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Zoning official in hot seat

Sun, Dec 3rd, 2000
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Monday, December 4, 2000

In the Fillmore County Commissioners chamber there are two seats for visitors who come before the Board. Often joked about as the "hot seats" when new visitors come forward at their appointed time, one of the chairs truly was a hot seat last week as the Zoning Administrator, Norm Craig, angrily tangled with the Board amid accusations of improper procedures in his office.

The incident began when Duane and Joyce Skjeie came before the Board to request a refund of $75.00 that Craig had charged them for an access permit to some land they were buying. As part of their negotiations to purchase the property, the Skjeies were seeking information about how far an access drive needed to be from the Root River bridge on County Road 7.

When they approached Craig for the information he informed them that the only way they could find out where they could have an access was to make a permit application, with a fee of $75.00. The permit application, said Craig, would "trigger" the county engineer to go look at the site and the Skjeies would get the information they sought.

The Skjeies paid the fee, the engineer looked at the site, and the permit was denied. The Skjeies were upset because they never really sought an access permit in the first place, only the information about access setbacks from the bridge so they might know whether they would have to access their land from a new driveway or would have to get an easement over an existing field road further away.

Clearly, the Board had done its homework on this one in advance. While it may seem obvious that the Skjeies should not have had to pay a $75.00 fee just to obtain information, the Board instead focused on why the permit application did not have the words "No Refund" printed, or stamped, upon it.

As the story unraveled, the discussions became somewhat heated.

After listening to the Skjeies, Board Chairman Gary Peterson began, "I thought we were going to change the applications to note there are no refunds."

"It wasnt done," replied Craig.

Chairman Peterson then reminded Craig that a few years before, amidst a similar situation, the Board had instructed the Zoning Administrator to stamp all permit applications with the words "no refund."

At this point, Commissioner Duane Bakke produced the minutes from an October, 1997 Board meeting which documented Petersons claim.

"In my opinion, our department screwed up and these people deserve a refund," announced Bakke.

Turning to Craig, Chairman Peterson said, "I want to know, in writing, why it didnt happen. Rubber stamps are cheap."

Commissioner Helen Bicknese then motioned to refund the Skjeies money, and Bakke seconded the motion adding, "Its time to straighten out that department."

As the Skjeies left the room, a second zoning web soon began to entwine the meeting. A request by Craig for Board approval on a real access permit for the Berg-Williams Family Farm on County 12 in Preble Township produced numerous questions regarding the abandonment of a current access that is used by an adjoining farm.

Unable to answer the Boards questions as to whether this request would deny the farmer access that he had always used, Craig instead asked to speak on the preceding Skjeie issue.

Referring to the October, 1997 Board instructions on the rubber stamp, Craig sternly stated, "I was not in the presence of the Board when the motion was made. I never knew it, no one told me."

"Do you remember that we talked about the applications we still had, and a rubber stamp?" inquired Chairman Peterson.

"I want to tell this Board something and get it straight!" Craig said angrily while slamming his hand on the table. "If you want me to do something, you have to tell me. If someone had told me then it would have been done that day."

With this said, a review of the minutes of the 1997 meeting revealed that Norm Craig was present at the meeting and was instructed to get a rubber stamp that read "No Refund."

After a short break, during which Commissioner Bakke contacted the farmer and learned that he did have an access agreement with the Berg-Williams Family Farm, the Board approved the access permit application.

Underbakke Back

Commissioner Robert Underbakke was back at the meeting this week, just a short while out of the hospital. Underbakke suffered a stroke earlier in the month but appeared to be ready for the tasks at hand.

Commissioner-elect Marc Prestby was also in attendance to get a first hand glimpse of the job duties in which he will soon be engaged. Prestby takes over for Robert Underbakke in the 5th District on January 2nd.

Highway/Union Business

The Board held negotiations with members of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local # to review a counter-proposal by the union for a two-year contract.

After a point-by-point discussion on holidays, insurance and wages, a memo of understanding was reached on hospital and life insurance, and to continue negotiations on the other items later in December.

The Board also held a discussion with the union representative, Mike Daniels, about the workers at the countys Resource Recovery Center. Daniels was looking for answers on what the county is going to do at the facility with respect to staffing. He noted that it is the unions expectation that a sixty-day notice would precede any lay-offs at the center.

And Finally...

After a brief discussion on the matter, the Board gave Maintenance Engineer Dale Olson permission to buy a new floor cleaner for $2,132.00.

It was also decided by consensus that the Board will meet only two more times this year on December 12 and 22, and the Truth in Taxation hearing is scheduled for December 7th, at 7:30 P.M. in the courthouse.

By Mike McGrath

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