Chris Michel - Candidate For Butler County Collector
Chris Michel says not only can he do the job as County Collector for Butler County, he already is.
“After Brenda Fox died, the Office of Commissions in Jefferson City contacted me within the week, and asked if I would take this position. I agreed, and I hit the ground running,” said Michel.
That was September 18, and since then Michel said he knows he has already done much to improve the office, and he would like the opportunity to continue bringing a technological and professional edge to the office.
“I’m really not a politician,” he explained. “I’ve got 30 years of business experience.”
He started back in 1982, operating one of the first One-Hour Photo Labs in the country. His experience with computers goes even further back, 1976. He said the primary challenge he has found working in the County Collector’s Office is that it was being operated “old school.” Procedures in some areas had not really changed since the 1950’s.
“Reports coming from daily operations had information but not in a way that made sense. It took hours and hours each month, using a manual calculator to add and subtract data to reach usable information,” said Michel.
As a matter of fact, one of the first things he did upon stepping into the office was to call the State Auditor’s Office.
“I got into the vault of the office, and basically found a large drawer with a lot of envelopes of money,” said Michel. “I’m not saying there was anything wrong going on, I’m just saying the methods of bookkeeping being used weren’t up to today’s standard accounting practices for a county collector’s office.” He said he wasn’t able to say exactly how much was in the safe, but that it was all presented to state auditors.
He thinks some of the money had been in there for some time. “I think a lot of it went back to the days when everything was being done manually,” he noted.
With that kind of beginning, he says the job has at times been what he terms “a wonderful challenge.”
“I’d say it’s been like trying to drink out of a fire hose,” he laughed.
Not only did he make some major changes in updating accounting and reporting procedures, but one of the first things he did was to cut his own salary by about 40 percent. He said his current salary is now about $62,000 versus the over $90,000 it would have been had he not made the cut. The cuts were made because he said he would not accept any personal payments of tax monies, which have been paid to the collector’s office.
“From now on, all taxes will stay with the county,” said Michel. “There will be no more personal payments.”
And of the reduced salary, he said, “I think I already get paid a fair salary. I informed the commissioners that no more personal payments to the collector will be accepted.”
His goal is to increase the efficiency of the office, and at the same time make its operations more transparent.
“Basically, I want to increase usable revenues and decrease costs,” said Michel. He noted that one of the ways to do that is to get the existing computers and software to work better.
“We have been paying $17,000 a year to a company but the software did not have all of the county operations tracked and the reports often made no sense,” said Michel. He said he now has that situation resolved.
“We just need modern technology and accountability practices,” he added.
As for his reception at the Butler County Courthouse, the Democrat says he has found the entire staff to be very friendly and professional. “I am very impressed with each of the county offices and their staff,” he said.
Why should voters vote for Chris Michel for County Collector on November 4? “I am a businessman, not a politician,” said Michel. “I am the person to vote for if you want your taxpayer money cared for.”
Michel says his aim is to make the office better. “Whether I am in this office for months or for years, I want it to be better than when I came here,” said Michel. “By the things I’ve done already, I think I’ve already saved the county more than my salary.”
“I am the type of guy who wants to squeeze George Washington until he squeaks,” he laughed.
He realizes the other two candidates have likely spent more on their campaigns than he has on his.
“I’ve seen all the billboards and yard signs, and I am doing some. But I do not want to spend an exorbitant amount of money for a campaign. I want to focus on doing a good job, and I hope that will speak for itself,” said Michel.
Win or lose, Michel says he is so thankful for such a great life, and a great family. He lost his wife, Melissa, eight years ago to breast cancer. She fought the disease for ten years. The result, though, was an even greater closeness with his five sons, ranging in age from 18 year old twins who have full scholarships playing Division 1 college football to a 29-year-old now practicing law in Alabama, another son is a VP of a national bank chain. He’s proud of each of them, and admits to frequently tapping his banker son and lawyer son for advice.
He had a good role model in his own father, who opened Key Drug Store in Poplar Bluff. “It is now owned by my brother Marty, and my brother David works there too.” he said.
“Dad opened that business in 1962,” related Michel. He says his favorite memory of his dad spoke to his dad’s character, qualities he strives to emulate.
“It was the days of segregation, and a black woman passed out in our store. Dad called for an ambulance, but in those days ambulances were segregated. Rather than wait on the segregated ambulance to arrive, Dad took her to the hospital himself,” recalled Michel.
Many years later, while at the St. Louis Art Museum, Michel says his dad and mom; Dr. Ken and Gloria Michel were approached by a woman who inquired as to Dr. Michel’s identity.
“Upon finding out who he was, the woman said she was the little girl in the backseat of that car, the daughter of the woman who had fallen ill,” said Michel.
He notes he still is so proud of the kind of man his father is. He says, “It’s in times of suffering that we find out the most about each other as humans.”
“When my wife died, I can’t say that was the worst day of my life. Because I knew her suffering was over, and that she was now in Heaven,” said Michel. “I’d have to say it was much worse later when I woke up in the middle of the night dreaming about her. I dreamed that she was still alive, and still suffering. It took me awhile to shake off that feeling of sorrow, knowing someone I love was suffering.”
Those moments have taught him much about life. “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” said Michel. “And almost everything is small stuff.”
He says that is especially true of an election. “Yes, I want the job,” concluded Michel. “And I think I will be very good at the job.”