Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Commissioner Nelson Again Misinformed

At the county board meeting on November 3rd Commissioner Keith Nelson responded to comments made by three citizens who addressed the Board. He said that, again, commissioners statements were "taken out of context" regarding people on public assistance, drug use and stigma. He suggested that those who spoke to the Board had not actually watched the entire discussion, thus misunderstanding the "tone" of the discussion which he believed was very respectful.

The entire 17-minute discussion is posted on the We are Watching web site:


Take a look and decide for yourself!

Mandatory Drug Tests for People on Public Assistance?

At their November 3, 2009 meeting the Board was addressed by a number of people who indicted concern regarding recent comments made by Commissioners Forsman and Dahlberg suggesting that people on public assistance be required to pass random drug tests and perhaps be prohibited from purchasing cigarettes. Additionally, Forsman suggests that “stigma is a good thing” and maybe if there were more of it people would “get to work”.

Folks from the We are Watching campaign let commissioners know that they are still paying attention and do not agree with the characterization of low income people as drug-addicted, irresponsible, poor parents who do not want to work.
The perpetuation of stereotypes such as these do not have any place in the formal statements of our elected public officials. While unfortunately not surprising, this is disappointing.

People who live in St. Louis County, especially in the districts that Commissioners Forsman and Dahlberg represent, may want to give them a call to let them know what they think of their public statements.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Fond du Lac Tribal Chair Addressed SLC Board

At their workshop on Monday, June 15, 2009 the SLC Board heard from Karen Diver, Tribal Chair for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

This was a follow-up to a prior county board workshop in January of 2009 at which time the County Board discussed their decision to not sell tax forfeit land to the Fond du Lac Band-land that is within the boundaries of the Reservation. State law requires counties to give “right of first refusal” to Tribes when such land is within Reservation boundaries and the Fond du Lac Band has consistently indicated they wish to purchase these lands in order to provide stability to their community and reclaim land that was originally theirs to begin with.

Chair Diver started by giving the Board some historical information, including the Treaty of 1854 and Federal Government policy that tried to “terminate” tribes. Additionally, she described government policies that led to the taking of Indian lands and subsequent mismanagement of lands. She also described a variety of policies that sought to destroy Indian culture and communities.

FDL has 2000 employees and 28 divisions. They are funded at 36% of identified need. (Federal Government information) 4200 people are enrolled Band members.
Reservation is 100,000 acres.

Chair Diver described a variety of social services provided by FDLHHS. In 2008 total income distributed by Band was 105 million dollars-she indicated that many counties would welcome them with open arms and put them in a tax free zone-Fink said, “make your case” and Chair Diver said she was making her case. They have 900 job descriptions on their reservation; not only “gaming” jobs.

Commissioner O'Neil asked what her perspective was on this land issue. This is the Federal Government’s land being held on behalf of FDL. Feds take land into trust on behalf of the Band. Feds are supportive of tribes reclaiming land, as is the State.

Here is a bit of what the conversation included:

Diver: These lands are already tax forfeit. I need to stabilize our community. In order to become self-sufficient we need to reclaim our land. It should never have been on the SLC tax rolls anyway!

FINK: I have no difficulty with you buying tax forfeit land but I do have an issue with land going from tax forfeit into trust. We have got to protect tax land.

DIVER: We will continue to buy land within our borders. We will continue to consolidate land within our borders.

NELSON: Makes a point that any other recordings of workshops are not official. Says he could not have more respect for Annishinaabe people but he is concerned.
Says the most basic unit of government is the family and if we do not work for the good of the family we are not effective. Says that in this particular case it is “all of our people” and recognizes that tribe is sovereign. Says he will not apologize for Federal officials that “treated us as children”. Indicated concern that 35% of folks incarcerated are Native in SLC while only 4% are Native in population.

Says we try to run county on 39% of property. Says he wants to work with FDL in the same effective way they have worked with Bois Forte. Whenever individuals choose to sensationalize they do harm. (speaking to the audience)

DIVER: I am interested in partnering and finding the win/win. I will continue to ask for indulgence of commissioners and staff in trying to reclaim our land. I need to stabilize families.

O’NEIL: Am encouraged by spirit of communication and hopeful we can move ahead. We did have a straw vote on a given day….we need to re-visit policy as a Board.

DIVER: How about we meet in my neck of the woods? FINK: As long as we go back and forth.

