Crow Wing County Board District 3: Barrows wants to build on successes, return to board
The 74-year-old Baxter resident is seeking his second term representing District 3 on the Crow Wing County Board and faces four challengers headed into the Aug. 9 primary.
BRAINERD — Steve Barrows said he’s always put forward 100% effort in his position as Crow Wing County commissioner, and he intends to carry that commitment forward for another term.
“This is what I'm committed to doing, and I believe that's what the people elect you to do. I'm not a part-time commissioner,” Barrows said during a July 7 interview. “If I get called out on a Sunday, I'll be there on Sunday. Middle of the night, middle of the night. … But my commitment is to put those hours in to listen to what the people are saying, listen to what the businesses are saying, and then try to figure out what the solution to the problem is.”
The 74-year-old Baxter resident is seeking his second term representing District 3 on the Crow Wing County Board and faces four challengers headed into the Aug. 9 primary. Barrows said he wants to continue improving the county’s financial position by strengthening its fund balances and keeping expenses down while focusing on issues he’s found most pressing for county residents: affordable housing, accessible child care and broadband expansion.
Barrows is retired after a nearly 30-year career at the Minnesota Department of Human Services, where he spent time working at the former state hospital near Brainerd and later in accounting for the agency. The married father of four and two stepchildren previously served on the Baxter City Council before pursuing an open County Board seat in 2018.
Barrows said his professional and personal experiences — including losing two of his sons to seizure activity while a third son lives in a group home afflicted with seizures as well — translate to someone able to empathize with the needs and struggles of his constituents.
As a former state employee, his knowledge of how those governmental agencies work coupled with his firsthand experience with witnessing people suffer and recover from mental illness are assets he brings. He said he believes everyone deserves a chance by virtue of being human, whether faced with addiction issues or mental health problems.
“They are human beings that are worth investing in. And if we can save one or two or three or four of them and return them to a productive life, isn't that better than having those three or four continue to do the kinds of things that they’re doing?” Barrows said. “ … I believe that we have to invest because again, they are living human beings, and they are part of our society.”
The county must play a larger role in establishing greater access to mental health care in rural areas, he said, by encouraging state partners to build more group homes and finding ways to attract psychiatrists to practice in the region.
He said he’s particularly proud of the efforts of county community services to reduce the costs associated with out-of-home placements of children to the tune of $1.5 million, while at the same time preventing some of those family separations in the first place. It’s a good return on investment, he said, because it will ultimately lead to fewer people in need of social services in the long run.
“It takes an investment. And we're going to pay as a taxpayer one way or the other,” Barrows said. “So to me, it's paramount that we look at which way do we want to pay? Do we want to have to incarcerate people? Do we want to have to take children away from families? Are there other alternatives that can address those issues that are less expensive?”
Barrows also pointed to the county’s good stewardship of coronavirus relief funds and efforts to ensure they ended up with businesses and residents most in need, while looking toward the future by investing in amping up child care availability and expanding broadband.
Both of these issues remain vitally important, he said, in ensuring Crow Wing County is an attractive place to live.
Barrows said the County Board should continue pursuing solutions to crunches in housing and child care alongside state legislative partners, and he believes there are ways commissioners can help solve these problems.
Incentivizing housing that’s affordable to all is one example, he said, along with working with city governments to identify vacant spaces that could be repurposed for transitional housing or other pressing needs. Another example would be to encourage legislation tying state funding of child care facilities with inflation, which he said would bring stability and higher wages for child care workers.
While more visitors choose to make Crow Wing County their permanent home, Barrows said he’s committed to ensuring the drive for development does not overshadow the need to balance environmental concerns. He supports the current moratorium on lakeshore boardwalks and would like to see other ordinances change to shape commercial development, such as better defining “corridors of commerce” and beefing up requirements to soften hardscapes through landscaping and trees.
Barrows said he often finds agreement on the issues with fellow commissioners, but not always. Earlier this year, Barrows was the only commissioner who voted against asking the secretary of state to conduct another audit of Crow Wing County’s 2020 election following months of public pressure.
As one of two commissioners who certified the results, he remains steadfastly confident in them and is not willing to question the integrity of county staff and volunteer election judges. While campaigning for reelection via his signature bicycle, Barrows said many constituents thanked him for this stance and he also received messages of support from strangers across the country.
Barrows said reaching a conclusion on any matter requires careful thought, and whether someone agrees or disagrees with him on some issues, his dedication to getting the job done is clear. It’s more than a twice-monthly job for him, he said, noting he attends several other committee meetings each week.
“That would be the expectation I would have of any of those others, should they prevail and move forward, is that you are a county commissioner now,” Barrows said. “I don't care if you have a regular job, wherever it might be — I'm calling you, you should be ready to serve.”