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Fresh start or stalemate

Sun, Jan 7th, 2001
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Monday, January 8, 2001

For many, the start of the New Year brings little change when they return to work after the holidays. For the Fillmore County Board, change was a dominant theme at the first meeting of the Year 2001.

In a mood that seemed nothing short of jovial, as airy and light as any found on an early spring morning when one senses that winter is almost over, a new board gathered around their table and watched as Judge Robert Benson swore in two new commissioners, Randall Dahl of the First District and Marc Prestby representing the Fifth District.

After a brief ceremony, Policy Coordinator Karen Brown called the meeting to order and accepted nominations for Chair. Though Commissioner Helen Bicknese had already taken her place at the center seat to assume the duties of Chair of the Board, the formality of the nomination and election is required at the beginning of each New Year. On a motion by former Chair, Gary Peterson, a unanimous ballot was cast in her favor and the work began.

Chairwoman Bicknese commenced by congratulating both Dahl and Prestby on their successful elections to the board, and thanked Commissioner Peterson for his work as Chair in 2000. Announcing that her priority issues would include solid waste, highways and transportation, social services and the environment, Bicknese also noted that she looked forward to the board working together as a team, meeting the countys mission of providing services in an efficient, cost-effective manner.

Chairwoman Bicknese then announced that she would like to set aside a fifteen-minute block of time at each meeting for citizen input. Very few citizens attend the meeting unless they have a specific agenda item before the board.
Stalemate and Dilemma

The bulk of the agenda for this first meeting was related to administrative tasks such as making appointments to committees, setting exempt employee wages, and approving overnight travel for conference attendees. However, it was the item of setting the regular meeting times of the board itself that brought on the first stalemate.

The "regular" board meeting is held on the second Tuesday of each month. All other meetings are considered "special" meetings. Commissioner Dahl, holding true to some statements made on the campaign trail, announced that he would like to see the board meeting times changed to the afternoon, say around 3:30.

The suggestion brought raised eyebrows from many in the room, and also brought on a round of dialogue that began with Chairwoman Bicknese. "I think an afternoon meeting would be hard for department heads," she asserted.

"I wouldnt object to night meetings once a month," added Commissioner Peterson looking somewhat concerned about Dahls proposal.

To this, Dahl inquired, "Could we split it up? Have the meetings at different times?"

"I have it set up so that I have mornings off," announced Commissioner Prestby.

After some further input by others, Dahl suggested that perhaps the regular meeting could be on the second Tuesday morning at 9:00, and that the others could be at different times so that he might not need to take off so much time from his regular job.

To this, a relatively quiet Commissioner Duane Bakke announced, "I want all the meetings at the same time."

In the end, a decision could not be reached and only the time of the next meeting, January 9th at 9:00 A.M, was decided.

It is interesting to note that the time of the board meetings has not been much of an issue in the past because nearly all of the commissioners have been self-employed. At a pay rate of just under $14,000 a year, it is very difficult, if not often impossible, for a person who isnt self-employed to take the part-time job and still meet the time requirements of a regular, full-time day job.

However, the historical style of the board in micro-managing the operations of county government requires constant inter-action with department heads and other employees during the course of each meeting. Additionally, as part of committees and other regional boards, commissioners are often required to spend some part of other weekdays attending meetings or traveling to conferences.

In the recent past, the board tried an evening meeting once a month in hopes of generating more public participation. The public did not respond and the meeting was returned to the morning schedule. Sometimes, simple change, such as the addition of a new face, can resurrect a long-buried dilemma with unsolved solutions.

Other Real Business

The County Board rescheduled a public hearing on a 5 year road construction plan for January 22, 2001 at 7:30 P.M. The meeting had been originally scheduled in December but was cancelled due to weather.

Setting the time for this meeting brought about a brief discussion between the County Engineer, Steve Voigt, and Commissioner Bakke.

Commissioner Bakke began, "Why do we want to set ourselves up for a public hearing on a 5-year plan when only the first year is set in stone?"

To this, Voigt responded, "It is a planning tool for me. There is no legal requirement for this (5 year plan). You could let the public know it is not set in stone."

Still concerned, Bakke continued, "As long as you tell them this doesnt mean anything. When I first heard this I thought it was set in stone, now (I think) it is a way for the public to be misinformed."

"We need to be flexible," replied Voigt as he again explained that the plan was a tool to be used to get public feedback.

"I just want the people to know that it (the entire 5 year plan) is not set in stone," Bakke concluded.

Those interested in the countys road plans are encouraged to attend the hearing and give feedback. Copies of the plan can be obtained from the County Engineers office at the highway department.

The Official News

Finally, the beginning of the New Year also means the opening of the bids from newspapers to learn which one will earn the title of "official newspaper" for publication of the countys business and financial statements. The selection is made on a low bid basis only, without regard to circulation, except that a minimum circulation of 1,000 is required.

The Spring Valley Tribune won the bids for the official newspaper, second printing of the financial statements, and printing of delinquent taxes. The Fillmore County Journal won the bid for the first printing of the financial statements.

Mike McGrath

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