The Reluctant Politician Promotes Good Government

Shawn Milnes didn’t start out wanting to be in government and while he served as a county commissioner, he still can be a government critic, just like how he started out. Thinking he could do better, he ran for office, won an election but now serves Northern Utah on a commission that represents government to the business community. He says his background in and out of government helps him deliver better government for the business and the business community. Hear how he juggles them both.

Thanks to our sponsors:


Shawn Milnes:
My previous life, right through college, I was an entrepreneur. And so I usually, depending upon the audience, I’ll make an introduction to myself and say, you know, succinctly, I’m a serial entrepreneur and a recovering politician.

Listen, Utah’s been so retro. We’ve been hip for a long time. Okay. As she helps campaign like so many friends and family members. Yeah. I mean, no, no elected person ever gets there on their own merit. But. The old movie network, I was like, that old man. I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.

And I thought, you know, I’m going to quietly sit back. I’m going to attend these meetings. And for the next year, I only missed one planning and zoning and one city council meeting because I wanted to find out how this creature worked. When I didn’t know how it worked. But I could tell I was governed by it, and I didn’t like the rules of how my neighbors are being governed.

David Martin: Welcome to Good Government Show. I’m your host, Dave Martin. On this episode, I talk with Sean Milne of Utah. And I don’t want to brag, but he’s the director of Economic development, Quality Growth and intergovernmental affairs for the bear River Association of Governments, aka Brag. See what I did there? Brag. Bear? Yep. Okay, so what does that all mean?

As Sean will explain, he wears at least two hats. One hat is representing elected officials in this region of Utah, and that’s northern Utah. And by the way, Bear Lake is known as the Caribbean of the Rockies. I should check this out. The other hat is promoting this area to the business community, enticing them to move into the region.

Sean says he didn’t set out to be a government official, but rather fell into it. And actually, he did what many government leaders have said they want people to do. He complained, then got involved. He saw a way to improve his community and got elected county commissioner at 30 to a few reelections and then the appointment to his current position.

From his perspective in government, but also looking back to what got him involved, which was being a critic of government. He sees both sides and works to bring helpful governments to the business community. Piece of cake. So join me for a conversation with Sean Mills and listen to how he manages to promote both the business sector and government.

That’s coming up right after this.

The Good Government Show is sponsored by our Co. That means our community. Our Co has found a way to make government more effective. Our Co provides the o u r platform. And this is an app that blends in-person and digital interactions to connect people with their government, their county, their town, their state. The Our Co app transforms meaningful conversations into reliable data.

They can turn results into projects and programs. The community has essentially already approved. It’s sort of like a flash poll by phone, but without the call. And in real time and wherever community members are, maybe they’re at their house or their office, or whether out just talking about local issues. maybe the choice is between putting in more local busses or expanding the bike lanes.

Our Co can get you an answer immediately with O. You are. You can engage your citizens or any group, learn what they want, and build programs and policies that advance your county, your job creators, your constituents. So visit our That’s o u r and learn how they do it. And while you’re there book a demonstration.

After you get done with this episode. Hear more good government stories with our friends at How to Really Run a City. Former mayors Kasim Reed of Atlanta and Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, and their co-host, journalist and author Larry Platt talk with guests and other mayors about how to really get stuff done in cities around the nation. Check them out where you’re listening now or through their nonprofit news site, The Philadelphia Citizen.

Dot org slash podcasts.

Welcome to the Good Government show I have with me, Shawn Milne. And Shawn, you’ve got, quite a title. And, I’ll tell me what your title is and explain it.

Shawn Milnes: Yeah. So my technical title is Director of Economic Development, quality, Growth and Intergovernmental Affairs.

David Martin: And who do you do that for?

Shawn Milnes: the technical entity is called the bear River Association of Governments, or Brag for short.

David Martin: representation.

Shawn Milnes: Yeah, I know I love it because I’m in economic development, which is about sales. Right. Sure. So I get the brag. You get to brag about brag.

David Martin: Yeah. about all your thunder on that. No, no.

Shawn Milnes: I mean, it’s very predictable, so.

David Martin: Yes.

Shawn Milnes: Love it.

David Martin: And, what government entity is this?

Shawn Milnes: So it’s a political subdivision of Utah. just like a school district, a city subdivision. Yeah, they’re they’re an entity that’s written in state statute that the state legislature governs. So ultimately cities, county school districts or an AOG and association of governments like Brag is we all derive our authority to work on behalf of citizens. We serve from the state legislature.

So we’re basically a governmental entity that represents citizens within the area we serve.

David Martin: And what brought you to this position?

Shawn Milnes: This role? Yeah. Thanks. my previous life, right through college, I was an entrepreneur. And so, I usually, depending upon the audience, I’ll make an introduction of myself and say, you know, succinctly, I’m a serial entrepreneur and a recovering politician. I started my business during college and did that for about 25 years. I have that private sector experience and know what it’s like for, you know, a lot of folks in private sector to have the challenges of creating jobs and understanding, you know, a different way to define ROI or return on investment.

A very common term was in private sector management. and then I fell into politics. I fell into civic engagement. I that was not something I had really planned on. but my neighbors and I, from a residential standpoint, lack of understanding and not knowing what I didn’t know and why I didn’t know it, for kind of my business ownership and how I looked at government and my relationship with it.

it, it modified and I got on to planning and zoning, then city council, then county commission, where ultimately the county commission was,

David Martin: You were elected county commissioner?

Shawn Milnes: Yeah, yeah. And city council prior to that. Okay. A number of different boards and committees, either within the county or government, appoint a governor or appointed Senate, ratified in.

David Martin: The first election. What was your first race?

Shawn Milnes: are you. I was 32.

David Martin: Okay. Oh, a young guy.