The workshop ended promptly at 3:00PM. it should be noted that three commissioners were not present-Dahlberg, Forsman and Raukar did not attend.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Painful decisions made - some commissioners giggle in the background.

"Very successful award winning program" discontinued by St. Louis County. Two commissioners faced off and spoke for the elderly and needy individuals receiving assisted living services provided by the county today. Commissioner Steve O'Neil and Commissioner Peg Sweeney stood for those who need assisted living. Dennis Fink, Chris Dahlberg, Keith Nelson and Michael Forsman held the the far right wing line that "government should get out of services that can be provided by the public sector" Commissioner Nelson ignored many speakers throughout the meeting including Commissioner Sweeney - he giggled, talked and distracted other commissioners repeatedly.

From the Board Policy Manual

“The mission of St. Louis County is to provide its people those services mandated and/or expected by its citizens so as to provide a good quality of life.”
Resolution No. 620
July 25, 1989

Dennis Fink said the county should not provide services that can be provided in the public sector. He says that Governor Pawlenty says it's time to cut Health and Human Services. "Let the Free Market Do what it MUST!" Fink squawked! "We must get out of the business of...."

The business our county is getting out of is caring for our local residents in a respectful manner that keeps them in their modest apartments at the senior citizens housing in the county.
As you write your checks for property taxes tonight bear in mind that St. Louis County bear in mind that our county no longer wishes to care for the weak and vulnerable, primarily elderly, in our county.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

On going Discussion About Old Jail

At their Committee of the Whole meeting on May 5th the County Board, including "Outgoing Administrator Mitchell" had quite a discussion regarding the "old jail" and the Duluth City Council's upcoming vote regarding whether or not the county can demolish the building. Commissioner Dahlberg asked the Administration to send a letter to the Duluth City Council outlining the county's concerns, historical background, prior studies,etc. Commissioner Fink asked whether this was going to be a 26-page document or a 2-pager? Commissioner Nelson said that they should not be so prescriptive in telling Administration what to do, just let them do it! Commissioner Sweeny said it should be simple enough that the Council can see what the county has done to try to market the old jail and short enough that they will read it. Commissioner O'Neil reminded Commissioners that the councilors work part-time and do not have offices. Concern was expressed about timeliness and the need to get this to them BEFORE the meeting. Administrator Grey said that the County has already passed a resolution and that this should be referenced. Commissioner Nelson then indicated concern that Dahlberg was making this resolution instead of the O'Neil, Chair of Intergovernmental Affairs but Commissioner O'Neil said he was in agreement. Directed Motion passed.

Friday, April 17, 2009

What's Up With Two County Administrators At Once?

The SLC Board recently welcomed their new County Administrator, Kevin Gray, who started work on April 15, 2009. As reported in the Duluth News Tribune on April 16th, " Interim County Administrator Alan Mitchell will stay on through May 29, said Dennis Fink, County Board chairman.

“In the recent past the interim administrators have been from within the county and stayed with the county after the new person came on. But we’re going to lose Al permanently now and we thought the transition would be smoother if he stayed on for a while to help Kevin,” Fink said.

Doesn't St Louis County have two Deputy Administrators with a wealth of experience who could train the new guy in? And what about the concern with the budget and county spending...isn't it kind of pricey to pay Al Mitchell and Kevin Gray at the same time?

Did the Commissioners vote to extend Mitchell's contract? Just asking....

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Iron Range Youth In Action Program Discussed at Committee of Whole Meeting

In their afternoon Committee of the Whole meeting the Board voted on a construction contract for renovations to the Duluth SLC Courthouse, and on a resolution authorizing an extension with Kangas Excavating to continue operation of the Hibbing demolition landfill.

Commissioner Nelson indicates that there are looking for “enhancements” to the commissioners offices on the range in the future.

The Board also voted to send forward without recommendation an agreement for service contracts for Iron Range Youth in Action Program School Advisors in six Range School Districts. The request was to use the fund balance from the Extension program to fund this. Commissioner Dahlberg asked for examples of activities this program has supported in the past. Commissioner Nelson mentioned Habitat for Humanity, Youth Skating Facility in Ely, operating a heated shack at an ice skating rink in Hibbing to name a few. “Generation W” is the largest student-run newspaper in the USA, according to Nelson, and another example of a project that is supported by this program.

