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Eva Danner Horton, First Female Presiding Commissioner, Retires
December 30, 2014

CAPTION: Eva Danner Horton began serving Livingston County as presiding commissioner in 1995 and is retiring at the end of 2014. A reception will be held in her honor on from 2 until 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, December 31, at the courthouse. Danner Horton became the county's first female presiding commissioner 20 years ago when Bill Hoyt retired after 32 years with the county. Photo: Catherine Stortz Ripley

Eva Danner Horton was 46 years old when she embarked on a new career path that led her to become Livingston County's first female presiding commissioner - an elected office that she would retain for the next 20 years. Now, at 66 years of age, Eva is retiring. Her fifth term as presiding commissioner expires Dec. 31, 2014.

"I tell people that I was young when I started, but I got over it," she says with a smile. Eva was selling real estate and had been recently widowed when she decided to seek public office in 1994. "This was just something that gave me a new direction in life," Eva said. "It was kind of a new focus and the timing was right." Eva's husband, Daryl, had passed away in spring 1992. Together, they had been co-owners of Danner-Miller Auction Service with Mike and Marti Miller. Eva was a cashier for the business. In addition to the auction service, Eva sold real estate for Shelton Real Estate. "I had a complete life. Politics was never on my radar screen," she told the Constitution-Tribune during a recent interview. Then, someone suggested she run for the position of presiding commissioner, a position that had been held by Bill Hoyt for 32 years prior. Hoyt had decided not to seek re-election. "If Daryl had still been alive, I never would have thought about it," Eva said. Reflecting on that time in her life, Eva discovered that becoming involved in politics gave her a hope and a future.

She had opposition in her first bid for the office, with a Democratic primary and general election contest, both which she solidly won. (In the next two election cycles, she ran uncontested, then had a general election opponent in 2006, and was uncontested again in 2010). Eva took the oath of office and began duties in January 1995. She stopped selling real estate three years later. "It was just too overwhelming to try to do both," she said. Although she no longer sold real estate, Eva's schedule did not slow. She devoted her time to not only the work of the county commission, but she actively became involved in state organizations in an effort to make county governments stronger. She also advocated for ways to make government more efficient. Not only did Eva lead the county commission, but she also was elected president of the Missouri Association of Counties, a honor for most anyone, but a unique title especially for a woman. During the 20 years that she has been on the commission, women have been a minority statewide. Of the 300-plus commissioners in the state, there have rarely, if ever, been more than 20 women serving. She served as the MAC president during 2010.

The first big project during Danner's tenure was the implementation of Enhanced 911 in April 1999, which was made possible following a voter-approved tax on landline phones. Another significant project was implementation of GIS, which was a collaborative effort among the county's elected officials, the city of Chillicothe and Chillicothe Municipal Utilities. An early project she became involved with was trying to lower the county's utilities bills. The county had been spending around $5,000 a month on utilities at the courthouse. By 1997 Eva had started a file on a ground source heat pump, and by 2006, the heat pump was installed at a cost of $650,000. "It was the biggest project we have ever done," she said. Alternatives such as a forced air furnace in a 100-year-old building that has walls 12 inches thick was not the most ideal. "Every time we run an electrical wire, it's quite a deal to get through those interior walls," she said. Additionally, if the county would have pursued an avenue with ductwork, the high ceilings would need to be lowered. "It would have destroyed the appearance of the building," she said. The county will be making payments on the heat pump until 2021, using money that comes from the use tax (which started to be collected in 2006); however, the county spends about $3,000 less on utilities each month compared to months prior to the heat pump.

Another highlight during her time in office was the passage of a one-fourth cent sales tax for law enforcement. That tax generates around $500,000 annually and was desperately needed she said, noting that Livingston County was one of about five counties in Missouri that operated on a half-cent sales tax only. Before leaving office, Eva wanted to make sure the courthouse was in good physical condition. Through the use of a DNR historic preservation grant this year, new exterior clocks were installed on all sides of the courthouse, railings were completed above each entrance, and an unsightly utility pole on the north side of the building was removed and underground utilities installed. "We are celebrating the courthouse's 100th anniversary and we're thankful that it is in the condition that it is," Danner said. "It's a beautiful place for people to come to work and for the public to do their business. We're real proud of it." Danner points out that these projects and more were made possible through support of many people. "None of these things are things that I have done," she said. "We wouldn't have had these successes if we didn't have that support and the money to do things."