Shawn Milnes: Yeah. I mean, relative terms.

David Martin: Yeah, sure. And what prompted you to get to run for office?

Shawn Milnes: Ironically, David, something that is diametrically opposed to the position I have today, you know, having been in government for 20 years. Okay, a bunch of my neighbors and I were very unhappy with, political, decision to allow zoning within proximity to our neighborhood. the long story short, it was about, you know, you know, that kind of housing that we didn’t want.

And we thought it didn’t blend with our our kind of housing. And some neighbors, we were we were, you know, somebody had kicked our ant hill and we were all coming out to see what the problem was. And we went to planning and Zoning Commission meeting, and we went to city council meeting and, we didn’t like the response we got.

And it was really the tone, like we just didn’t know what we didn’t know. I’d gone to college for business. Yeah, I was a business guy and we just didn’t know, and we didn’t know the process. And, you know, a term that I take for granted now, grandfathered something was grandfathered in, you know, means may have changed, but because when ex entity whether business or nonprofit, when they started doing something that was a permitted use, now laws have changed or regulations have changed, but.

David Martin: They still want to do it the old way. We don’t care. Yeah.

Shawn Milnes: Because they’re grandfathered in. They still legally can. And so they’re like, well, we started playing this game when the rules were this way. Just because, you know, New Dealer came in and they’re like, well, the official rules of the game are now this, you know, government has a way of saying, well, you were grandfathered in. You you’ve continued in perpetually been playing by the old rules.

You get to persist as long as you don’t cease operations for about a year. because there is that caveat that, hey, if you if you have, you know, ceased whatever that grandfathered provision is for a year or more, you can’t just decide later that you want to still play by the old rules. No. Now you need to come into conformity with the newer rules.

Anyway, my neighbors and I, we were quite upset and we didn’t understand some of these terms and there’s this thing that caught our attention for some vacant lots in our neighborhood, being utilized for a type of housing that we were not too keen on. we didn’t like the answer we got from planning and zoning and City council.

And unlike my neighbors, I was just mad enough that, like, the old moving network, I was like, that old man. I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore. And I thought, you know, I’m going to quietly sit back. I’m going to attend these meetings. Yeah. And for the next year, I only missed one planning and zoning and one city council meeting because I wanted to find out how this creature worked when I didn’t know how it worked.

But I could tell I was governed by it, and I didn’t like the rules of how me and my neighbors were being governed by waiting.

David Martin: So it sounds like you did exactly what many, many county commissioners and political leaders say to do is, you know, if you don’t like the way things are working, get involved.

Shawn Milnes: Yep. I have a really great friend of mine who’s in realty, Realty, and he he coined this phrase, you know, whether it was his or just, you know, some modification of a previous one. The world belongs to those who show up. And, you know, I’ve learned now being a representative, right? Yeah. How true that is. And and it’s always a challenging balance when you’re an elected official.

Do you pay attention to those that showed up at the public meeting where it’s on the record and it’s quote unquote, the only time that it counts, right. Yeah. Or do you can you also and should you when there aren’t meeting minutes of Joe or Susie stopping you at the store church and athletic event for little Susie or Johnny, you know that you’re taking them to and they share their opinion with you.

They’re in a kind of unofficial capacity, but clearly it’s because you’re an elected official. They’re sharing their opinion, but there’s no meeting minutes of that, right? There’s there’s no recording that’s up on a state website of how they spoke to you and shared their opinion. And so I always found that kind of a hard.

David Martin: And you can walk away and either listen to it and take their advice or walk away and go, no.

Shawn Milnes: Yeah, I can tell you, if you walk away from one of those, you know, off duty sort of moments in the community, any more than if you were to speak with disdain during a public meeting to somebody sharing their public comments. Both are going to get you on elected.

David Martin: Okay. All right. So tell me a little bit about, this this role with the, brag, the bear River Association of Governments. What is it? What does it do? And and how does this provide good government?

Shawn Milnes: Yeah. Well, what I love about it is it gets to take both the private sector and public sector experience of roughly 20 years each. And I look at it and, you know, again, depending upon who I’m introducing myself to and their question like yours just was, so what does that mean? Like I do, you know, I’m director of economic development and intergovernmental affairs.

Okay. Great. What does that mean. And it’s kind of like a marriage counselor. Right. So in the sense of economic development and and I I’m going to kind of bifurcate this, David, I’m going to say economic development one hat Intergovernmental affairs is another hat. Maybe, maybe I’ll just finish with the intergovernmental affairs. That’s basically being a proxy for other government officials.

Right. So the electeds, let’s say they’re triple booked for an appointment and, you know, on their calendar. Yeah, there’s one that they know they need to have a presence at. They need to have a message delivered in that context of that meeting. or they need to be able to get a read of the room, but they’re not physically able to be there.

And the two other places they’ve got booked, they send somebody like me, right? Or they may give me a mission that says, hey, I’ve, I’ve heard from Joe over here, this private business. Susie is the director of this other NGO. I need to try to moderate or mitigate a challenge that these two organizations are not seeing eye to eye because them getting along makes a difference to our communities.

You know, health and vibrancy or a success of zero.

David Martin: So you’re stepping in as a almost government mediator between two private equities, two private entities, sometimes trying to do something together.

Shawn Milnes: Or that’s probably a good way to put the economic development side. I’ll come to that here in a second. But like if it’s if it’s if it’s public sector to public sector, I would say that’s kind of intergovernmental affairs or one public sector entity to a private sector entity. That may be the intergovernmental affairs. Right? It is definitely that.

David Martin: But you’re the intermediary between these.

Shawn Milnes: Yeah. And you’ll you’ll see these two hats worn by folks that are in economic development with some frequency. Yeah. Because the mediation role is similar in philosophical approach. Now we’ll get over to that economic development role. It’s usually about business retention, keeping the businesses that you have in your community that are great employers. You want to keep them there because they give upward mobility and advancement opportunities to members of your community.

