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Hemmesch cuts the cord

Fran Hemmesch often brought her French poodle Chance to work at the South Washington County Telecommunications Commission. She will retire Feb. 28 as administrator, a position she held for 22 of her 32 years there. (Bulletin photo by William Loeffler)

Washington County

When she first started at the South Washington County Telecommunications Commission, Fran Hemmesch worked at a typewriter that sat on a folding table. Within close reach was a container of white correction fluid. Her first office was a room in the Cottage Grove City Hall.

It was 1985.

"When I tell my grandchildren that, they ask if there were cars back then," Hemmesch said in her distinctive deadpan rasp.

When she started, the region's first cable provider — and the only one interested in setting up shop here — was Telephone and Data Systems, Inc.

Last year, for the first time, south Washington County subscribers were given a choice between two cable providers. Hemmesch helped negotiate a franchise agreement with CenturyLink to provide PrismTV to select homes in Cottage Grove, Woodbury, Newport, St. Paul Park and Grey Cloud Island. The move helped break a years-long monopoly by primary provider Comcast.

The five cities each have two representatives on the commission.

"I'm just really proud of this commission," she said. "I've always had great cooperation from the member cities. There's nothing wrong with this job. I guess I've enjoyed almost every day of this job."

Hemmesch said she would retire only after she helped to broker a change to the commission's joint powers agreement that would give more votes to the cities that provided the most subscriber revenue. The change was finally decided last fall, but only after the three smaller cities received assurances that they would continue to receive a share of the Comcast and CenturyLink franchise fee reimbursement.

"That was something I wanted to accomplish before I left," Hemmesch said. She retires Feb. 28.

Mike Bradley, a partner at Bradley Berkland Hagen & Herbst, worked with Hemmesch on the CenturyLink franchise effort.

"Fran's been a wonderful employee to the South Washington County Telecommunications Commission," he said. "She has spent 22 years looking out for the interests of the member cities of the commission and the subscribers that are served by the commission."

Services provided by SWCTC for member cities include cablecasting of member city meetings, airing those meetings live and replaying them on cable television and online; filming special events around the communities; and providing member cities with special, local programming to highlight public safety events, ribbon cuttings, 5K races and holiday events such as the lighting of the Cottage Grove Christmas tree.

These events are videotaped and produced by staffers such as Justin Atkinson.

"Fran has been the most incredible boss I've ever worked for," he said. "She gave me opportunities to grow. I started here as an intern. She gave me the opportunity to grow up through master control operator to production assistant all the way to producer. She just made it really fun and special. She's put together such a great team of people who have all been very supportive of me and my journey here. They've been mentors and friends and family. That's the environment that she likes to create. She likes to make it fun to come to work here."

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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