County Board seeks legal opinion

Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

Houston County commissioners met in closed session with their land use attorney on Tuesday, March 28. The conference call with Jay Squires was “regarding the appeal of a decision of the Houston County Board of Adjustment (BOA) dated February 18, 2016,” county attorney Samuel Jandt reported. Citing attorney-client privilege, Jandt said that the closed meeting would address a “potential appeal or processes on remand” involving a recent court decision.  That decision turned out to be on the Erickson sand mine.

Following the closed session, Jandt stated “This board has decided not to appeal this matter, and has rather decided to deal with the court’s order.” That is scheduled to take place on April 25.

The action stems from one of the lawsuits launched against the county last year due to BOA actions. The April date will look into a BOA decision that certified a mining access road as a “legal non-conforming use.” That decision was found to be in error by the District Court.

The three-member BOA has two new representatives this year.

PC members reappointed without interviews

Commissioner Fred Arnold motioned to re-appoint Planning commission members Rich Schild and Dan Griffin to additional three-year terms. The vote passed 3-2 with commissioners Jack Miller and Justin Zmyewski dissenting.

Commissioner Scott Connor voted “yes” on the matter, as did Commissioner Teresa Walter. Zmyewski argued strenuously against it, stating that by re-appointing the pair without conducting interviews, an already existing hiring process would be skirted.

“We don’t need interviews for that committee,” Connor said. “We need it for the Board of Adjustment because they don’t come back in front of us. We all agreed that that BOA appointments are so important that we all want to be involved with that.

“The Planning Commission is not nearly as important. We have oversight. We just appoint them, that’s all we do.

Zmyewski argued that holding interviews would open up service on the PC to more people. “It’s like, if I don’t like these applicants, let’s change the process,” he said following the meeting. “The current process was never suspended.

“We have to continue to open this up so we can evaluate if people have done a good job. This reappointment makes for a lack of equal opportunity and a lack of transparency, and a failure to follow our own policies and procedures.

Interim county assessor appointed

With the retirement of county assessor Thomas Dybing looming, commissioners appointed property assessor Cindy Cresswell as an interim replacement. The interview process for a permanent county assessor continues.

Personnel/facilities director Tess Arrick-Kruger also asked commissioners to consider a request from Sheriff’s Department investigator Dan Coogan to be re-assigned as a deputy sheriff, to take on court security duties. They agreed.

Arrick-Kruger also brought the results of several “banding” updates for county jobs. The pay rate increases, based on recent comparative worth studies, were approved. They will affect Cresswell’s (former) position as well as that of building maintenance specialist Mike Meiners. The changes were made retroactive to January 1, 2017.

Arrick-Kruger also said that according to some recently enacted state rules, other property appraisers will apparently need to obtain additional certification by 2019 to keep their positions within the State of Minnesota.

Wildcat Park, other news

Valeriee Green of the Minnesota DNR and Dave Walter of the Root River Soil and Water Commission reported that several species of trees are slated to be planted at Wildcat Park by 4-H members. That will happen on April 22 as an Arbor Day project.

Walter also reported that his office is working to compile a list of waterways and ditches that will be affected by new state rules on buffers. The county will need to decide by about September 1 whether or not they intend to enforce the rules themselves, or have BWSR (the Board of Water and Soil Resources) do it, he added. Counties could be reimbursed (based on the amount of work performed) anywhere from approximately $45,000 to $250,000 to shoulder the task, he added.

Commissioners also approved the purchase of  a new 6×20 foot galvanized steel boat dock for the park, costing $5,083. County auditor Char Meiners said that she has contacted insurance adjustors to see if a portion of that bill can be claimed on the county’s park policy.