And it’s also outside sales, right? So as long as you’re out there recruiting businesses to come to your region, your city, your county, whatever that you know jurisdiction is, you’re in the the sales job, right? And you’re trying to say, hey, if you’re a California business and you’re located on the coast, but you’re thinking about going inland, here’s why you should choose one of the communities that I would represent.

Here’s why you should consider us on your short list, which is.

David Martin: Northern Utah, right?

Shawn Milnes: Yeah. I specifically serve northern Utah. And so I get to mediate that conversation. And I say get to because I love what I do, I love what I do, and I feel like I’m good at it because I have that private sector and public sector experience. I know as a business owner what competition is really like. I know how onerous government regulations can and oftentimes are sometimes produced with the best of intentions because I’ve been there, done that.

I’ve been somebody who didn’t know what I didn’t know, okay, as a government policymaker, all right. With the best of intentions. But you don’t know at the micro level how some of those policies you’re creating, drafting and passing can affect unintended consequences to a different segment of the market. Right. And so my job is to help mediate those, those discussions so that they don’t blow up.

Sometimes developers can have a very adamant, persuasive, agitated way of speaking to to government, which again, I can relate to based on how I got involved in public sector, involvement. So I get it. And at the same.

David Martin: Time is trying to build in your neighborhood.

Shawn Milnes: Bingo.

David Martin: Yeah.

Shawn Milnes: And at the same time, I now have an appreciation after 20 years of, you know, being in one appointed or elected role, of one type or another, and how challenging it is to try to craft good policy to move quickly enough that it’s relevant at the time that you’re discussing it for a reason? Yeah, right. And at the same time not have desk by committee to the point it drags on so long you don’t accomplish what it is you initiated that process for.

David Martin: Well, that brings me to a question I have. You know, there is a segment of the population that would like to dismantle the government, some completely, some little by little. Haven’t you really just added a government layer that’s maybe unnecessary?

Shawn Milnes: I will qualified as sort of response. Yes, because it depends on one’s perspective. And if you have the perspective as one particular citizen does, or one of the counties that I represent, she shows up to every county commission meeting and she she either comes to me after the meeting’s officially been adjourned or goes to the commissioners after it’s officially adjourned.

She comments and opines, beyond the public comment period, you know, three minutes that’s afforded in that official context, and she’ll lobby her case and she is certainly one of those folks that, as you just characterized, does not believe the Parks and Rec. It. Economic development. She doesn’t believe that any of those should exist. And so there are definitely folks that that feel that.

David Martin: Well Parks and Rec.

Shawn Milnes: I asked her one day when she told me that my job is just bloated government and that it shouldn’t exist. And and philosophically, David, I’ll just be really blunt with you and economic development. I don’t wholly disagree with her. Wholly. I don’t wholly disagree with her. But that would be true if we had truly free markets. But we don’t.

Yeah, we have we have I believe we have very own or created so many regulations that in some jurisdictions, more than others, we micromanage what the private markets can do and did for 100 years before government, you know, at the at the instituting of our American political system, you had largely free markets. It wasn’t to say that you could do whatever you wanted to unfettered and didn’t have consequences to bad business decisions, but we certainly had a lot fewer laws than we do today.

Right? Even among the 13 colonies, if you look at those 13 states today, you look at the laws that are on the books. Quantifiably they’re going to have many more laws than they do. You know what? Yeah, people passed away through bad business practices and unscrupulous capitalists and I don’t fault that there was a desire to react to those circumstances, to try to prevent more harm to society and individuals.

But you could also you could. I’m not saying I do. I’m playing both sides of this coin here for conversational purposes, because this is how our political system should work. You could also argue that, well, we’re saving lives and protecting the health, safety and welfare of people by passing more laws true to form. And that’s that’s true. And there are many attorneys that draft bills that love that they have a job because they get to be employed by the word or by them six minute increments.

They create very, you know, lengthy laws. So, you know, I’m not going to disrespect a person who believes in small, limited government differently than how I perceive I to believe in small, limited government.

David Martin: You’ve got a, Ukraine flag on your on your lapel of your suit. I understand, for the little conversation we had before. Is your work in the in brag? I took you to Ukraine. What was that all about? And how was how was your Ukraine trip?

Shawn Milnes: Yeah, that’s a good question. So, you know, I got in late last night to this, this place that you and I are meeting and having the interview. I got in very late last night at 1130. It was 37 consecutive hours of, you know, travel.

David Martin: Time and just. Man, I say you look smart. You’re you’re you’re you’re you’re sure this put together. Well. Thank you. You’re looking like you’re wide awake. Well done.

Shawn Milnes: Caffeine does miracles. Thank you. so yeah, I definitely got to it’s got to play kind of a dual role, if you will. Yeah. Brad. Bear River Association of government certainly. You know, paid for my participation, but I sit as a volunteer, as a co-chair to the Advanced Aviation Technology Committee within the Utah Association. the Utah Aerospace and Defense Association.

So Utah Aerospace and Defense Association is about advocating for the aerospace and defense interests within Utah, which those two silos, as broadly as they can be defined, make up 20% of Utah statewide economy. Oh, and this committee, the advanced Aviation Technology Committee, is as much about composite materials that can make a conventional airplane fly better, more fuel efficiency, more fuel efficiently, and carry passengers or a modern warfighter.

But it can also mean battery technology and sensory payloads on a drone, which is kind of where I got started eight years ago down this path of advocacy for this space. but within the couple of counties, there’s a few counties I work for, but in a couple of them, they have a concentrated interest in this space.