Commissioner Fink was concerned that this fund balance transfer not be for more than one year and was concerned that there was not a 30-day termination clause in the contract. The concern is that this year there is a surplus in the Extension Fund but that may not be the case in the future.

Commissioner Nelson pointed out that terminating this contract in the middle of the school year would be problematic. Proposal is to give schools $1000 per school for this program (max 8 schools) for 2 years and after that the schools have to fund this program on their own. Commissioner Sweeny indicated that the money is there in the Extension budget and should be committed, in partnership with the school districts.

A few minor sparks between Commissioners Nelson and Fink when Nelson suggested that Fink was unsupportive of this concept, not just the “wording” of the contract. Fink said, “This is simple. The funding source does not match the contract”. He also raised his voice and told Commissioner Sweeny that what she says about where the money comes from is not true. Mitchell says the budget is already set for 2008-09 and no money was in the budget, thus monies need to come from some other place (Extension Fund). This particular contract is only for 2008-09. Schools want a 3-year commitment.

Commissioner O’Neil says, "this is a great program. We are talking about $6000 and have been discussing it for 50 minutes, let’s move on." And they did!

County Board and Jail Demolition

At their Board meeting on April 7th the Board discussed awarding a contract for the "deconstruction of the jail" Commissioner Nelson suggested that "media outlets should actually attend a meeting" to hear about the long process that the Board has gone through in deciding to tear down the old jail. Commissioner Forsman indicated that there was information that he thinks has not been made available to the public-such as the fact the 8 studies have been completed and all indicated that the "building is not appropriate for re-use". This conversation was in the context of Commissioner O'Neil requesting that the Board wait to award the demolition contract until the appeal to the City of Duluth has been decided pertaining to the City's refusal to allow the jail to be destroyed, as it is a historic building.

Mike Forsman suggested that the Federal Government be contacted to see about getting prisoners from GITMO, seeing as that is being shut down. Commissioner Rauker indicated that folks would not really want "those people" in the jail-referring to a proposal a number of years ago to house international prisoners there.

Vote 6-1 in favor of moving forward with resolution to award the bid for tearing down the jail.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

County Attorney Cautions Board About "Banning" Recording Devices at Public Meetings

County Attorney Melanie Ford responded to Commissioner Keith Nelson’s request that she research whether the Board could ban electronic recording devices at their board workshops.. She indicated that the law is not “settled” on this issue in the State of Minnesota, although has been addressed on the Federal level. The Board may enact policies banning recording devices but should be very careful to not violate the American with Disabilities Act. Additionally, she indicated that it is very likely that a lawsuit would be filed if a policy banning recording were to be enacted. The Board would need to have a “compelling reason” to pursue such a policy and at the present time Attorney Ford does not see any such reason.

Attorney Ford has received a Data Practices Act request from the Duluth News Tribune for her written opinion. Commissioner Fink asked that she not provide this until the Commissioners have had an opportunity to read her opinion.

Commissioner Nelson then stated that it does not matter if the paper gets it now, seeing as that is the way the county attorney has “always done business”, via the press. The meeting was quickly adjourned before more discussion could occur in that vein.

County Board Meeting Feb 17, 2009

At the county board meeting held on February 17, 2009 in Duluth a number of people spoke to the Board regarding the tribal lands issue, the Board’s comments regarding American Indian people and the concern that institutional racism has reared it’s ugly head and is alive and well in 2009. In response to these comments, Commissioner Rauker indicated that this is more “perception” than reality and that the news media has engaged in “false reporting” which has now led to an “overreaction”.

Commissioner Nelson apologized for “misinformation” that he claimed had be “disseminated” to the American Indian community.

It is disappointing, but unfortunately not surprising, that this is the initial response of these commissioners. If they would take the time to listen to the audio recording of their January 20th county board workshop, really listen to their own words, they may come to a better understanding of why it is that the American Indian community and others are upset. In this case, “perception” is the reality, at least the reality of those not on the St Louis County Board.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Nelson Should Be Concerned About Content of Meetings, not the fact they are recorded-DNT Article

Published February 08 2009 By: John Myers , Duluth News Tribune
St. Louis County commissioner annoyed by cameras at meetings
Keith Nelson is seeking a legal opinion on whether private citizens can record County Board meetings. Nelson says the recording devices are an annoyance and the material can be edited by anyone and taken out of context.

