Hallum reflects on his decade-long tenure as Rushford mayor.

By: 
Kristin Burdey

Though it may have seemed like an ordinary end-of-the-year budget hearing, it was in fact the end of an era. When the Rushford City Council met for the last time in 2019, Chris Hallum presided over his final city council meeting as Rushford’s mayor.  Hallum’s 10 years of service to the community ended December 23, and incoming mayor Terri Benson will be sworn in on January 13, 2020.

Stepping into politics was never on Hallum’s agenda until the flood of 2007. After watching his parents Cliff and Dianne Hallum recover from heavy losses in their Brooklyn home, as well as being displaced from his own apartment, Hallum found himself more keenly interested in the goings-on at city hall. “It was devastating. If the flood hadn’t happened, there is no way I would have gotten involved.”

Hallum began attending Rushford City Council meetings, and that experience inspired him to get more personally engaged. Though he initially planned to run for a seat on the Rushford City Council in 2009, Hallum changed course when it became clear that Incumbent Mayor Les Ladewig was running unopposed, and he threw his hat in the ring.

One of the major motivating factors in his choice to run for mayor was a desire to help restore order to the recovering community in the wake of disaster. “I didn’t like a lot of the decisions that were being made post-flood,” Hallum admitted. As a 1989 graduate of Rushford High School, Hallum was familiar with the community and its residents, so he took to the streets to get the word out about his candidacy. A foundational principle of his platform was to work together with the best minds around him for the good of the city. “I pledged to seek out, listen to, and act upon good advice,” said Hallum. “I didn’t want to do my ideas, I wanted to do the best ideas.”

Hallum bought yard signs and posted them. He made a handout delineating his ideas, then took it door-to-door while shaking hands and answering questions. When the results were tallied up in the election of 2009, the mayor and all three incumbent councilmen up for reelection had been defeated. “I really wanted us to come in as a team and make decisions together,” Hallum said of his newly-elected cohorts. “My hope was that this would be a fresh start for the city.”

As he adjusted to his new position, Hallum was grateful for what he had learned as an engaged community member. “I had learned a lot by attending meetings for more than a year,” said Hallum. “I watched how meetings were run. As Mayor, I am not in charge of the decision, I’m in charge of the process.” Hallum has learned to appreciate the importance of being fair to differing viewpoints of any given issue. “I am an advocate and my thoughts do matter, but you have to look at all sides.”

Much of Hallum’s first term was devoted to issues related to the flood such as levee recertification, moving of utilities, and addressing easements. These physical aspects of the clean-up efforts are more visible, but Hallum believes that one of his greatest achievements in office was more behind-the-scenes. “The books are clean,” he declared, “even though we had to raise some rates to do it.”

Looking back on the past decade, Hallum pointed to the hiring of Steve Sarvi as City Administrator in 2011 as one of the best moves of his tenure. “He is the most experienced City Administrator that Rushford has had. He understands how a city ought to be run, and he helped us to right the ship.” Sarvi had made a point of attending Hallum’s final Monday night meeting, a fact he noted with a smile.

Another significant milestone was the building of Loken’s Rushford Inn, with the help of the city and EDA, bringing a long-awaited hotel to town.

While attending the regular meetings of the city council on the second and fourth Mondays of each month and any special events or meetings required, Hallum continued to work overnights at Fastenal in Winona, a job he has held since February 2000.

Although the sleep schedule may have gotten complicated at times, the unusual hours have served him well. “(Being on third shift) has made me more available for meetings,” Hallum explained. “And I could pop in in the mornings after work, which really helped me to stay connected.” In addition, Hallum remained in the public eye by starring in numerous RASA productions during his time in office, most recently as another politician, the Mayor of Munchkin City in “The Wizard of Oz.”

The job has not been without trials, as Hallum will readily admit. One challenge he sees for the new administration is getting community members to be more engaged in the political process. “People aren’t paying enough attention,” he opined. “Who is on your council? Because it does matter.”

Hallum has also seen the dynamics of the council change over the past decade as members come and go. “You learn who to go to for good advice,” he stated. Hallum also emphasized the need for citizens to get involved in the essential services of the community, and cited the pressing need for people to serve on the Rushford Community Ambulance Service.

There are some significant ongoing projects that will pass on to the care of Mayor Benson in January, including the repurposing of the old school building by Well House Ministry and the impending Highway 30 project scheduled for 2022. “We have already begun neighborhood meetings with the residents and businesses involved. Very preliminary, but we want people to know that it’s coming and to get their input.”

Hallum has had many supporters who have stood by him through the ups and downs of the past decade, most importantly his parents. “They were very proud of me when I ran and when I won,” Hallum describes, “but they also knew how stressful it was; my mom in particular. When I decided not to run for re-election, she was the first one I told, and she was relieved that I was letting it go.”

Though he has no major plans for the free time he will have, Hallum looks forward to it and is leaving with a good feeling about his time in office. He also feels good about stepping aside. “(The City) is better than I found it,” he declared. “I can say that with complete confidence.”