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Longest serving commissioner says good-bye

Friday, December 7, 2012

MIKE MCCOY photo - District One Commissioner Frank Sifford is retiring after 26 years on the job. He served from 1980 to 1984 and again from 1990 to 2012.
"Not knowing for certain, I can't say for sure."

These words were uttered by Commissioner Frank Sifford on more than one occasion over the years as he was asked a question about county business. It was his way of bringing a little levity to a situation. Sifford's years in office made him an authority on many issues, and he wasn't afraid to express his opinion -- often quite colorfully.

Sifford will be retiring from the commission at the end of the month, a position he has held for 26 years. His has been the longest serving commissioner ever in Stoddard County. He was never defeated when running for election for commission. He suffered only one setback in his political career. After serving on the commission from 1981-84, he decided to run for County Collector. He was defeated by 180 votes by Shirley Carney in that election. He ran again for commission in 1990 and won. He has held the Position 1 seat on the commission ever since.

When it came to issues involving the budget, bridges, drainage improvements or employees' benefits in the county, it was to Sifford that others turned for information. For many years he has spent countless hours working county budgets. He says he never really meant to get that deeply involved in planning the budget, but it was a role that fell to him and Linda Caldwell over the years. He leaves his office confident in the capable hands of County Clerk Joe Watson to work with the commission to prepare a budget.

"It really was the duty of the county clerk to put together a budget with input from the commission," says Sifford.

The county is preparing a special cake and punch retirement reception for Sifford to be held Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. in the Commission Board Room at the Government Building.

Sifford looks back with pride on his years of service to the county. He was first elected to the statewide County Employees Retirement Fund (CERF) Board in 1994. He served on that board until 2010. In 1983, he was on the commission when the first addition was made to the County Jail. He was also on the commission when the second addition was built at the jail in 1991. He also served for 12 years on the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) for the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT).

He points to the formation of the Stoddard County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) as one of his proudest accomplishments. He said the county IDA was created in 1984. It came about after other third class counties were using money generated from a $1.50 per ton "tipping fee" at landfills. The IDA is pivotal in attracting business by providing tax incentives and other services to businesses looking to expand or locate in the county.

"Anyone that hauls garbage here to be dumped pays the fee," says Sifford. "It took a vote of the people at a general election to provide the funds from the tipping fees for the IDA."

Sifford says the money will continue to go to the IDA as long as the landfill is in use.

As late as 1987 the county had almost no funding for services or administration. The county relied on property taxes and special fees for funding. In 1987, the commission took a half-cent sales tax to the voters in an effort to generate revenue. It passed.

When asked how the county managed without the sales tax, Sifford responded that things were a lot different. The county provided fewer services and was smaller.

"An associate commissioner was only paid $6,500 annually," he remembers. The current salary for an associate commissioner is $29,700.

A second half-cent sales tax was passed in the mid-1990s. Sifford cannot recall just what year voters approved that tax.

Another big development was the construction of the Justice Center. Sifford remembers that the old Courthouse was being "overwhelmed." Three separate court divisions made it nearly impossible to house everything in the courthouse. The old Bloomfield City Hall was used for juvenile detention. In 2001, the commission used lease-purchase funding of around $1.5 million to build the Justice Center. It was financed over 15

years, says Sifford, and "we paid it off in seven years."

The final big addition was construction of the Government Building in 2009. The building centralized all county offices in one location and provided much needed space for documents and offices. Sifford points proudly to the fact that the county "paid for the building in cash," without the need for borrowing money.

With all the accomplishments that have been undertaken in the county during his years in office, Sifford points to the State Veterans Cemetery as the one with which is most most pleased.

"I am really proud of that cemetery," he says.

Jack Matthews, a native of Bloomfield, served on the State Veterans Commission. He approached the county about establishing a veterans cemetery in Stoddard County and "we went to work on it." The county donated 65 acres of land for the cemetery. It was part of the old County Farm which was obtained during the depression to help the poor. Crops were grown there for food and housing was provided to the poor.

Sifford issues a word of caution for commissioners in the future. The longtime Democrat says the "expenses are going up." He says rising health care costs, rising liability and property insurance and adding a full-time prosecutor have already happened or will be happening.

Sifford also believes the county will be joining other counties across the state in helping fund 911 services. The service is currently financed by a fee on land line telephones. Those phones are dwindling as more users turn to cell phones exclusively. There are no fees returned to County 911 Services from cell phone use. He believes the county will be forced to get involved with helping fund the service, which is vital and one expected by residents.

