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Advisory panel begins work

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

An 11-member panel that will review Stevens County's proposed $15 million building and renovation project convenes at noon Wednesday at the county courthouse.

The committee consists of five County Commissioners, three members of the Stevens County Taxpayers Committee and three at-large members selected by the commissioners.

The committee is required to submit a report of the review's findings by May 15.

The committee members are County Commissioners Herb Kloos, Don Munsterman, Larry Sayre, Ron Staples and Paul Watzke, taxpayer committee members Jack Lampert, LuAlan Rohloff and Jerry Lesmeister, and at-large citizens Sheldon Giese, Jeanne Ennen and Neal Hofland.

The committee was formed two weeks ago after opposition, particularly about the jail portion of the project, cropped up late last year.

Opponents claim that the jail plan is too expensive and too large given the current economic climate. Three commissioners continued their support of the project, but the board agreed to form the advisory committee and delay the sale of $9.85 million in bonds for the jail and law enforcement center for 90 days to allow for the review.

The board voted to hire Deb Hengel, of Elbow Lake, as the facilitator for the meetings at $125 per hour. On Tuesday, the commissioners approved a proposal for Morris resident and professional writer and consultant Philip Drown to serve as a recorder for meeting proceedings at a cost of $50 per hour.

At today's meeting, after welcomes and introductions, the committee will establish ground rules for conducting business, discuss expectations, identify outside resources to aid in the process and establish meeting dates and times.

The committee is expected to meet weekly for between 90 minutes and two hours, although the frequency and length of meetings could change as its work progresses.

At Tuesday's regular county board meeting:

• Sandy Tubbs, Interim Director of Stevens Traverse Grant Public Health, reviewed her work in the six months since she took over temporary leadership of the department. Tubbs also is Public Health Director for Douglas County.

At STG, Tubbs said she has initiated a review of how the department collects, compiles and reports financial information, which will help the Public Health Board and each county board review the department's individual components and potentially identify budget cuts in challenging economic times.

"It will be more useful information for the board and, hopefully, for the director," Tubbs said.

She also talked to the county board about technology requirements and replacement needs, and the move from paper records to electronic recordkeeping within the next five years.

In terms of personnel, Tubbs said the department experienced some turnover and upheaval in the transition following former director Betty Windom-Kirsch's departure last summer.

The department is exploring ways to better use personnel skills to more efficiently deliver services.

"We want to recreate a sense of teamwork," Tubbs said. "Some of that got lost in the turnover of leaders."

The STG board also will need to formalize which component will serve as the board of health, she said.

Tubbs said there has been little progress in hiring a full-time STG director.

Several candidates applied but didn't meet minimum requirements, and a candidate who was offered the job turned it down, she said.

Tubbs said she didn't believe the position or the location was "undesirable," only that there "truly is a lack of much public health leadership out there."

• The board ratified a new four-year solid waste agreement with Kandiyohi County.

• The commissioners approved granting a 3.2 beer license for the Pomme de Terre Golf Club, and approved the purchase of a new postal meter for a total of $16,564.

• The county will keep negotiations open with First Lutheran Church for a segment of property on the east side of the church building.

The property is adjacent to the county parking lot, and the commissioners put down earnest money for the purchase of the land for use in the proposed building project.

The land would be used for parking and for wells for a geothermal system for the courthouse and justice center.

However, in a letter to the board, First Lutheran Church Council President Lauren Carlson said the council determined that the county's offer was below the value of the land, and that the church was concerned that it would have no room for potential expansion.

The board discussed relocating the geothermal wells, and the possibility of obtaining a variance from the city if the county is unable to provide the number of parking spaces required by a conditional-use permit granted by the city.

• The board approved advertising for bids for work to grade and pave almost six miles of County State Aid Highway 1 from the south county line to County State Aid Highway 8.

Sealed bids will be accepted until 10 a.m. on April 17.