inspired her own leadership style.
How did you get involved with county government?
“My husband… he encouraged me to run. I knew nothing about politics really or county government, but he encouraged me to throw my hat in the ringer. I was doing my undergraduate degree at UNO and we had to take a federal, state and local issue and do a paper on it and study the issue. At the time, Douglas County was looking at buying a horse racetrack and I couldn’t quite figure out, not knowing all I know about county government, why’d the county want to buy a horse racetrack. That’s what I did my paper on and my husband encouraged me to continue to look into it.”
What was it about local government that grabbed your interest?
“I’m an X-ray technologist, so the medical side of things that county government was involved in, in terms of mental health, the general assistance primary health care and really just kind of the health and human services areas of county government. The county [level] is really where you touch the lives of people every single day because of the health and human service aspect and the criminal justice aspect.”
What do you hope to accomplish as NACo president?
“One, keep NACo running as smooth and great as it is. I’m anxious to keep moving NACo forward. Hopefully, increasing the membership. We’re at an all-time high right now — but continuing to do that. Then of course, my initiative which is working on the older adults, age-friendly counties as well as the care-giving aspect of taking care of older adults.”
What got you interested in your initiative to focus on the nation’s aging population?
“This is real personal. My mother has Alzheimer’s dementia and my daddy always took care of her. Well, he ended up getting stage 4 lymphoma. I was thrown into that [caregiver] role and you get a different perspective when you are. I still have a family that I needed to take care of but now I was also taking care of my parents. On the flip side of that, I’m blessed that I’m able to do that because it got me thinking about our county employees. If I had a job where I was either tied to a desk, like a 911 operator, you can’t just up and leave in the middle of your shift to go take your parents to a doctor’s appointment or a treatment. It really got me thinking, ‘How do we take care of the caregivers and make sure that we’re giving them the things that they need to stay healthy and well?’ By 2035, the population is going to be more people over the age of 65 than there are 18 year olds. We have some work to do to make sure that we are keeping our older adults in their homes because that’s where they want to stay, and make sure that where they’re staying is safe for them and that their quality of life stays high.”
What are the top issues you hear county officials talk about?
“The big one that everybody talks about a lot is our mental health and jails issue. It just seems to be growing and growing. Also, just mental health in general. We’re seeing and hearing about people coming forward with those issues who are much younger. Of course, you have the whole environmental issues that we talk about, HR issues that we talk about — being able to keep employees.”
What is your leadership style and who were your influences to make you the leader you are now?
“I loved watching Mother Teresa and Princess Diana. The reason is, they led with their heart. You can’t be a good leader if all you want to do is dictate. You have to embrace the people. Let them help you to make you a good leader. I think I do a good job and I pride myself on listening to folks. I don’t know it all and I don’t claim to know it all and I don’t want to know it all. I want to learn from people. I work more as a team and you don’t see ‘I’ in the word team.”