Utah County Commissioner David Gardner is a man of many personalities and even more talents.
Gardner, 41, recently was chosen by fellow commissioners to serve as commission chairman for 1997. Given the Republican commissioner's penchant for the unexpected, the year figures to be anything but boring."Some people tell me I'm eight different people," Gardner says. "I tell them, `That's right.' "
Gardner, a licensed psychotherapist, says he's just as comfortable wearing an Armani suit and designer tie to a meeting in Salt Lake City as he is wearing cowboy boots and a huge belt buckle in Millard County or a Jerry Garcia T-shirt around the office.
Gardner's abilities range from playing the guitar to flying airplanes. His hobbies include collecting firearms and practicing martial arts. He's got two master's degrees in counseling and psychology and a doctorate in marriage and family therapy. He's currently writing five books about various topics in his professional field.
Gardner's resume includes stints as an LDS bishop, an associate professor at Brigham Young University and a designated state forensic medical health examiner. He sits on the boards of 27 different organizations and speaks German as well as a little Spanish. He won a gold medal and two silvers at last year's Utah Summer Games for his skills in kyuki-do, a form of tae-kwan-do.
Yet Gardner doesn't usually play the part of an academic. Or a professional therapist. Or a politician. He's just, well, David Gardner.
"I played in a rock band for six years" in the 1960s, he said. "It was your classical garage band - the kind everybody tried."
Gardner has been known to descend from his commission seat during meetings to converse with members of the audience while the remaining two commissioners, bewildered, continue to conduct business. He keeps colleagues and residents loose at meetings with off-the-cuff comments.
In November, Gardner noticed one of his neighbors had some wood that needed to be chopped. The commissioner offered to finish the job - with his hand. Although the wood didn't break, a bone in Gardner's hand did. He had surgery to implant a plate and four screws.
Those who don't know him well tend to think Gardner is just a loose cannon, but his colleagues say he's intelligent, highly qualified and a tireless worker.
After all, it was Gardner who, during the November election, worked all night tallying votes after the county's computer system failed. It was an unkempt yet determined Gardner who reported the election results about 7:30 a.m., then headed straight to an 8 a.m. meeting at the Provo Park Hotel - without sleeping, eating or combing his hair. It was Gardner who worked 48 hours straight, because he felt obligated to his responsibilities as commissioner.
"(Being commissioner) isn't a career change," Gardner said. "This is public service."
Gardner lives in Springville with his wife and six children. Before settling in Springville in 1979, Gardner had never lived in one place for more than three years. As a youngster, Gardner moved often with his family because of his father's military commitments.
It's easy to see how the instability and uprootings while growing up contribute to who Gardner is today. Being forced to make new friends so often while younger means Gardner can now just as easily talk with rock 'n' rollers as with politicians. But it also means he's not used to having long-term relationships.
After he had lived in Springville about four years, Gardner went to the grocery store one day and realized at the checkstand he had forgotten his wallet. He told the cashier he'd have to return his groceries and come back later.
But the cashier told him it was OK, because the store's employees knew him and they trusted him to pay for the items on his next visit.
"I went home," Gardner said, "and told my wife, `We've got to move. I don't know if I want anybody to know me that well.' "
When Gardner was elected to a commission seat in 1994, he had to give up most of his teaching and counseling work as well as time formerly devoted to hobbies. He quit his job at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo and stopped teaching child development classes at BYU as well as psychology at Utah Valley State College. He also stopped doing forensic mental health examinations for the state.
Now, Gardner conducts a paltry 25 to 30 private counseling sessions a year, although his license is still active. He's been dropped from 14 health-care provider panels since being elected, and he knows it won't be easy to build up his practice again.
Yet he's not set on running for re-election in 1998. He said he'll decide sometime this summer, based on three criteria: if the job is fun; if he feels like he's made a difference; and if he has more friends than enemies.
"If the answer's `yes' to all three, I'll run again," he said.
Meanwhile, Gardner hopes this year will be one of completion for him as commission chairman. He plans to help the county open its new jail, complete its revision of the master plan, conform with Environmental Protection Agency air-quality standards and persuade the Utah Legislature to grant counties the right to collect sales taxes.
He'll also continue to do his best to stamp out ennui.
"If you want to kill me, lock me in a room and make me do the same thing for eight hours a day," Gardner said.