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Friday, May 6, 2016

Retiring county councilman enjoys variety of jobs

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Andy McCammon photo

Clay County Councilman Les Harding, who recently announced he will not seek re-election when his term ends after this year, cleans an oxygen concentrator in the service department at Lynn's Pharmacy. Harding's part-time job at the pharmacy represents yet another line on an already impressive and varied resume.

Les Harding's laundry list of work experience includes stints as a restaurant manager, llama farmer and member of a traveling vocal ensemble. The Colorado native has also sold aerial photographs, served in the Navy and, perhaps most notably, sat on the Clay County Council for the past 12 years.

Still, the 71-year-old refuses to rush into a permanent choice of career.

"I still don't know what I'm gonna be when I grow up," he said. "I haven't found something I want to stay at the expense of everything else."

At least a few county officials wish he would settle on a career in local politics. Harding announced earlier this year that he would retire from public service at the end of his current council term, which expires Jan. 1. As he prepares to ease into semi-retirement, his colleagues in county government are already lamenting their loss.

"He's the type of guy that if you let him talk and you sit back and listen, you'll learn something," said Daryl Andrews, who has worked with Harding regularly since Andrews' election to the Clay County Board of Commissioners. "He's a man with a wealth of knowledge and a wealth of experiences, and he's able to convert those experiences into common sense solutions."

Harding's easy, gentle bearing is far from that of the archetypal politician, and the same can be said of his wardrobe -- not one for formal dress, he favors plaid work shirts and carries personal effects in his ever-present fanny pack, whether in council chambers or at work in the service department at Lynn's Pharmacy.

And while he admits the approximate $4,000 annual councilman's salary didn't hurt, Harding still can't pin down a definitive reason why he ran for the office in the first place.

"I can't give you a real 'Why'," he said. "I thought I was well-known enough to get elected, and I wanted to help the people of the county."

Harding knew one of the most important issues facing Clay County was the state of its jail. As the aging facility grew increasingly unfit to house the county's growing inmate population, Harding realized the county would soon have to consider the prospect of constructing a new one.

The recently-completed Clay County Justice Center, which will fully replace the old jail as soon as the sheriff's department completes the transfer of prisoners, may represent the most important part of Harding's legacy. As council president in 2003, he was instrumental in securing financing for the project. Harding also served on an advisory board, poring over data and compiling the information necessary to plan a project of that magnitude.

"We did the figuring and the finding out, advising the commissioners on which road to take," he said.

While the value of his contributions to the jail project are undeniable, Harding is quick to underplay his role in seeing the sorely-needed facility through to completion.

"I was just a small cog in a huge machine," he said. "We needed it desperately in this county."

With the new jail finished and the end of his term looming on the horizon, Harding can take the time to indulge in his hobbies. He has flirted with the craft of wood turning for the better part of a decade now, and examples of his steadily-improving output are now available for sale in the J & K Gift Gallery in Brazil. He has also developed a taste for the Mexican food at Mario Brothers, where he dines about three times a week.

In short, Harding's decision to retire from the county council stems from an aversion to being tied down, a quality that has defined the roving jack-of-all-trades since the early days.

"I'm not feeble. I'm not feeble-minded ... yet," he said. "But there are too many times I'd like to be someplace else when there's a meeting."

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