And for reasons of advocating what those industry partners can provide, the the situation in Ukraine right now, that was the primary focus of my advocacy work there. But it was also fact finding and the fact finding one even better than I had expected, even by the briefings we had had for months prior to being in country.

and I can tell you that I can now, with a straight face, go back to ag producers, the agricultural community, medical devices and others and, and even steel production and say, I think that there’s a great opportunity for you if you’re interested in hearing what I have to bring back from this trip and how you might be able to either inter-country to offer your products and services, or partner with a Ukrainian company to create a joint partnership, joint corporate partnership, because no country wants a bunch of foreigners to come in and say, hey, our was the best, that’s the only way you should do it.

And by the way, while we’re selling you products and services, we’re going to export that. We’re going to grow our country. Right? You know, it’s about teaching them some self-sufficiency in a way that here’s a humbling, I had an epiphany one morning as I was getting ready while in country to go to the briefing we were going to have maybe.

David Martin: Just no sleep.

Shawn Milnes: maybe it was. Maybe it was. It was definitely a deep foresight. The whole trip was interesting, I’m sure, if it wasn’t for the horrors that the frontline communities are facing from a, what I perceived to be an evil aggressor, I could use the word wonderful because it was so informative and it was so eye opening, but that seems like too cheery a word for some of the things that we witnessed and even experienced.

there was one meeting we showed up to a regional governor and, municipal leaders with. And as we arrived on site to get out to their public square to make our way into the building, the air raid sirens went off and we had to immediately as a SOP standard training.

David Martin: Preparation for what to do in this case.

Shawn Milnes: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Some of us as part of the delegation are more familiar with that than others. Okay. Yeah, yeah. In other words, like it was all fine. All right. and, you know, a lot of it is precautionary. but because of known threats in the air, we, we went, a short distance away and we went into a bomb shelter.

Now, we perceived we were going to wait that out, and then we would meet with those that we were there and expected to meet with. But they knew that time was of the essence, and they have schedules to meet as well. After all, they’re representing their communities. And as one might imagine, they’re.

David Martin: A little busy.

Shawn Milnes: Correct?

David Martin: Few things.

Shawn Milnes: And so they met us and we had a meeting tantamount to a public meeting that in every other instance was kind of a private meeting with a bunch of school aged ballerinas who had been doing their ballet practice.

David Martin: Okay, who.

Shawn Milnes: Rushed into the shelter as well. All right. Some moms and their young children who rushed in as well, and some other members of the community who rushed into that particular bomb shelter at that particular time, as well. And they were very respectful and they were silent, and they listened to their government leaders. And our our delegation speaks through translators to hold this meeting.

Anyway, the epiphany, David, was this. As I was getting ready one morning before I headed down to the daily briefing and before the rest of our day’s activities, I was thinking about in and nobody can convince me otherwise. Based on my experience for the last week and a half, they simply want the same thing we did at the beginning of our country.

We once belonged to a much larger, proximate, very influential empire. So today, right? We believed we could have our own independence and we could do things similar to honor our tradition of the empire we used to be a part of. After all, we speak a common language, we have some common customs, but we are different. Different, and we want that independence, much like the rite of passage that, you know, many of us will go through as teenagers or early 20 somethings, you’re still part of the family, but you’re going to have your own independent life.

And here they were being told, no, you shall remain as one of us. And the the epiphany continued, where I was like, you know, just like France, we don’t think a lot like France today. But they came to us when we had our hand out and said, would you assist us in our independence? And they said, sure, here are some arms.

Here are some merchant ships, here are some guns, and here are some financial capital. opportunities a some of it. And just over, you know, gift of money and some of it low interest loans to it.

David Martin: Everyone with Lafayette, he’s already there.

Shawn Milnes: So not wanting to go down the rabbit hole as much as I love history. So I’m hearing you. All right. Sorry, I was thinking, no, no, no, I love that. I but I probably, you know, I, I respect you, you probably have time limits to these podcasts and and that’s all they’re asking for too. Yeah. And just as our founding fathers experienced that, they put their life, they put their fortunes.

If they had had one, because not all of them did. Some of them were gentleman farmers.

David Martin: Right, right.

Shawn Milnes: They put that on the line to have their independence. And that’s what these folks have done. And if you’re a commander or if you’re a or a civil, you know, leader, elected or appointed, whatever it may be, they have websites like we do. Yeah. That gives their adversaries a target to be able to say, who do we want to depose?

Who do we want to go after, what kind of infrastructure? And David, as we spent some of our days going through country, we saw blown up bridges like the equivalent of five lane highway bridges over a river blown up. Now, I also don’t want to take myself down this rabbit hole again. I respect that this is a different kind of podcast, sure, but we could talk about the wisdom in going after certain pieces of infrastructure and how it demoralizes a population that makes your invasions.

David Martin: So what’s your big takeaway from your your trip to Ukraine?

Shawn Milnes: There is so much opportunity for us to partner with really great people. Yeah, there is so much opportunity and I hope our nation’s leaders and I hope the American people realize that just like in 2014, if you ignore this annexation.

David Martin: Yeah.

Shawn Milnes: It will just continue because it went unchecked in 2014.

David Martin: Crimea.

Shawn Milnes: Thank you. Yep. Exactly. And now with four other quote unquote breakaway, but they’re not really breakaway republics that have been annexed. Yep. you know, you’ve got the Balkan nations that are looking at this going war because Ukraine.

David Martin: And it’s then it’s Lithuania and then it’s Estonia and then it’s Latvia, then.

Shawn Milnes: Moldova, Romania. I mean.

David Martin: Kazakhstan.

Shawn Milnes: Is just there are you couldn’t be more right like that. That’s exactly why they’re so supportive. That is exactly why they stepped up even quicker and with more proportionate to their GDP. Yep. They stepped up with more support than America has because they know they live it. They’re sharing a border with that empire that wants them back, because the ruler they have right now is not a Gorbachev.

