By Sarah Pridgeon
Jeanne Whalen will seek a third term on the Crook County Commission this year, promising to maintain her deep involvement in the county’s operations and the policy of open government that first inspired her to run for office.
“The first time I ran, I was fed up because I thought there needed to be a change in how the county was being run,” she explains.
“Too many times I attended commission meetings where citizens had legitimate concerns and they took the time to appear and say their piece, only to have the commissioners not acknowledge their issues.”
Whalen had almost decided not to run again, she says, but was urged by many voters to do so because she is willing to listen and learn and makes a habit of getting involved as much as she can. She put her name on the ballot in the hopes of maintaining the progress she has helped the commission make.
Among the issues she has been involved with, Whalen recalls working on the policy that now protects citizens and county infrastructure when Oneok Pipelines Inc. installed their Bakken Pipeline. This could not have been achieved, she says, without partnerships and communication with other agencies.
“My second term, I finally figured out the job and could make some progress in representing Crook County in public land issues,” she continues. “I have a degree in outdoor education from Black Hills State, and as a family we spend a lot of time out of doors. Crook County is made up of 25 percent public lands so the decisions made in Washington D.C. and Cheyenne affect what we do here.”
Whalen took part in several national phone conferences regarding the potential listing of the Northern Long Eared Bat as an endangered species and attended weekly meetings for two years to represent the county as a cooperating agency on the Rare Element Resources mine proposal. She was also on several committees representing the county during the mountain pine beetle epidemic and served two terms on the Black Hills National Forest Advisory Board; Whalen was vice chairwoman when her term ended.
“One thing we have implemented is that, on the Wednesday of our commission meetings, we invite the National Park Service, BLM, BHNF, Bureau of Reclamation, Keyhole State Park and other agencies who deal with natural resource issues to come and tell us what is going on in their world,” she says.
“The partnerships and idea sharing make these monthly meetings enjoyable and informative.”
Whalen says she also carefully reads the volumes of documents given to the commissioners each month, regularly travels the roads with the Road & Bridge Foreman and serves on the Fire Advisory Board.
“I do come to town weekly to check in at the courthouse,” she adds.
“I go to meetings within the county every week, sometimes two or three times a week.”
If re-elected, Whalen hopes to continue her focus on knowing what’s happening within the county.
“I would like to get more involved on economic development,” she says. “I was one of a group of Crook County citizens who attended one of Gov. Mead’s economic summits a few years ago and we came back with some neat ideas.”
It would require partnerships with the school districts and business leaders to support a program to make our high school graduates more readily employable in the trades, she says.
“This region can use more plumbers, butchers, construction workers, small business owners,” Whalen says. “I don’t know where county government fits in that picture, but I would like to continue supporting the work that has been done so far to make this happen.”
With grown children and a working husband, Whalen says she has the time necessary to properly represent the county.
“This is absolutely the best job; I can see ideas being created, developed and implemented,” she says. “The process takes a long time but, when it works out, it’s so satisfying.”
Whalen moved to the Black Hills in 1980 to work in Custer State Park, having grown up in Indiana. She is married to longtime area rancher George Whalen and has two children, both college graduates.
“Commissioner is my full time job but I also have worked off and on at the Aladdin Cafe and Motel for years,” she says. “I like to camp and travel around the Hills for fun.”