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When the smoke cleared after the November election cycle, there were more new faces serving on county boards across the state than there have been in nearly two decades.

Almost one fourth of the county board members, 103 of 417 commissioners, are beginning their first terms this year, according to numbers provided by Larry Dix, executive director of the Nebraska Association of County Officials.

Some new board members defeated incumbents to gain seats, while others replaced board members who retired, Dix said. 

It’s the highest number of new board members recorded since at least 2002, when Dix first took over.

“We’ve never been anywhere close to that,” he said.

The Nebraska Association of County Officials estimates that 270 county board members were up for re-election in 2018. In a typical year, that would yield between 60 and 80 new board members, Dix said.

One county, Colfax, has all new members on its three-member board. The county clerk, however, is a veteran elected official who guided the board through its initial meetings, Dix said. 

Two incumbents were defeated and another board member died and was replaced in Colfax County, Dix said.

This is the first time Dix has heard of a county's entire board turning over since he began working with county governments in 1977. 

In Seward County, four of the five commissioners are new, with two retirements and one incumbent losing contributing to the turnover.    

Lancaster County has two new commissioners on its five-member board. One was the result of a retirement and the other resulting from the strong Democratic vote here in November.  

Sean Flowerday was elected to the seat held by Bill Avery, who retired, while Democrat Rick Vest beat Republican incumbent Todd Wiltgen.

Other county government positions across the state saw heavy turnover as well, according to Dix.

Of the 93 county treasurers, one-third of them left office this year.

Dix didn’t have numbers showing how many elected officials were voted out of office, compared to how many chose not to run for re-election.

Generally, county board members tend to be more vulnerable to losing their seats than other officials, like clerks and treasurers, Dix said. That’s because board members tend to make a lot of tough and more visible decisions that community members may disagree with.

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But Dix says he believes age played the biggest role in this year’s massive turnover, coming as the Baby Boomer generation gets older.

“It’s happening in all industries, not just county government,” he said. “We’re seeing a number of folks just sort of age out and retire, and we have sort of a next generation stepping up and taking over.”

Lancaster County Assessor Norm Agena retired, and his deputy Rob Ogden ran unopposed for the office. 

But Lancaster County voters also replaced the incumbent treasurer, Andy Stebbing, with a new treasurer, Rachel Garver.  

Dix says that with the large number of new county government officials comes a learning curve. The Nebraska Association of County Officials has offered training sessions for new officials, and 97 of the 103 new county commissioners signed up.

Dix says he fields calls daily from new county officials seeking advice.

“They’re learning, so they have a lot of questions,” Dix said.

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Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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