No, Gorbachev wouldn’t have done this. Gorbachev would not have used the kind of excuses that Putin has masterfully used with propaganda to to initiate this invasion. but but anyway, so I’m getting down kind of a dark past, but it comes down to good government and where if you don’t do it right, this is the kind of government you could have, in all sincerity.

Right? So the the takeaway is this they’re beautiful people. They thanked us right and left, as though this small delegation from one of the 50 states was somehow representative of all the American people. And they said, thank you repeatedly, David. We would show up in some of these battered communities, apartment buildings bombed with no military assets for a mile around.

Yeah. And the Russians do not have that piss poor of targeting and acquisition technology. So fair. Okay. So so one can read into what the purpose of that kind of, barbed barbarism, in my view, was all about. And you would come to these communities and they opened up their, their town hall and their homes with a meal and with trinket gifts.

And you’re thinking to yourself, you have a much humbler experience than what I know in America back home. And yet you are so gracious. But just like the French today, there are older generations that remember enough about Normandy and World War two, right? They maintain entire cemeteries filled with American servicemen that went there to to.

David Martin: All right. I got to stop here because I could I could start asking questions about this, and we never get out of here. Okay. you are from, Smithfield, Utah. where you were a county commissioner. Just briefly.

Shawn Milnes: I was a county commissioner into Willa County. A totally different county than where I work. Sorry. Yeah, yeah.

David Martin: What’s going on back there?

Shawn Milnes: which part in Smithfield, aka Cash County, or.

David Martin: We’ll start with Smithfield. Hopewell.

Shawn Milnes: Good government we like. I mean, yeah, this this is something I’ve said for years before I ever knew David or the Good Government show. when people would ask you.

David Martin: Now that you’re a regular listener.

Shawn Milnes: Here. That’s right, that’s right. so I just it has great pun now and is great passive advertisement. But yeah, I mean, good government. We we’re in the middle of municipal elections. We had 12 people running for 12 open city council seats, I love that. Yep.

David Martin: Elections are always better.

Shawn Milnes: As somebody who’s run and won and lost, I can attest to that. Yeah, but better informed citizens make better informed decisions at the ballot box. And when you have 12, you know, opportunities to select from, you know, for three open spots, chances are good you’re going to get a good caliber of person who’s shown that they can think on their feet.

I mean, campaigns are terrible. I got to be honest with you. I love not being an elected official anymore for that reason, because they’re very they’re very stressful and they’re stressful on the whole household and your closest friends around you that support you and buttress you during campaign.

David Martin: Season because it’s tough. You’re out here early and she help out of the campaign, which she was with you?

Shawn Milnes: Oh absolutely. She did, she did. it’s it’s a rare treat. Normally, she wouldn’t be here in this kind of a setting with me. But where I’ve been, you know, out of country, this was just a rare opportunity where she’d come along with that last session that I was in. She. It was right up her alley, given her day job.

Okay. Anyway, yeah, she helped, campaign, like so many friends and family members would. Yeah. I mean, no, no elected person ever gets there on their own merit.

David Martin: Okay, so that was the easy part. Now we’re going to get into the good government questionnaire. We’re going to get to your personal philosophy of what government is all about. Here we go. So you now you work in what you say is a political subdivision, in, the bear River. I’m sorry, bear River Association of Governments.

But you were a city council person, and you also were a county commissioner. Define good government.

Shawn Milnes: good government is one that’s responsive to the people that it serves and makes good long term decisions, even at the expense of short term reelection cycles.

David Martin: How do you judge your success? First, as a county commissioner? How did you judge it? And now, with the bear River Association of Governments, how do you judge if you how do you know if you’re doing a good job?

Shawn Milnes: Well, certainly the amount of rancor in a community, if there isn’t a lot, then you know that people are, generally speaking, happy. Okay. that doesn’t mean that there aren’t one off topics. There are one off, you know, circumstances going on where that particular county commission meeting or city council meeting isn’t filled with a bunch of people that want to offer their opinion.

I’m not counting that as rancor that that’s appropriate American styled governance, where, you know, you work for the people. The people have the opportunity to address their government and their representatives to any kind of redress of things where they think they’re going wrong, or to give input on the next piece of legislation that’s about to be passed. so I think you can establish that a good, a good government official is one who can moderate when there is a clash though, of ideas.

I, I have varying degrees of success or failure in that with different topics. While I served as an elected official, how do you look at my charge?

David Martin: You you said you have varying success. How do you judge whether you’re being successful?

Shawn Milnes: Some of it can be as unofficial. David is looking at a Facebook thread to see what people opine, you know about the performance.

David Martin: that can turn ugly.

Shawn Milnes: It can. And you know, it often times did on a couple of key topics. Okay. But I also think that you have to look at it with a long arch of time. And I think that it’s very tempting for politicians thinking about their next reelection cycle to really get very little done. I’ve, I’ve heard one locally refer to it locally to the state of Utah, not local necessarily for one of the counties I work for, this has what’s called strategic avoidance, strategic avoidance in that trying to avoid and dodge the sticky situations and let somebody else kind of bleed out, and then they kind of swoop in at the end and take credit for

it. I personally don’t respect those kind of folks. They may be a leader in polls, but that doesn’t mean they’re actually a leader in action. at the same time, the way I govern and other folks, you know, that that may not be their thing, but I love taking the bull by the horns and saying, you know, all everybody else is being dodgy.

And they’re sitting back to see how other pundits let the shake out. I’ll be one of those expendable pundits in order to make sure that we get somewhere with this topic. I think, like, you know, a definition I hear of compromise sometimes is when all sides are not 100% happy, you know, you’ve probably achieved compromise because there’s enough there that every party has something that’s made them happy, but enough that they had to sacrifice to make another party happy where they’re not totally unhappy either.

