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Lighter than air...

Fri, May 25th, 2001
Posted in

Monday, May 28, 2001

It has been over two months since the County Board formally received a report from its citizen Facilities Evaluation and Planning Committee. But in its first scheduled discussions of the county buildings, the Board "hit the ground running."

Despite the fact the Committees recommendation was to move the courthouse, on an initiative led by Board Chair Helen Bicknese and Commissioner Harry Root, reinforced by a motion from Commissioner Marc Prestby, the Board voted 4 to 1 to remain at the courthouse and upgrade the building. The lone dissenting vote came from First District Commissioner Randy Dahl.

Perhaps as a way to help pay for the new upgrades, the Board also voted to proceed with the process of preparing to sell the 511-acre County Farm that is located adjacent to the Resource Recovery Center near Preston.

The facilities discussions began on a momentum from Commissioner Duane Bakke to discuss both the sale of the County Farm and possible uses for the buildings at the Resource Recovery Center.

The discussion on the sale of the County Farm brought a motion from Dahl, seconded by Bakke, to begin the sale proceedings. The motion carried unanimously and it was decided that Commissioner Bakke and County Attorney Matt Opat would lead a team of county employees in initiating the proceedings that will lead to a sale.

On the Resource Recovery Center buildings, however, the discussions ended inconclusively when Board Chair Helen Bicknese announced that her first priority is remodeling the courthouse, if that is where the county headquarters are to remain.

Commissioner Prestby quickly agreed with Chair Bicknese, asking, "What are we going to do here?"

Referring to the courthouse as a "white elephant" that has generated years of discussion and debate, Commissioner Root pointedly asked when this Board was going to talk about whether it would stay at the present location, or construct a new "courthouse campus" near its new Fillmore County Office Building.

"I ran on the assumption that we are going to stay here," announced Commissioner Prestby. "I havent changed my mind."

"My thought is to stay here," added Chairwoman Bicknese.

"Well, I make a motion that we are going to stay here and upgrade," pronounced Prestby.

Commissioner Root quickly seconded Prestbys motion, and after a brief discussion in which Commissioner Dahl expressed some concerns with the old building and the recommendation from the citizen advisory committee that the courthouse be moved, the Board voted to approve the motion.

Immediately following this vote, Coordinator Karen Brown produced a landscaping plan that a local nursery had done for the courthouse. The plan called for the replacement of some trees and the installation of new shrubbery gardens.

"We should work from the inside out, landscaping should be last," responded Prestby to the plan.

Commissioner Root agreed, "beautification isnt a priority right now."

Despite the resistance to the landscaping plan, Commissioner Dahl moved to implement a shortened version of the plan in which two small areas in the southwest and southeast corners of the building would get plantings and benches. Bakke agreed with Dahl but the rest of the Board didnt and the motion failed 2-3.

The defeat of this motion brought another quick motion from Commissioner Bakke to have the county "look into" getting the heating and air conditioning system and the windows upgraded in the courthouse.

"We need to get going on this," Bakke announced. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Root and carried unanimously.

Courthouse Upgrades

The Commissioners also held a brief discussion on the electrical upgrade that will be occurring as a result of the new elevator construction. The installation of the elevator requires upgrade to a three-phase power service and the relocation of a transformer.

The City of Preston has asked the County to pay about $2,500 of the $7,500 cost, but the request brought some concerns from Commissioner Dahl. Dahls original concerns were with the Citys procedure for arriving at the Countys amount.

However, at this meeting Dahl was concerned that the courthouse meter was not located on the building, but actually a considerable distance away across the street. "We are probably receiving 15% less electricity than we are paying for," he explained.

Dahl noted that this would be a good time to relocate the meter to the courthouse building to avoid line loss due to the long distance. No official action was taken on this matter. The project is scheduled to begin in early June.

Zoning Districts

Zoning Administrator Norm Craig appeared before the Board to update them on the progress of a citizens committee that is studying the non-farm home density in the Agriculture District. The committee was formed last year to make recommendations to the Planning Commission on how to change the current zoning in the rural areas.

According to Craig, the committees work is "coming along quite nicely." Craig expects that the committee will have a draft, zoning map to present to township officials for review sometime next month.

For the past two years there has been a push at the planning commission level to divide the countys Agriculture District into three sub-districts. The intent of the sub-district plan is to identify areas for development and areas for agriculture.

The preliminary maps of this plan, that had been developed by the zoning office prior to the formation of this committee, show development funneled into the countys wooded hills and river valleys, with the flatter, tillable acres of the western and southern parts of the county protected for agriculture.

Commissioner briefs

Of an interesting note is the odd manner in which Commissioner Dahl chose to object to the use of two words in an article that appeared in the Journal recently. Requesting to be put on the agenda to speak formally, Dahl began by complimenting his fellow commissioners on the "respect and decorum with which they have conducted themselves."

He then announced that he holds the press "in the highest esteem," deriving his own code of conduct from the "journalistic principles" of "citizenry, truth, and verification of information."

This dissertation was followed by a reading from Websters Dictionary of the definitions of the words "gossip" and "rumors," Dahl citing that these words, if used improperly, "can ruin the reputation of the individual or the institution."

Without further explanation of what he was talking about, Dahl emotionally announced, "I implore you to resist the corporate commercialism of tabloid journalism that sells so well. I desire to keep my reputation intact!"

Confused, but undaunted and determined to learn what he was talking about, this journalist pursued the issue during the break and learned that Commissioner Dahl was upset because of a question in a recent interview with former County Engineer Steve Voigt that was published in the Journal.

In the interview (Fillmore County Journal, May 14, 2001), Journal editor John Torgrimson, after being told by the County Engineer that no reason had been given for the termination of his employment, asked Voigt if he had heard any rumors or gossip that might give him a clue. Apparently, Commissioner Dahl felt that the use of this question during the interview was "tabloid journalism."

And as for selling papers, well, the Journal gives them away.

By Mike McGrath

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