Milner a dogged, determined team player for local concerns
Whether it’s in his professional or personal life, Bob Milner will tell you that there’s no substitute for teamwork.
Milner’s primary job is as a vice president of City National Bank. But his wide range of interests spreads to the state and national capitols, Fort Sill and the Pentagon — and on really, really good days, to a dusty field near Denver working handin-paw with a certain German shepherd.
Milner was named Shelia O. Lee Volunteer of the Year at the Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner last month, primarily for his work in legislative affairs. Milner is a longtime chairman or vice chairman of the legislative committee and is serving this year as vice chair for government and military affairs.
There’s a lot of day-to-day work involved, tracking issues in Oklahoma City and Washington, conferring with elected officials and staff, setting up events and making sure parties on all sides know what’s happening — and what the chamber’s top issues are.
Milner said he’s humbled to receive the award, especially because it’s named in honor of Lee, the chamber’s late president.
“No one person does this,” he said. “It takes a team.”
Those who’ve worked him say a team requires good leadership and commitment.
“I don’t think we’ve ever asked him to do anything and he said no,” said Debra Burch, president of the chamber.
When the chamber’s annual visit to the national’s capital had to be canceled because of Lee’s death, Burch said, Milner helped cancel all the arrangements, “something that had never been done before.” Later, he helped arrange for a smaller group to visit to make Lawton’s voice heard.
Burch said he also is active in the Lawton Fort Sill Community Co-op and represents the chamber on the Lawton Municipal Airport Authority Board. He loves to work for the chamber, she said, and because he’s involved in so many things, he provides a good perspective for the chamber and keeps the organization informed about what’s happening.
“It’s just a passion for him, what he does for us,” she said.
“Working with Bob is incredible, to put it short and sweet,” said Brian Henry, immediate past chairman of the chamber.
“You knew Bob could carry out whatever was required to get those things done.”
He said Milner worked with Deano Cox to improve the way the chamber’s legislative agendas are formulated, which has better defined issues the chamber tracks and lobbies about.
“When he gets into a project, he’s all in,” said Tim Hushbeck, who preceded Henry as chairman.
When Lee died, Burch said, Milner was among the first to arrive at the chamber and begin helping the staff and volunteers deal with the loss.
“Bob’s a very caring person .. he has a good heart toward people,” Hushbeck said.
In some ways, Milner’s focus on legislative issues — and Lawton — is a natural progression, although not necessarily one he foresaw many years ago.
He went to Westminster College in Missouri on an ROTC scholarship, and he was all set to become an armor officer. The Army had different plans and told him he was headed for the Field Artillery and Fort Sill.
“I said ‘Where’s that?’” Milner said, but he soon learned. He left the Army after eight years, but he found that Public Service Co. of Oklahoma — which hadn’t been on his radar — was interested in him. And the job was in Lawton.
It was at PSO that he began to become in lobbying, working with local legislators on issues that the fulltime lobbyists and company executives were interested in. He eventually became interested in the chamber’s legislative efforts, and he reckons he’s been chair or vice chair of the legislative committee for 14 or 15 years.
His career has included a couple of decades at PSO, starting a consulting firm with Dan Lau, another PSO alumnus, working for Cameron University and moving to his current job at the bank.
At each job, he said, he’s learned something valuable. And his interest in legislative affairs has been constant.
“I just enjoy the heck out of it,” he said. “I find it very challenging and simulating, and I get to work with a lot of great people.”
His goal, he said, has been to more narrowly focus the chamber’s lobbying efforts on issues important to chamber members and to develop relationships with people in the corridors of power to create a mutual understanding of the issues. “You understand their perspective; they understand yours,” he said.
Part of that strategy is to send an advance party for the annual Washington flyin, subject-matter experts who can meet with elected and appointed officials, with congressional and agency staff members, to talk in depth about issues of particular importance to the local community, such as federal impact aid for public schools or the future of the next howitzer modernization program. By focusing narrowly, he said, the chamber doesn’t waste time or political capital on issues that aren’t of special interest to the community.
Developing the agenda has also changed. The chamber has begun using focus groups to pinpoint issues, which it will use this year in combination with surveys to develop its federal agenda.
Some items, such as impact aid and howitzer improvement — it “won’t go away until we see units rolling off the assembly line” — will stay on the list, as will health care and, at the state level, more local control of public schools.
Patience is more than a virtue in dealing with legislation.
“It’s not unusual for it take take several years to get a piece of legislation through,” Milner said. An example is a bill by state Rep. T.W. Shannon to allow communities to share in state sales tax to help fund local development, an issue doggedly pursued by the local delegation, the City of Lawton and Bill Phelps, who works for the city and the chamber as a lobbyist in Oklahoma City. Another piece of good news has been more stable funding for Oklahoma’s efforts to strengthen its military installations, as well as the State Chamber of Oklahoma’s creation of a military liaison committee.
Oklahoma hasn’t lost an installation to base realignment and closure, but “We have to be very, very vigilant,” he said.
There are victories, and there are defeats. A low point, he said, was cancellation of the Army program that included the NLOS cannon, which felt as if “the entire rug (was) pulled out from under you.”
“I confess that are some times I’d rather go home at 5 o’clock and play with my dog,” he said, which brings up another passion: Paladin, Milner’s award-winning Schutzhund competitor.
“We don’t have a conversation that we don’t talk about Paladin,” Burch said, and those who know Milner can testify that he loves to talk about his favorite German shepherd.
Schutzhund has been described as martial arts for dogs; competitors must show the right combination of protective and tracking skills, discipline and temperament. Milner brought Paladin home as an 8-weekold puppy, and he’s helped train him ever since. Paladin has excelled, earning his first American Working Dog Federation certification last year. He blew out his knee and an ACL at a demonstration in Norman earlier this year and had surgery, but he was back in action this month in Denver.
Milner said he hadn’t planned for Paladin to compete — he’d been rehabilitating, which Milner said included eating a large number of bonbons and lying on the sofa — but Milner was talked into it, even though he went to the competition already thinking of excuses for why the dog did so poorly.
But Paladin earned 94 of 100 points, enough to win a tracking title.
“He just nailed it and we walked away with a tracking trophy,” he said.
Milner thanks his wife Linda for having patience with his many activities, and he said he plans to keep them up at least for the foreseeable future.
“Heck, if your having fun and you enjoy it, why not continue it?” he said. “If you get people engaged with you and they love it, it almost becomes a a labor of love, so to speak.”