Retired In Name Only, Board Member, Councilor Is Busy

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LEWISTON, Idaho — Technically, Dennis Ohrtman is retired-but you'd never know it from the kind of hours he works.

This is Ohrtman's first year of a second term as a city councilman, and between that and his work with Clearwater Credit Union, he said that he usually puts in at least five 18-hour days per week. Originally from Iowa, Ohrtman has been a Lewiston resident for more than 30 years, and the city council position is his first elected position in a public office.

He has, however, held other offices, including serving as the vice president of the state teachers' union and holding seats on a dozen boards of directors, including that of Clearwater CU, a $22-million, 4,400-member institution.

Ohrtman's blunt assessment: "Life has been pretty difficult in politics."

For starters, he was the only surviving incumbent council member after the last election, which was followed by an attempt to recall him and three others. That effort "failed pretty miserably," he noted, before adding, "Politics at the moment is a very logical place for people to focus all of their discontent and their fears when they are afraid of what's going to happen to their money and afraid of what's going to happen to their lifestyles. You've got to hit out at somebody, and politicians are easy people to hate or rate.

"People who go into public service do it because they feel like they have some solid skills to bring to the table to make life easier for people," Ohrtman continued, adding that the city of 32,000 "is just ready to blossom."

Much of his recent work with the council has been focused on establishing a new library, including finding creative ways to raise both public and private funds. Lewiston, which is located at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers, has the potential for several miles of waterfront property that can be developed for commercial use, and Ohrtman has been focused on that, as well.

Advocate For Credit Union

Through his elected position, Ohrtman has had a fair opportunity to advocate for the CU community. Clearwater Credit Union originally began as a state employees credit union, so it has a long history of a very community-minded membership, including police officers, fire fighters, elected officials and other public servants.

"There's no doubt in the minds of the people here in town that I've been involved with the credit union for years, and that I'm bouncing in and out of chamber meetings and doing whatever needs to be done to continually have a presence," said Ohrtman. "And that presence is labeled with the credit union, as well."

Ohrtman said that while there may be voter discontent, by and large he has not experienced the lack of civility that has taken hold in national politics. That's due in part, he said, to his own efforts to make sure such a mentality doesn't creep into the way the city does its business.

A Sad Sight

"We do have to all live here together, and I've lived here since 1969 and I love living here," he said. "Some of the people with whom I disagree live two houses down the block, but they're your neighbors and you treat them like neighbors. One of the prices of public service is that not everyone is always going to like you."

Looking to the national mood and the current government, he called the current Congress "one of the saddest bodies I've seen in a long time. I just think that, from the perspective of members of all the parties, there are a number of people who have lost some perspective, or lost the ability to convey that they see what their constituents need."

He noted that while it's easier to stay in touch with your constituents' needs at the local level, it's still very possible for elected officials to lose touch-"and it can happen very quickly."

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