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Columbia Missourian

Three vie for Boone County public administrator

July 31, 2008 | 5:09 p.m. CDT
Cathy Richards

After serving nearly 16 years as Boone County's public administrator, Connie Bell Hendren decided not to seek re-election. Three people have stepped up to compete for the post, including Democrats Cathy Richards and Dan Dunham and Republican John D. Sullivan. Democrats will choose between Richards and Dunham on the Aug. 5 primary ballot, while Sullivan is assured his party's nod and a spot on the November general election ballot. The winner of the November vote will take office Jan. 1.



The public administrator is an elected official who is assigned custodial and administrative responsibility for the estates of deceased people and the persons and estates of minors and incapacitated or disabled people when there is no legal guardian, conservator or competent person to assume those duties. When ordered by the court to assume such duties, the public administrator provides for the proper care of the person and protects the assets of an estate against injury, waste, theft or loss. Public administrators serve four-year terms. The salary is $82,026.



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Cathy Richards

AGE: 55

PARTY: Democrat

OCCUPATION: Office manager for Boone County Commission

CREDENTIALS: Bachelor's degree in business management, pursuing a degree in counseling, completed nursing rotations at Truman Veterans Hospital, endorsed by incumbent Public Administrator Connie Hendren.



Cathy Richards' passion for service might best be explained with a line from a Christmas song: "Fa la la la la."

During a nursing student rotation at Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital, Richards had to help a patient with a large, painful bedsore on his back. As she and her co-workers cared for the man, he began to cry from the pain. Richards tried to distract him through conversation, asking him about things he liked.

His favorite thing? Christmas music.

With a little persuasion, Richards said, the room was soon alive with the song "Deck the Halls."

It's opportunities to help people on an individual level that makes Richards excited about the prospect of becoming Boone County's next public administrator.

Richards was raised on a farm in northern Boone County, the sixth of eight children. It was there, she said, that she learned the meaning of responsibility, as she cared for animals and completed other chores before the sun came up.

Richards said her grandmother passed on her sense of responsibility.

"My grandmother was like a Florence Nightengale," Richards said. "She was always noted for helping people, going from house to house. My grandmother was my role model."

Eventually, Richards made the transition from a family of eight children to caring for her own children in a family of four. Unable to attend college, she worked to support her children. After all four graduated college, Richards wanted to do the same.

"Then it was time to take care of me and do what I always wanted to do," she said.

Richards pursued a nursing degree at Columbia College, but when a required course was offered in the afternoon, she was no longer able to attend.

"I hated to leave. It was the worst thing," Richards said. "But I had to have benefits from my job."

Still, her time as a nursing student didn't go to waste. Richards got to serve two nursing student rotations at the VA hospital, and she spent much of her time in the hospice wing.

"That was the most moving thing for me to understand about people," she said.

Richards did earn a degree in business management at William Woods University in Fulton. She felt that sort of education would help in whatever she did. And as she continued her job as office manager for the Boone County Commission, she began pursuing a masters degree in counseling from Stephens College. She is now doing her practicum. She said that experience would strengthen her abilities as public administrator.

"When you're trained in something, and you bring that forward with the other skills you've gathered, you'll be really good," Richards said. "I think the clients will really respond to me well."

Richards noted that she is the only one of three candidates who has been endorsed by the incumbent administrator, Connie Hendren.

"I know Connie, and she's good at her job," Richards said. "It was just like she trusted me, which means a lot."


Dan Dunham

AGE: 58

PARTY: Democrat


CREDENTIALS: In addition to his law degree, he has a bachelor's degree in psychology and a master's degree in behavioral science.


Dan Dunham was on a plane traveling from Denver to Kansas City four years ago when he met Max Lewis, a strong supporter of his.

Lewis was seated in the back of the plane, and Dunham was the only passenger next to him. As they traveled, the two found they had much in common. Dunham was a practicing attorney in Columbia; Lewis was a law student at MU. Dunham had a daughter in physical therapy school; Lewis had spoken at that physical therapy school's orientation.

Lewis is paralyzed from the chest down. Throughout the flight, he needed help with several tasks, including drinking and eating a snack. Dunham, Lewis said, was happy to help.

"Dan was very respectful to me as a person," Lewis said. "He didn't focus on my disability at all."

It is that respectful attitude that makes Dunham a good candidate for public administrator, Lewis said.

Dunham was born in New Salem, Ill., on a farm in the west-central part of the state. His father was the mayor for a few years, while his mother was president of the PTA and taught Sunday school. Dunham remained in New Salem until he came to MU, where he met his wife, Lynda, and completed his undergraduate degree. He dabbled in some pre-med courses but graduated with a degree in psychology.

