Hynek brothers leave fate of Mountrail County to new leaders – Bismarck Tribune

ROSS, N.D. — Brothers whose capable hands helped steer Mountrail County and its biggest city through the Bakken boom phenomenon are going farming and fishing instead.

David and Mike Hynek, with roots four generations deep in the slough-filled, oil-drilled countryside of home, say they’ve fought the hard fight long enough.

Each has been a valuable public servant, bringing to bear decency and the example of a father who prized work above rhetoric on an industrial growth frenzy that may never be repeated.

David Hynek, 67, will leave the Mountrail County Commission after 17 years. Mike Hynek, 55, will leave the mayor’s spot on the Stanley City Council after eight years and four earlier on the council.

These are positions that in most cases would consume a reasonable amount of a person’s time and fortitude.

But “reasonable” doesn’t apply to Stanley and Mountrail County, where oil development hit first and hardest. It hasn’t for some time. Its oil production joined with neighboring McKenzie County’s alone makes it the second-largest oil producer in the country next to Texas.

Stanley is nearly unrecognizable from the town it was when Mike Hynek started as mayor. It’s two to three times larger, with hundreds of millions of dollars in industrial, commercial and residential growth grafted onto its modest core.

The same is true for the county, where 2,000 oil wells have been drilled, thousands of miles of pipe and electric line laid, gravel roads used hard and 32 rigs are drilling.

Meetings that lasted a few hours now last full days. Budgets that were simple are complicated. Departments that were small are growing, with turnover and housing for employees a constant battle. The county’s pre-boom budget of $6 million annually and the need to sell off equipment to pay bills is now $100 million.

For anyone who hasn’t seen it with their own eyes, it’s impossible to imagine.

Sitting at the kitchen table in their childhood home where David Hynek raised his family and farmed, the Hynek brothers talk about ending their years of public service in the four walls that inspired it.

They don’t use the cliche “burned out,” but it’s the same thing by any other name.

Mike Hynek said he used to feel invigorated and excited by the challenges waiting to be met.

“It used to be I couldn’t wait to go to city hall and get something accomplished,” he said. He doesn’t feel that way anymore.

Each also has had — though David Hynek more so — too much of the Bismarck-centered politics that they say has made the hard job of building up the city and county even harder.

“The struggle with state leadership has been the most disappointing part of my leadership,” David Hynek said. “We had to fight like hell to get (a higher share of oil production tax), but it’s always a day late and a dollar short. The governor and the leadership are fearful and mistrustful of local government.”

David Hynek said he’s particularly soured on the politics behind the oil impact grant program administered through the Department of Trust Lands for which he and other oil patch leaders serve on a citizens’ advisory board.

“This is typical. We met two weeks ago and looked at $47 million in requests and we had $6.2 million to work with. It’s grossly underfunded. I won’t say it’s a joke, but it’s pitiful. The grant process makes you compete against neighbors and four times a year, they (politicians) get to put their names on a press release,” he said.

David Hynek said he’s done with that. “That was the last one. I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I’m not willing to put my name to that process, where behind the scenes it’s all politics so they can get their names in the paper,” he said.

Mike Hynek said the city has devoted so much of its resources to expanding the city with water and sewer, that it hasn’t been able to properly maintain existing streets in town, which now are so compromised they’ll have to be replaced instead of repaired.

There’s some irony in what occurred recently when the county shut down its wet gravel roads to heavy oil traffic to keep them from being damaged and gouged with 18-wheeler ruts.

David Hynek said commissioners fielded calls from the governor’s office and said he hopes the state got the message that if the county had gotten the help it needed for roads in the first place, it wouldn’t have to shut them down.

“I tell it like it is … If they can’t handle it, they can’t handle it. If it’s the governor or the CEO of an oil company, I just tell it like it is,” he said.

Fellow commissioner Greg Boschee said David Hynek didn’t set out to offend anyone, but some didn’t like to hear what he had to say, including politicians.

“I don’t want to see him go. He leads and he knows what’s right,” Boschee said.

Boschee said he agrees with David Hynek. “The money we’re getting out here is just pathetic. They have one more session to work with us; if not, there will be hostility. We’re just at that point,” Boschee said.

If David Hynek’s legacy is one of honesty in action, Mike Hynek said he hopes his own is of moving forward, fairly, during times of unprecedented opportunity.

“I made sure the city was not going to have the ‘good old boy’ network thing. You can’t do that; you’d get nothing done,” he said.

He believes in open government, where citizens are always welcome. He recently adjourned a city meeting for two hours so citizens could talk one-on-one with a company hired to re-evaluate property. Home values in this boom town went up an average of 100 percent, but when people were given time to delve into their individual valuation, each and every one left without complaint, he said.

“I’m glad we got that done. Now it’s off the next mayor’s back,” Mike Hynek said.

Dennis Lindahl, a city councilman, said he was privileged to sit next to Mike Hynek for four years and observe ethics in government.

“He always went a step beyond the right thing, to where there was zero harm. He was so good at explaining why something was turned down, or why it’s not going to happen. He has a vision, and leadership without vision is a mistake. He kept the oil patch from running over Stanley,” Lindahl said.

He said Stanley benefited from Mike Hynek’s focus on family housing development over apartment complexes and keeping campers and trailers out of town from the get-go.

“It was about permanent residents that build schools and property taxes,” Lindahl said.

David Hynek is not only leaving the county commission, he’s leaving the farmhouse behind for a new house in Fargo and lake property in Minnesota.

His brother, Mike Hynek, and his sons will expand their nearby farm operation so what began in 1905 will move into the hands of the fifth generation.

David Hynek said he’ll go fishing and spend time with his wife, Ginny, and their grandchildren.

Those plans are his primary reason for leaving Mountrail County, but so is the oil boom itself.

“It’s different and I don’t like it. I used to go outside and hear birds and coyotes. Now it’s trains, trucks and drilling rigs,” he said.

David Hynek said he recently read a scholarly white paper on the concept of “crowding out,” when an essentially rural place is consumed by industry and the base group of established families is lost.

“That’s impossible to recreate. What the hell do you do when it’s gone and replaced by people with no roots here? These are gaps that can’t be filled,” David Hynek said.

Time will tell. These brothers will move on from public service, trusting the gap they leave will be filled by others with a fresh sense of purpose.

While they were on watch, they steered as straight as they could during a wild bumpy ride.

Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 701-220-5511 or lauren@westriv.com.

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