Danner has also been active in successful lobbying efforts at the state level for various issues, promoting county health ordinances, increasing funding for prisoner per diem, and assessment reimbursement. Not everything, however, has been successful. One issue she has advocated long and hard for is the implementation of a fee on cell phones to help support 911 funding. She notes that Missouri is the only state that does not have such a fee on cell phones, yet most 911 calls are made from cell phones. Additionally, the other states' legislatures have enacted the fees, while Missouri chooses to let its voters decide. "We came so close this last year but didn't get it done," she said. Another area in which Eva has lobbied involves internet sales tax that would enable counties to recoup lost revenues due to internet sales. "That needs to be taken care of," she said. "That takes federal and state legislative action."

Eva admits that she has learned much about the inner workings of county government and what it takes to operate a county. She recalls that when she was first took office she went to the courthouse by herself and spent hours poring over files so that she could be acquainted with numerous subjects. Her advice to an incoming presiding commissioner? Take the initiative to learn as much as you can. "I think you have to spend much time on your own studying issues and understanding what laws apply to the commission, what our duties are, what we can and can't do," she said. There's not a lot of direction for new commissioners. The state offers a session for newly-elected commissioners; however, the session covers only a miniscule portion of what commissioners deal with from day to day. "Do your best and delve in and study on your own," she said. Even to this day, Eva gets stumped by new requests, such as a recent inquiry from someone wanting to know what the rules were for developing a family cemetery. "It was something we had never dealt with," she said. "No matter how long you are here, there's always going to be a new subject come up that you're going to have to deal with."

Eva came on the commission when Max Smith was commissioner of the west district and Charlene Coleman (the first female associate commissioner) was commissioner of the east district. Since that time, Eva has worked with associate commissioners Kenney Warren, and currently serves with Ken Lauhoff and Todd Rodenberg. "The working relationship with all of them has been good," she said. "We all worked very well with each other." Working in cooperation with one another is important for the overall health of the county. "If you can't get along, you can't get anything done," she said.

As for her retirement plans, Eva said she is looking forward to slowing down. "I'm looking forward to being at home, and being comfortable with being at home," she said. That's not something that comes easy for her as presiding commissioner and the commitments she has through that position. "Anytime I'm at home, I'm thinking I ought to be doing something here (at the courthouse)," she said. She is appreciative of the support she has received while in office. "I've been blessed that people have supported me," Eva said. "It's been a wonderful experience. I will miss all the wonderful people I have been involved with."

Eva's children are Amy, of Bedford, Texas; Dana Borgmeyer and husband, Charlie, and children Chloe, 8, and Claire, 4 of Kansas City; and Drew and wife, Krista, with children Ella, 9, and Maddie, 7, of New Prague, Minn. Eva married Ray Horton in 2010 and Eva's family expanded with Ray's children: Brian and wife, Amy, with children Hunter, 15, and Brooke, 11, of Chillicothe; Tracy Ford, of Webb City, Mo., and Kelly Dunn and husband Trevor, with daughter Zoey, 4, of Chula.

C-T, February 25, 2014 (Catherine Stortz Ripley)

A familiar face to the candidate filing process for the last 20 years - serving five terms - has been Presiding Commissioner Eva Danner Horton. Horton sought election following the retirement of long-time commissioner "Judge" Bill Hoyt in 1994, but chose not to seek re-election this year (2014). Hoyt, a Democrat, had served 32 years as presiding commissioner. "I'm not going to try to beat his record," said Horton during an interview with the C-T on Monday, February 24.

Horton, 65, ran uncontested for three of her elections and said she is ready for retirement. "I feel like we have done lots of things, and I've certainly enjoyed it. It's been wonderful."

Three things remain on her bucket list to complete before leaving office, and with the awarding of a grant to the county, those things will be completed. The first is fixing the courthouse clocks. The second is removing the electric pole at the north end for the courthouse (other utilities downtown are underground). The third is to replace the railings on the north and east sides of the courthouse. In 2009, the railings on the west and south sides were replaced, and the courthouse was tuck-pointed. The overall cost for the three projects is estimated at $63,000 and will be paid for through a $44,100 grant, with a local county match of $18,900.

Getting these projects completed are important to Horton as the courthouse turns 100 years old this July.

Horton sold real estate for Shelton Real Estate prior to becoming commissioner. The move to public office created a new challenge. "This gave me a new purpose and direction," Horton said. "I met such wonderful people throughout the state in the various organizations I have been involved with." 

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Livingston County Courthouse
700 Webster Street
Chillicothe, MO 64601