Striking a balance

By Ron Burtz

Corbin Herman

Wearing two hats can be awkward at times and nobody knows that better than Corbin Herman. By day he wears the hat of a National Forest Service civil engineering technician, but after hours he dons an entirely different hat as mayor of the city of Custer. And while that situation can produce tensions and even some awkwardness at times, Herman says the experience has so far been very positive.

Herman is being spotlighted by his bosses at the Black Hills National Forest district office in Custer for his volunteer public service work in the community. The acknowledgment comes as part of Public Service Recognition Week observed May 6-12 to recognize excellence in public service, promote the spirit of public service and honor the men and women who serve our nation as federal, state, county and local government employees.

Serving as mayor of Custer for the past year has put Herman in a unique position. Forest Service employees are prohibited from holding partisan political offices, so mayor is the highest elected office an employee like Herman can hold.

Herman illustrates the uniqueness of his situation by describing his unusual relationship with Forest supervisor Mark Van Every.

“Mark is my boss’s boss’s boss,” he says. “Sometimes I leave my office and go down [to city hall] and have to have a conversation about Mark. It’s one of the larger employers in the community and the property the Forest Service manages surrounds the community, so there needs to be interaction sometimes.”

“I go to work and then call the district ranger to talk about their building downtown, so it might be a little awkward at times, but I think we work through it very well,” Herman said.

Because of those tensions, Herman tries hard to draw a firm line between his Forest Service job and his work with the city.

“I keep it totally separate,” he said. “I try to avoid the water cooler talk about city business here. It’s very important to me and to everybody here to keep this and that separate.”

Herman says Forest Service officials have been very supportive of his efforts. “They support me as much as they can.”

The mayor’s sense of duty when it comes to public service comes through in conversation. Asked why he chooses to be involved in the community as mayor on his own time, Herman said, “Somebody has to. If you feel like you can accomplish something, then step up and try to do it. If you can be part of the team and get something done for all of the citizens, go do it.”

“If you want a future for the community, for your family, somebody has to help shape that. Somebody has to step up and do it. And if I don’t and nobody else does, what’s the shape going to be?” he asked.

A Forest Service employee for the past nine years, Herman began his public service by running for the Custer City Council six years ago, serving as president of the council the last five years. Then last year after being approached by some community residents about the mayoral position, he ran unopposed last spring and took office in July.

So far he says the experience has been very positive. 

“It’s not an easy job,” he said, “but I really enjoy it. You work for all of the citizens. Sometimes some of the citizens want to push something in their direction, but you really work for all of the citizens, so you have to balance that —   consider what all of the citizens want, not just some.”

Looking back over his first year as mayor, Herman says he is most happy to see the Regional Hospital project being completed. 

“We’ve been working on the hospital for so long,” he said. “We’re finally seeing that come to fruition.”

In the second year of his term, Herman says he hopes to see positive movement on two other projects that have been on the drawing board a long time.

“We have West Dam hanging out there,” he said. “I would love to see that process start. And we have the community center hanging out there and I would love to see it moved along in the short term. Whatever happens after next year, who knows, but I’d like to see those things have a clear direction.”

Commenting on Herman’s public service, Van Every said, “It’s nice to take time out of our busy schedules to recognize the people who give back to our communities. Employees on the Black Hills National Forest embrace a tradition of excellence. They come to work every day ready to serve the public. They are great public servants who uphold the USFS motto, caring for the land and serving people.”

Asked if he plans to seek a second term, Herman says it’s likely he’ll run again, even though wearing two hats can be challenging and time consuming.

“Sometimes you think, ‘Boy! I could be fishing,’ but the fish will be there.”