By ABBY SOUZA
When his high school civics teacher urged students to get involved with government, Steve Szalay took the message to heart.
"He was very influential. His point was you could be a leader in the public sector and see results, as opposed to the private sector," said Szalay, now executive director of the California State Association of Counties.
Longtime foothills residents may remember Szalay, who was Tuolumne County's administrator from 1978 through 1986.
Szalay, 58, will return here to speak at "Dinner @ Dodge" Friday, an event focused on the future of Tuolumne County and sponsored by the Tuolumne County Economic Development Company.
Though his job has changed since he left the foothills, Szalay's philosophy has not.
His high school teacher's message, he said, "was really compelling to me."
Compelling enough that the Ohio-born, California-raised Szalay majored in political science at University of California, Santa Barbara. He went on to earn a master's degree at San Diego State University and worked as an intern for San Diego County government.
In 1971, after an Army tour in Vietnam, Szalay got his first "real" job in local government assistant city manager of Hanford, in Kings County. He worked there for 31/2 years, then became Kings County's assistant administrator.
In 1978, his love for local government brought him to Sonora, where he became Tuolumne County's first administrator. Before Szalay arrived, the job was titled "administrative services officer" and didn't include as many duties as it does today.
Szalay remembers the county from a different perspective than most people who live here. While some think of the natural resources, or the history. Szalay remembers the government.
He said that Tuolumne County already had "a well-developed system" of government in place when he arrived and that no major overhaul was needed.