David Martin: As a non-elected official, as a non-elected government official, how can people hold you accountable if they think you’re not doing a good job?

Shawn Milnes: that’s a great question. So the multiple counties I work for, I have a boss at that association of governments that AOG, and he has a boss through the governing board. The governing board is made up 100% of elected officials, both at municipal and county level. And so you know, I actually work directly for them, this this boss that I have a AOG.

He’s a great guy. we we get along well. He’s a veteran. And as long history here at this organization, like he’s just a good guy and our personalities gel. but he, he’s told me, hey, like, you know, you need to make these counties happy for the work that it is you’re performing on your behalf. Okay? And so he’s like, I know you’re going to be engaged with the Board of governors is what we we have.

And, you know, having been one of those like, I get it, my job is to not embarrass them. My job is to make sure that I’ve vetted controversial topics, you know, to represent them in their communities, interests through them. So, you know, I think it’s it’s like any good government, it’s going to be based upon communication, which is, a good, healthy amount of listening as well as expressing what it is that you’re seeing and becoming educated about to those that are using you as their proxy for that education process.

Right. And so, I know I haven’t lived your life, David, but I bet I can learn a lot of things from experiences you’ve had. Yeah, that I might want to also enjoy. And you’re like, well, actually, be prepared. Your eyes should be open for that kind of experience. Like this. This was something surprising I learned. And and so I love having discussions with people to find out what it is, are there pain points?

Like, this is really my job, whether it’s intergovernmental affairs or economic development, what are your pain points and what is a desirable objective? You know, for an outcome look like? And then meeting with the other side of an equation. And oftentimes there’s actually more than just two sides and and say, okay, ditto. What are your objectives? What would you consider success.

And what are your pain points. And trying to find where there’s enough overlap, like a Venn diagram to say, okay, that’s the sweet spot. That’s where we can start. We can we can start on at least accomplishing incrementally the parts where we all agree that that’s a good direction. Start there, build trust, and you can go in incrementally towards the more challenging stuff.

As the rapport is built up, the trust is earned. The parties are like, okay, I’ll trust you. I’m a little nervous about going that direction and that doesn’t necessarily get me where I thought I originally wanted to go. But, you know, you can get there.

David Martin: You got into this because you did exactly what other government leaders have told me they should do. If people feel like they’re not doing getting good government, they always are told to get involved. You did that. What advice would you give someone else?

Shawn Milnes: And absolutely that, like, I was trained in business and I was a business owner. I was an entrepreneur. That’s what my experience had been. And I sort of life and what my government should be doing for me, much the same way that I was thinking about it in the private sector. What I can tell you now of 20 years in different capacities, in the public sector, is ROI return on investment?

Yeah. Is measured differently.

David Martin: Would you tell people to run for elective office, or would you just tell them, you know, pay attention.

Shawn Milnes: Pay attention and give input?

David Martin: Okay. You know.

Shawn Milnes: There are very few people who give input like, I’m I’m old enough that, you know, one of the jobs I had out of school and before I got into or as I was in college, was actually dressing up nicely, being in a large metropolitan styled mall with a clipboard and asking people market questions.

David Martin: Okay.

Shawn Milnes: like I was one of those folks that would ask you so blind taste test here, which cup of cereal that looks strikingly similar? Which one do you prefer the taste of? And like? You make better decisions with better data, right?

David Martin: Right.

Shawn Milnes: Your politicians and your community and civic leaders will make better decisions with more data. If you’re not offering your advice, you are beholden to the decisions you’re Lected leaders are appointed that your civic leaders are going to make without your input. So if you have a proxy as a citizen of your city, your town, your school board, whatever it is, if you have a proxy and it’s your neighbor who’s more engaged than you are, great, but you’ve acquiesced a certain amount of your voice to their interpretation of what you want.

If you want to really affect your government, you don’t have to run. You don’t have to put yourself out there. In that same way, I’m not going to discourage somebody from doing it right, because you’ll gain an appreciation for what you leaders go through, but just show up. And that can be either with a voice, you know, phone call, it can be an email, or it can be respectfully giving your advice on a Facebook page that, you know, your elected officials are paying attention to and garnering information from, but just participate, give some information.

David Martin: You have a unique perspective in that you have been both elected official and now a, I guess, government appointed official. What would you like people to know about how government works?

Shawn Milnes: I have rarely encountered somebody that really has mal intent for why they’re involved. I was very cynical when I got involved, you know, again, kind of by mistake on how I got involved with the public sector and some of those stereotypes. I will tell you, I feel like they’ve been validated over 20 years. You know, like the public sector doesn’t really know, like somebody who’s only been in the public sector their whole life.

They don’t really know what it’s like to be in a competitive market like the private sector does. Yeah. At the same time, I have gotten my butt kicked and and God, our creator, has given me plenty of very patient learning opportunities where I think now the exact opposite of some very ignorant views that I had. It doesn’t mean, by the way, I think I’ve got it all figured out.

I think he operates in a much longer, you know, arc of time. And he’s like, listen, young man, I’ve only given you a few lessons right now. You’re still about to get your world turned upside down.

David Martin: Yeah.

Shawn Milnes: but, you know, it’s just like, get involved, be patient. I don’t.

David Martin: Want a patient.

Shawn Milnes: Yeah, be patient and work with others. Other. I mean, I have a couple of things that are going to translate well in an audio podcast, but I’ve got a couple of visuals that I saved in my phone. Yeah, in my favorites photo album. And one, think of it like a soup can.

David Martin: Yeah, okay.