A St. Louis County commissioner has asked for a legal opinion on whether the board can ban citizens from recording some County Board meetings.
Keith Nelson of Eveleth raised the issue Tuesday at the boardʼs meeting in Duluth, saying he was concerned that he and other commissioners had been
recorded at their Jan. 20 board workshop in Pike Lake.
The group We Are Watching records many County Board meetings, including the workshops, and often posts that audio and sometimes video on the groupʼs Web site, www.northernmnnews.com.
Nelson claims that excerpts of the boardʼs discussion of the issue of tribal lands being removed from property tax rolls were forwarded to tribal officials.
The discussion included Nelson and other commissionersʼ views strongly opposing increased tribal trust land.
He also said the recorder was beeping and bothering him.
“Iʼve raised this question because of the disruption that these devices have made … and because these recording snips are being taken out of context
and used to make people look bad,ʼʼ Nelson told the News Tribune.
“Iʼm not talking about restricting the media … and the public still can get a copy of the [audio] tapes we make. So we wouldnʼt be limiting access.ʼʼ
But Kevin Skwira-Brown, a spokesman for We Are Watching, said Nelsonʼs request is aimed at stifling public access to workshops that are not shown on
public access television.
“Itʼs absolutely outrageous that county government would try to restrict citizen access to a county meeting,ʼʼ Skwira-Brown said. “Theyʼre saying if you
canʼt attend their entire six-hour meeting during a work day, then you canʼt have access to what they do. Thatʼs ridiculous.ʼʼ
Skwira-Brown said the entire discussion of the tribal lands issue has been posted on the groupʼs Web site and that no member of the group edited the
audio or sent it to tribal officials.
“We did not edit that recording. The entire,
45-minute conversation (on tribal lands) is on our Web site,ʼʼ he said, adding anyone could have obtained the recording from the county or the Internet
and edited it.
Based on Nelsonʼs complaint, County Board Chairman Dennis Fink requested County Attorney Melanie Ford to investigate whether the board could ban
private citizens from recording meetings.
Ford said Thursday she had not yet rendered an opinion.
While board workshops are informal discussions, they are clearly open meetings because there is a quorum of the board present, according to
Minnesotaʼs Open Meeting Law.
We Are Watching members say they record meetings so county residents can hear and see what their commissioners do and say.
“They [the County Board] have the ability to stream all of their meetings live onto the Web, they just arenʼt doing it,ʼʼ Skwira-Brown said.
Commissioner Steve OʼNeil expressed concern that the board might try to exclude any public scrutiny.
“We should make our meetings as open and transparent as possible,ʼʼ he said. “No one should intentionally portray what we do out of context, and I donʼt
know if thatʼs what happened or not… But it doesnʼt matter. We shouldnʼt try to stop anyone from recording our meetings.ʼʼ

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

County Board Considers Hiring New Administrator

At their Committee of the Whole meeting on Feb 3, 2009 the County Board discussed candidates to replace current Interim Administrator Al Mitchell. Candidate Kevin Gray received four votes as the number #1 candidate, thus appearing to be the top choice of the majority of the commissioners. Commissioner Forsman indicated that the voting on this matter was clearly a "North/South issue" with the "southern" commissioners not supporting candidate Dicklich as their second choice.

After further voting, Ron Dicklich was the Board's 2nd choice.

We Are...Being Watched? Citizen watchdogs are asked to release their membership information to the County Board

The Zenith City Weekly covers the recent request by some Bord members to provide a "membership list" of the WAW group. Read about it in their on-line edition from January 20, 2009

Nelson Suggests That No "Recording Devices" Be Allowed in Board Workshops

At their county Board meeting on Feb 3rd Commissioner Keith Nelson indicated that he was disturbed that the WAW group had video-taped a recent County Board Workshop. He asked that the Board consider banning all "electronic recording devices" from Board Workshops. Other commissioners indicated concern that this would prohibit the press from recording meetings as well. Some commissioners then indicated that it would be OK for the press but not for a "private party" to record Board Workshops. They directed the county attorney to research this issue and they will consider making a policy later.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Code of Conduct Changes Proposed

I noticed there's proposed changes to the code of conduct. http://www.co.st-louis.mn.us/slcportal/Portals/0/Departments/Administator/BD%20Wkshp01-20.pkt.pdf

The board seems to want to make it harder for employees and members of the public to report violations like harassment and conflict of interest and engaging in political activity on the county dime/time.

I think the County has a duty to investigate any suspected impropriety.