District 3 Polk County Commissioner Gary Willhite, along with his wife Lynn, and District 4 Commissioner Joan Lee attended a special White House briefing and tour in late May

    After what seemed like a prank call and a questionable email a day or two later, District 3 Polk County Commissioner Gary Willhite verified he had officially received a White House conference invitation and decided he should attend. Fast forward through the R.S.V.P., extensive background check, and trip-planning process, and the Willhites, Gary and his wife Lynn, were off to Washington D.C.

    “I was intrigued about the opportunity and thought it was important that the White House reached out,” Commissioner Willhite told the Times. “I understood that the trip would be at my own expense, but I felt I should respond and fit it in our schedule.”

    The Association of Minnesota Counties held a private White House briefing and tour for nearly 70 Minnesota county commissioners, officials, staff and guests on May 31 where federal officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, spoke to the group about the importance of the partnership between local and federal government officials.

    Other speakers at the White House briefing included directors, secretaries and deputy assistants from the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Office of National Drug Control Policy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Urban Housing & Development, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Department of Transportation, and White House Office of Legislative Affairs.

    Commissioner Willhite and Lynn said they made a “mini vacation” out of the trip to see the sites a day early. They visited Arlington Cemetery, Korean War Memorial, and other monuments.

    When they arrived at the White House the day of the briefing, Willhite recalled he had never seen “so many guns, soldiers, dogs and cameras” in the “obviously” secure place. The Minnesota group got a chance to turn the grounds and White House before meeting in the East Wing.

    “We went over a variety of topics like drug control, we referenced flood projects with the Army Corps of Engineers and talked about the need for a faster process, talked about the farm bill, had a good speaker from the veterans department, went over transportation, HUD, and much more,” Willhite explained. “It wasn’t just a listening session, they wanted us to ask questions and it gave me the impression they were really concerned.”

    “I thought it was unique we got to meet with VP Mike Pence and, no, we didn’t get to meet Trump since he was in Texas, and congress was on recess so no opportunities to meet with them either,” he added. “It was nice to have the one-on-one and find out who you need to call for each department as they gave us a list afterward.”

    “The issues we have in Minnesota are very similar to elsewhere,” Willhite finished.