CNCounty News

Now I Know to Build Your Network

North Dakota Association of Counties (NDACo) President Jayme Tenneson (center), with colleagues on the association’s Board of Directors (l-r): Nick Moser, third vice president (Cavalier County), Trudy Ruland, first vice president (Mountrail County), Tenneson, Chad Kaiser, second vice president (Stutsman county) and Steve Lee, past president (McLean County). Photo courtesy of NDACo

Key Takeaways

by Jayne Tenneson, Nelson County and Griggs County, N.D.

While I was in law school, I thought about pursuing family law or maybe being a prosecutor. It seemed like something I could manage while continuing to farm.

About 11 years ago, there was some turmoil over a courthouse construction project in my county and residents proposed a recall. 

A few candidates running to replace the commissioners asked me if I would be interested in serving as state’s attorney if they won. They ended up sweeping the recall and I became a county prosecutor.

I came into the position really green and had to learn how to navigate and I figured I’d end up going to the Law School of Hard Knocks, a lot of long nights at the office. But during those nights, I started making calls to my colleagues. I’d call law school classmates, I’d call Aaron Birst, who was the general counsel at the state association, and I received a lot of guidance from them. 

I didn’t even realize at the time how strong my network was. So, when I’d have a problem I either couldn’t figure out on my own or needed some outside perspective, I’d make a call. I started meeting other prosecutors from other counties and they became a part of my network. 

There’s another North Dakota prosecutor who I’ve known since high school, but I also meet people through the state association or in continuing legal education classes.

Sometimes, I’m calling about technical aspects of the law, but a lot of times it’s a soft skills question or a work-life balance question. I have friends that are in larger communities, and they can walk into a grocery store or restaurant and the server or whoever is helping them, they don’t care who they are, they’re anonymous. I walk into the grocery store, the gas station, and if I’m wearing a suit, everyone in there knows I’m going to court. I can’t be anonymous.

When I started, I just wanted to make it through a year without being recalled myself. Then I started getting some calls from young attorneys and I realized things had come full circle. I’ve been doing this for more than 10 years and I never want to get complacent. So you always try to learn more; but I realized I was now someone people called to ask for advice and bounce ideas off of. I’m one of the experienced guys now. 

Now I Know explores experiences that have shaped county officials’ approach to their work; as told to Senior Writer and Digital Editor Charlie Ban.

Tagged In:

Related News

Davison County, S.D. auditor Susan Kiepke recounts asking her friends if their college-aged children would be interested in working her county’s post-election audit. Orange County, Fla. Mayor Jerry Demings sits to her left. Photo by Denny Henry
County News

Counties are positioned to heal dissatisfaction with American democracy

When political tension threatens to further divide Americans, it falls to county governments to build on the connections and demonstrate the responsiveness that engenders trust and confidence. 

Dominique Dawes holds her Olympic gold medal as she delivers an inspiring address to NACo members July 14 at the Tampa Convention Center. Photo by Denny Henry
County News

Olympic gymnast: ‘Check your ego at the door’ to excel at teamwork

Three-time Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes championed teamwork, saying “checking your ego at the door” is the key to success, at NACo’s General Session on July 14.