Commissioner Bjerke questions if another ‘road deputy’ is needed

By Charlie Warner
Argus News Editor

With the resignation of Capt. Eddy, who served as the chief investigator for the Houston County Sheriff’s Department, County Board Commissioner Tom Bjerke wasn’t sold on the process proposed for filling that vacancy.

Bjerke agreed with Sheriff Doug Ely and County HR Director Tess Arrick-Kruger to promote from within, but questioned if another “road deputy” would be needed to fill the void as the officers moved up in the chain of command.

“We’ve been talking to Premier Security about providing hospital room security when we have inmates in Rochester or Winona and we’ve discussed utilizing Premier for courtroom security. If we start using Premier for courtroom security, Kurt (Deputy Kurt Kuhlers, who serves as courtroom security and Emergency Management Services officer) should be able to help pick up the slack,” Bjerke said.  “Cost-wise, it would be cheaper for them to provide courtroom security.

“I’m in favor of promoting one of your officers to chief deputy,” Bjerke continued. “But now is the time to sit down and take a look at if we really need to bring on another deputy or not.”

Ely said he would be all in favor of reviewing the situation, but cautioned that there is a lot of “dead time” with courtroom security, where his deputies would move on to other things. “So would we be paying for all the dead time with Premier? With Kurt, we just pull him out of the courtroom and put him back on the road,” Ely said.

Bjreke pointed out that the county board must somehow find funds to make major repairs to the courthouse roof.

“And we’re already at 257 percent of our inmate medical budget and we’re not even through the third month of the year,” Board Chair Jack Miller added. “We don’t even know what the operating costs are going to be for the Justice Center. We will look at finding ways of saving money anyway we can”

Ely replied that the county sheriff is responsible for ensuring the peace and order of the county. “I don’t like my department being the whipping boy when you run into money issues with the Justice Center. That wasn’t my baby. I had nothing to do with it (the planning process of the Justice Center). I’ve tried to work with the board any way I could to help cut costs.”

Miller said he appreciated Ely defending his office and added, “you have been willing to help us save where ever you can. But we are trying to focus everywhere in the county to save money.”

A motion was made by Commissioner Steve Schuldt and seconded by Justin Zmyewski to approve the internal posting for the position of chief investigator. It was unanimously approved.

In other board action:

Federal lawsuit

The county board went into closed session to discuss the lawsuit leveled by the land rights group in Houston County via a teleconference with attorney Jay Squires.

Following the closed session Miller explained that the county had made a motion to have the lawsuit dismissed. After hearing arguments from both sides, the federal judge took the information under advisement and will render a decision in 60 to 90 days.

Water patrol

Chief Deputy Scott Yeiter reported that the Sheriff’s Department received a state grant of $7,121 this year to help fund the water patrol. Yeiter said the county will also be receiving $5,000 from the federal government.

The Houston County Water Patrol spends between 450 and 500 hours each summer patrolling the Mississippi River and backwaters. Most of the calls are for assistance when boat motors break down.

Yeiter said they didn’t issue any DWIs last year, but issued warnings and tickets for speed, life vest issues and dangerous operation of water craft.

Personnel issues

The board approved the rehiring of Bob Schuldt, Rod Humble and Mike Ernster as 67-day employees. All three have served on the water patrol in past years.

The board also approved the hiring of Tyler Heiden as a 67-day position on the water patrol, pending a background check.

The board approved the hiring of Heather Fee for the position of social worker as a 67-day employee effective March 28.

Frozen Section 8 vouchers

“This is nothing but a power play,” said Miller about a resolution Fillmore and Houston counties received from the Southeastern Minnesota Multi-County Housing and Redevelopment Authority (SEMMCHRA) last week.

The resolution basically freezes any new Section 8 vouchers until the two counties come up with the additional funding support SEMMCHRA had requested in January.

Bluff County HRA President Tom Falbo attended the Jan. 17 board meeting and informed the commissioners that at least four counties that SEMMCHRA serves have voiced disapproval with the authority’s handling of the Section 8 program, specifically the lack of any reporting. Falbo added that these counties are interested in having Semcac, based in Rushford, take over the Section 8 Voucher Program.

During the discussion, board members agreed that they could not name the last time anyone from SEMMCHRA had ever attended a county board meeting to report to the commissioners on activities being conducted in the county.

Miller noted that the freeze won’t affect county residents currently in the program. But when the county loses a client, that spot won’t be replaced.

EDA visitor’s guide

County EDA Director Jordan Wilms requested the board approve a contract with AVS of La Crosse to do the design and layout work for a county-wide visitor’s guide the County EDA plans to have published for the upcoming tourist season.

Wilms said the bid from AVS was for $2,750. The visitor’s guide is part of the EDA’s 2012 budget.

A motion made by Schuldt and seconded by Bjerke to approve the request was unanimously approved.

You can contact Charlie Warner at