Sifford also believes that the county will have to pass a use tax in the future. A Missouri Supreme Court ruling eliminiated the county sales tax on vehicles and recreational vehicles bought new out of state and on used vehicles. He said this is costing counties revenue and many are looking at putting a use tax on the ballot.

Born near Puxico

Sifford was born on a livestock farm, the son of Bill and Pauline Sifford. The family owned Sifford Feed Mill at Puxico from 1950 until 2000. He graduated from Puxico High School in 1960 where he played on basketball teams that twice went to the state tournament. He played baseball for the Puxico VFW team that played in the SEMO League.

His baseball and basketball talents were enough to gain him a scholarship to Oakland City College (now a University). He was a regular player in baseball, but was a reserve in basketball. He focused on baseball. He graduated with a dual major in physical education and business, a combination he was grateful for over the years.

"My college advisor prompted me to add business to my physical education degree," says Sifford.

His first job was at the Brosley School system. He coached basketball, baseball and taught business. The business degree sealed the deal.

It was at Brosley that he met Ruth Anne who was teacher. She lived in Qulin. He remembers going to a game with his team and attempting to talk with her while checking in at the gym.

"I checked my basketball team in three times just so that I could talk to her," laughs Sifford.

They dated and married in 1967.

Sifford left Brosley for a job at Bloomfield in 1967, and the newly married couple moved there for good. He coached basketball and girls volleyball there until 1970. He hadn't sought the job at Bloomfield. He remembers that he went to Bloomfield to get his driver's license and was approached by Elmer Underwood. Underwood wanted to know if he was interested in a job at the Bloomfield Schools.

"He offered me $1,000 more per year, so I came to Bloomfield," says Sifford.

Sifford began working on an MA degree in secondary education during that time. He also joined the Army National Guard, where he stayed from 1966 to 1973.

After obtaining his MA degree, he took a job as assistant superintendent in the Twin Rivers School District. He was there from 1971 until 1973. He was making only $13,500 a year in that position.

In 1973 he left the district to go into private business.

"I thought I could make more money," he adds.

He started Sifford Insurance, Real Estate and Auction, and then was elected to the school board at Bloomfield in 1975. He served in that capacity until 1980.

He sold the insurance part of his business in 1980 but kept the real estate and auction end. It was then that he made up his mind to run for county commission. He was elected and served two terms before deciding to throw his hat into the ring for county collector. That election proved to be the only loss he suffered in runs for public office.

The loss didn't daunt his desire to serve. He ran for city council in Bloomfield and was elected in 1986. He served four years in that role.

In 1990 he made the decision to run once again for commission. He was elected. He ran nine times without suffering a defeat after that. Five of those stints were two-year terms and the rest were four-year terms after the law was changed.

Ruth Anne served as high school counselor at Bloomfield High School until her retirement two years ago. They have two children: Jo Anne Westbrook who is an administrator in the Poplar Bluff School System and Lea Anne Lambert who is a registered dietitian at Southeast Missouri State University.

Sifford plans to continue to plant a big garden (one of his favorite hobbies) and to fish. He owns property at Piso Point on Lake Wappapello. The property includes four cabins and seven mobile home pads which he bought in 1976.

"I gave a heck of price for it at the time," laughs Sifford. "People thought I was crazy."

It proved a wise investment.

He also likes to play golf and is a member of the Crowley Ridge Recreation Center.

"I have no plans to travel, unless it is for a two or three-day vacation," says Sifford. "Traveling just doesn't hold that much interest to me."

Sifford has served with many different commissioners over the years.

"I got along with all the different commissioners, though we didn't always agree," says Sifford, "We got things done, though."

Sifford says the county is in good financial condition.

"My philosophy is that you can't spend more than you can take in," he declares. "You have to save some each year for future projects."

Sifford is full of "sayings." Another one favored by Sifford which brings a laugh at a commission meeting is: "I will approve anything that doesn't cost us any money."

Sifford figures he has spent 43 years in public life, which includes his teaching and administrative years in public schools. He has seen a lot of people come and go through his years as commissioner. He still spends many hours each week visiting with people at county offices and making the rounds.

"I'm really going to miss the commission," Sifford reflects about his approaching retirement.

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Sifford did much to shape our county. His fiscal philosophy ought to be a model for other counties to follow. Good job, Sifford! We'll all miss you!

-- Posted by swift on Mon, Dec 10, 2012, at 4:40 PM

Mr Sifford always seemed to have a ready smile, that is great, enjoy retirement, life has challenges and you have met them.

-- Posted by Dexterite1 on Thu, Dec 13, 2012, at 11:22 AM

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