Dunham moved on to graduate school at Southern Illinois University in the behavioral science masters program. As a student, he took a job with the Division of Family Services in St. Louis.

"(I dealt with) everything from child abuse to licensing day care centers, you name it," Dunham said.

In 1977, Dunham returned to MU, this time to attend law school while he worked at the juvenile detention center. After graduating, he worked for a Hannibal law firm, but he came back to Columbia again when his wife got a job offer. He now works as an attorney at Carlyle Foley, P.C.

Dunham said his legal experience would serve him well as public administrator. He has handled more than 60 cases, two of which were tried before the U.S. Supreme Court. It's clear his passion is in the courtroom.

"It's my combination of legal and social services with my education in social and behavioral science," Dunham said of his credentials for public administrator. "You provide a lot of services, but you do all that in the context of laws in the probate system."

Outside his law practice, Dunham attends several churches. He is interested in history and is a member of the Abraham Lincoln Association.

Dunham said his relationships with his daughters would keep him grounded as public administrator. One is a physical therapist, and another works for Paraquad, an organization promoting independent living.

"They'll keep me on track and honest," Dunham said.

Two defining moments in Dunham's life were the deaths of his mother and father, in 2001 and 2007, respectively. His mother died of cancer; Dunham saw her through all her treatments and all aspects of her illness. He recalls that when his father died, he listened to friends and family talk about the kind of person he was.

"His life was about serving and sharing," Dunham said. "It still reverberates. That's what I'm about, too."

If elected, Dunham said he would start with the premise that Boone County has a history of great public administrators.

"My goal is to build on what past public administrators have accomplished and go forward from there, maintaining quality," he said. "I hope to keep folks as individuals while still being true to the court system and the laws."


John D. Sullivan

AGE: 62

PARTY: Republican

OCCUPATION: Self-employed at his insurance agency, Sullivan and Associates

CREDENTIALS: Attended seminary; master's degrees in public administration and gerontology; apartment manager at low-income housing complex; ; former city administrator for Valley, Neb.; former city manager in Aurora; former nursing home administrator at Columbia House.


He's had more than half a dozen jobs, but finally, John Sullivan said, he knows what he wants to do with his life.

"It seems that now I've finally arrived at the thing that would be the most meaningful thing for me," Sullivan said. "Public administrator is what I want to be when I grow up."

Sullivan's career path has taken him many directions. He attended seminary at 14, a move Sullivan said instilled in him a spirit of service, a spirit that fuels his desire to be Boone County's public administrator.

After nine years of seminary, Sullivan realized that the priesthood wasn't for him, but that a service-oriented career was. He remained in Omaha, Neb., serving as religious education coordinator at a large parish.

"It's just one of the building blocks of how I worked with volunteers - my attitude, being able to work with people," Sullivan said.

He married his wife, Suzanne Sullivan, and pursued his graduate degree in public administration and gerontology from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He and his wife were apartment managers at a low-income housing complex, where they established good relationships with tenants.

As a masters student, he did an internship as a constituent aide for a congressman, resolving people's problems with Social Security, Medicare and other benefits. He said that background would serve him well as public administrator.

When the congressman lost his re-election campaign, Sullivan took a city administrator position in Valley, Neb., outside Omaha. Three years later, in 1980, he became city manager of Aurora.

"In those capacities, you're dealing with different agencies, different levels of management," Sullivan said. "You're also dealing with citizens in each of those communities."

His next career move capitalized on his knowledge of gerontology. As a nursing home construction developer and then a nursing home administrator, Sullivan interacted with many people with mental disabilities and others with "troubled backgrounds."

Sullivan arrived in Columbia when he worked for what was then Columbia House, a 126-bed Medicare and Medicaid facility. Finally, he became an independent insurance agent.

The walls of Sullivan's home office read like a resume. Plaques thank him for years of service in various jobs. His years in the Rotary and Knights of Columbus are commemorated in inscribed metal. One wall, covered in framed sayings and images, displays his love for fishing, a hobby in which Sullivan said he has little expertise but enjoys nonetheless.

Sullivan first ran for public administrator in 2004 against the incumbent, Hendren. He said he's better prepared this time.

"I have more behind me, more support," Sullivan said. "I'm in the game, if you will."

Sullivan is quick to tell of his professional qualifications for public administrator, but Suzanne Sullivan said the fact that he's the father of eight and the grandfather of 10 is perhaps his top credential.

"Dealing with eight children, truly (was good preparation for the job)," Suzanne said. "The normal drama and excitement and counseling and patience and caring for each one of them as individuals - all those things help him to be ready to do this job."