By Emily Bialkowski
An incident that occurred after the Aug. 27 Houston County Board meeting involving law enforcement has left some residents, as well as county commissioners, feeling unsettled.
Resident Donna Buckbee addressed the matter in the public comment section of the Sept. 5 board meeting, as did resident Drue Fergison in a letter to the editor published Sept. 4 in the Caledonia Argus.
Buckbee said: “I wish to express my alarm over the calling of law enforcement into this very room after last Tuesday’s commissioners’ meeting. After adjournment, a handful of us, mostly senior citizens, stayed to chat with the commissioners about our concerns. … Law enforcement – Sheriff Ely and two deputies – swept into the area prepared to find trouble. They looked puzzled and surprised because there was no trouble. I asked why law enforcement had been called in. Sheriff Ely replied that he had received a report of ‘loud voices’…
“Let me say to you who made that call, whoever you are: If you were actually intimidated by hearing about the losses some people have suffered because a few county employees fail to do their jobs, then I suggest you are unqualified for this work. But if, and I think this is the more likely scenario, if you used law enforcement to silence the citizens in this current debate over term limits or frac sand mining, then you have abused your power and are even more unqualified for this job. You, whoever you are, should step down.”
In her letter to the editor Fergison wrote: “In an unexpected twist, after the meeting, when the Omodts and others were in discussion with commissioners … three police officers, including the Houston County sheriff, appeared in the doorway. They had been called in. Yet, there was no argument, no heated discussion, no threat, no assistance needed. Nothing. They almost seemed embarrassed.”
In a follow-up interview, Houston County Sheriff Doug Ely said the Sheriff’s Office was notified by an interdepartmental office in the old courthouse for “some type of loud noise/argument in commissioners’ room.”
Ely and a deputy responded, as well as another deputy nearby who heard the call.
“I did not see any disturbance,” Ely said.
Commissioner Teresa Walter, also in a follow-up interview stated: “After the meeting, Steve (Schuldt) and I were still packing up and many from the audience approached us asking questions about the Omodt/Crow allegations and about the term limit conversations. When we looked up, we did see Sheriff Ely and two deputies in the commissioner room observing what was going on. Steve and I did not call them, but in this day and age of spontaneous violent reactions, I believe that someone was concerned if it would get out of hand. I did not appreciate all the conversations from that group that we are not doing our job right – and have no concerns for people in the county – and did walk out on them after that point. We all do care.”
Commissioner Steve Schuldt said he did not make the call for law enforcement and that he didn’t feel he was under any kind of duress.
“It seemed to be an unfortunate misunderstanding. I apologize if anybody may have been offended,” Schuldt said.
No action was taken on the matter; not from law enforcement and not from the County Board during public comment. The situation stirred what has already been a contentious year for issues related to land use.