Shawn Milnes: And the backdrop behind the soup can is kind of floating in space is the is is is if that can is in the inside of a square cube. Okay. Yeah. You have two light sources. One is blue, one is orange okay. And they are shining their light at 90 degree offsets on this cam. The cylindrical shape, the one is casting on the backdrop of the inside of a cube, a circle.

Because that light is orange. It’s at the bottom side of the can that’s turned on its side. And what you see is a shadow reflected on that face behind the can.

David Martin: I have noisy.

Shawn Milnes: Circling.

David Martin: With this? Go ahead. Okay. The other the.

Shawn Milnes: Other one is a blue light.

David Martin: Yeah.

Shawn Milnes: Shining on the side of the can and the backdrop of the inside of a cube. On the other side of that is a rectangle, because it’s the lengthwise size side of the Gantt.

David Martin: Right.

Shawn Milnes: Both are true. The, the shadow that reflects behind this object that’s floating in the light in the backdrop behind it. They’re both true. One’s a circle and one’s a rectangle. They’re both true. But if you’re somebody that’s looking at only the shadow and doesn’t see the object through which the light has shown, you’re saying, my friend, I know you’re trying to describe this principle as a rectangle, but that’s not my reality.

My reality is it’s a circle. And likewise, the opposite person is saying this. And that’s not at all what I see. And that’s not the truth. And the truth is that it’s much more detailed and obscure, like the truth is stuck away from. All right. And there are multiple perspectives and.

David Martin: They are all gonna make sense. Okay.

Shawn Milnes: The the object is the truth, but what you’re seeing is true. And you think that because that’s all you see, you don’t see the other person’s perspective because they’ve lived a different experience. They’ve arrived at this point in time, and they’re going to advise the city council or this county commission or this, you know, federal delegation member from your Senate or, you know, congressional member, you’re gonna say, whoa, whoa, whoa, this other way is wrong.

And I’m here to tell you part of the reason why I got my butt kicked on some of these things as an elected official is realizing it’s possible for there to be more. One way to look at this.

David Martin: Is there an old story? Ten blind men, you know, stand next to said nature. All right. That’s. You’re kind of talking about the same.

Shawn Milnes: Yes, yes.

David Martin: You got to step back and open your eyes. who’s your political hero?

Shawn Milnes: there’s too many because they’re they’re all contextual. It. You know, it just depends who inspires you. watching the general George Washington. okay, I will tell you that as somebody who stepped away when his ego could have been stroked just the right way and been made to be king forever, right? for him to have stepped away from that, I will tell you, that was.

David Martin: A precedent in the history of the world. That.

Shawn Milnes: Absolutely. And it really was a step of faith. And some days I’m a little cynical, and I think we’ve thrown away this experiment and, you know, like when we can’t figure out a speaker of the House for as long as we recently did.

David Martin: Yeah.

Shawn Milnes: or just atrocious the way that we speak to one another. Right. and then there are other days where I’m absolutely inspired that 250 years plus later, we’re we’re still around, right. And and unfortunately, countries like Ukraine have to worry about the bully next door. And, and we don’t have that problem like we don’t right now. It doesn’t mean that, you know, 250 years from now, we’re not in a different position geopolitically, but today we’re we’re pretty darn safe and secure.

And he and Founding Fathers kind of kicked that off. They had strife. And sometimes we gloss over that. But I think he was a pretty wise man.

David Martin: when you were growing up, did you want to be president United States or general, or do, Senator, I know.

Shawn Milnes: President, student.

David Martin: Council.

Shawn Milnes: Well, okay. That one, by the time I got into college, I’d actually asked it to be that. And that’s not how that went. I didn’t come close, but, But but no, I didn’t really have those visions. As a matter of fact. the those little, like, aptitude tests that we all take when we’re grade school. Yes. Mine said that I would, be pretty good at being either a forest ranger, an artist of, like, a visual artist, painting that, that sort of thing.

or some other things where I didn’t come close, as any point in my, you know, adulthood and career. But what I went to college for, David was to become the administrator I wanted to found and then become an administrator of a private secondary school, grades seven through 12. So I’d moved around a lot, raised by a single mom.

And, I just felt like the public education system hadn’t done me right. It either advanced me, through some courses where I was like, wow, I just barely passed that by the skin of my teeth and didn’t totally comprehend it. But I was good enough for social progression. And then there were other ones where I was, and.

David Martin: That was me. The kids.

Shawn Milnes: That was me and some of the advanced math. All right. And then there was science and language where I was bored. I got the lesson the first time you told me, teacher, you don’t need to keep beating this dead horse. And so I became the talkative kid in the back class because I was bored. All right, I’ve been there, done that.

Like, I felt like I didn’t move fast enough in some ways. And I moved way too fast just to get through syllabus and an agenda for the whole school year.

David Martin: And I never sat back there dreaming of being president. United States.

Shawn Milnes: No, I thought, well, I’ll just, you know, I’ll reinvent the education system in my neck of the woods somewhere.

David Martin: All right. Okay. So I am coming to, to your town, to Smithfield, northern Utah. I’ve never been there before. What are we eating? Where are we going? What do we have? And what’s the regional dish that you love?

Shawn Milnes: Funeral potatoes.

David Martin: Excuse me?

Shawn Milnes: Funeral potatoes. They’re called beautiful. Yeah. Is a mormon or Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints kind of phenomenon? It’s really not that different when you think of the Midwest and their proclivity towards casseroles that are very calorie laden. Yes. It’s Utah’s version of your good Miss Midwestern casserole. What’s it? It’s, it’s potatoes. Either a Groton style, kind of like thin slices or, a very popular way is just take your regular hash browns.

You’re going to get at the store. Yeah. You, overload it with cheese, which this body has been built by an unhealthy portion of dairy products. And we’re really good at that in northern Utah, by the way. Okay, one of the gifts that I would give is we went places in Ukraine was a pair of socks with the branding of Logan, Utah, and one of the cities within one of the counties I work for.

And a big Ole cow, like a good milk producing cow. All right. Anyway, so you overloaded with cheese and unhealthy portion thereof, some cream of mushroom, soup and, you know, you’re all layering this in a Pyrex kind of, you know, baking, you know, pan and you put it in the oven and some folks will add, for some crunch factor on top, some corn flakes.

Others have, like, their own, like, little secret, you know, ingredient that they’ll put in. But funeral potatoes.

David Martin: Funeral potatoes.

Shawn Milnes: Yeah, that’s what they’re called.

David Martin: All right. Anything else that,

Shawn Milnes: Oh, yeah. There’s there’s a lot.

David Martin: Of like what?

Shawn Milnes: Well, Jell-O is kind of a thing in Utah, and, Jell-O, it’s just kind of what you do. Jell-O casserole. So just.

David Martin: thought those are not, like, 69. That.

Shawn Milnes: Allison, Utah’s been so retro. We’ve been hip for a long time. Okay? You know, everything comes back, all right? Yeah, yeah. So.

David Martin: So that yellow mold is still alive and well in northern Utah.

Shawn Milnes: Well, yes. Yeah. I mean, tongue in cheek. Yes. Okay. All right. There’s a lot of great dishes and there’s a lot of great places. But at the risk of leaving somebody out and one of my 15 bosses hearing that I left, you know, something out in their community, I’m. I’m just going to take that safe that a funeral?


David Martin: All right. Okay, so we are the good government show. We always like to bring it back to good government. Tell me about a good government project you’re involved in or have recently been involved in.

Shawn Milnes: well, there’s a number of them. I mean, in economic development circles, like, it’s all about business retention and attraction. So there’s a number of great businesses that we’re helping to expand. our unemployment rate has been incredibly low for a sustained period of time even before the pandemic, but worse since the pandemic. So if you’re looking for a good job opportunities or you’re a great entrepreneur in the ag manufacturing satellites up in the, you know, space kind of satellites, design much.

David Martin: Commercial here, that’s a good.

Shawn Milnes: Absolutely. Well, you’re asking me what I’m involved.

David Martin: Did I did.

Shawn Milnes: I’m about business retention and attraction. Right.

David Martin: Okay.

Shawn Milnes: So we would love to bring you to to northern Utah where there’s a high quality of life, a wholesome way to raise your family, and plenty of job opportunities.

David Martin: All right. Shawn Mills, it has been a pleasure speaking with you and chatting with you. an incredible experience you had over in Ukraine. And, thanks for staying up and talking to us.

Shawn Milnes: Have some.

David Martin: we we are. We are recording this in, early November. of 20, 23. And, hopefully things will improve as a result of your.

Shawn Milnes: Trip to Ukraine. Slava, Ukraine. Here’s to hoping. Yep.

David Martin: There you go. Thanks for being here. Thank you very.

Shawn Milnes: Much. Thanks, David. I enjoy your program. Thanks for having me on.

David Martin: You’re welcome. Thank you.

Where do you get your news from? Where do you get your state and local government news from? Because that’s getting harder and harder. And it’s essential to stay updated with your community. And it’s becoming increasingly important to know what’s going on in other cities and states, because they’re likely facing challenges that you’re grappling with. Two are you’re going to face eventually.

That’s why we’d like to welcome our new partner, route 50, to the show. Route 50 is a leading online publication covering state and local governments across the country. They’ve written about states protecting themselves against the rise in cyber attacks, counties using AI to better support citizens services, local responses to crumbling infrastructure and extreme weather, and much, much more.

There’s a lot there. It’s a one stop shop for issues affecting state and local governments and their residents. That’s you. That’s all of us. Do yourself a favor and go to route to see the topics and solutions they cover, and learn what other people in government are doing. They also deliver a daily newsletter called route 50 today.

I see it in my inbox every morning. I check it out and you should too. Thanks again. Route 50. We’re excited to have you on board and being a partner here at the Good Government Show.

What is it the county government does? That’s the question county commissioners get asked the most. And the simple answer is everything on the Good Government show. We’re so lucky to have talked with so many county commissioners and other county officials that have shown us how effective county government is. County government dates back to get this 1634, making it one of the oldest forms of government in the United States.

Think about it. Roads. Highways. Hospitals. Schools. Recycling. Law enforcement. Water. Sewers, and most of the county. Those services are maintained by the county that’s county government. The National Association of Counties represents all 3069 counties across the USA. Naco helps county government work better together through things like sharing best practices. When county government works well, well, that’s just good government.

I like what his friends said to him early in his career. The world belongs to those who show up, and that follows the old adage 90% of success is showing up. And here’s something I learned about the Bear Lake region of Utah. This area is famous for its raspberry shakes. That’s enough to get me to go on a hike in the mountains, and I like to, he said.

In government, you can’t have desk by committee because that sure is a good government killer. Well, good to hear there’s a good government agency in Utah designed to help people and listen to people. That’s good government in action. And Sean sounds like the right guy to lead it. Well, that’s our show. Thanks for listening. Please like us and share this with your friends and review us right here where you’re listening, and check out our website.

Good Government for extras. Join us again for another episode right here. I’m Dave Martin and this is the Good Government show.

The Good Government show is a Valley Park production. Jim Mundo, Dave Martin, that’s me and David Snyder are the executive producers. Our show is edited and produced by Jason Stershic. Please subscribe, then share and like us and review us. That’s the best way to make sure we’re able to keep telling these stories of our government working for all of us.

Then listen to the next episode of The Good Government Show.

**This transcription was created using digital tools and has not been edited by a live person. We apologize for any discrepancies or errors.