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Jordan receives endorsements but commissioners want more information

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Stevens County will continue to negotiate with one or both of its final County Attorney candidates in an attempt to gain the most experience at the most reasonable cost.

The county's Board of Commissioners on Tuesday discussed continuing efforts to fill the elected office on an interim basis, and one candidate received a ringing endorsement from county law enforcement.

Current County Attorney Charles Glasrud was elected to a four-year term last fall but this spring was appointed as a 7th Judicial District Judge. He will be sworn in July 8.

Assistant Cass County Attorney Aaron Jordan and Minnesota District 11A House Rep. Torrey Westrom are the consensus front-runners for the position after interviews with four candidates last week.

The board agrees that Jordan is the most qualified candidate for the position because of his extensive work as a prosecutor, which is generally the primary duty of a county attorney. However, Jordan's initial budget estimate, submitted during his interview last week, was significantly higher than the commissioners would like to pay.

Westrom lacks Jordan's prosecutorial experience but said he wants to also maintain a private practice and, as such, his estimated county budget was lower.

County Coordinator Brian Giese noted that, with adjustments to Jordan's rough estimates, his budget is not much higher than the other four candidates.

But commissioner Ron Staples said he's not convinced that Jordan would work under the county's county attorney's office budget and wants to discuss the issues with him further to determine if he would be open to adjusting his proposal.

The board also left open the possibility of discussing budget issues with Westrom.

Giese said the county has not had contact with either candidate since last week's interviews.

The commissioners proposed having their Personnel Committee -- Staples and commissioner Phil Gausman -- Giese, Human Resources Director Sue Schultz, and Morris City Manager Blaine Hill meet with Jordan to dig deeper into details and more clearly define work parameters. A meeting time and date have not been set.

The board approved the measure 4-1, with commissioner Jeanne Ennen voting against, stating she wanted the entire board to meet with Jordan.

On Tuesday, the board also approved hiring Big Stone County Attorney William Watson to serve as Stevens County Attorney on an interim basis. The board will pay Watson $105 per hour.

County law enforcement and Morris' Hill strongly endorsed Jordan, or at least the skills Jordan would bring to the office.

Stevens County Sheriff Randy Willis, who was a member of the 10-member interview panel, said his views were based on skill level, not personal attributes, and he was adamant that Jordan was the best candidate.

"I don't see how you could reasonably consider anyone but Aaron Jordan," Willis said. "He's so far superior in experience and the attributes he would bring to the office, it's sort of a no-brainer."

Westrom would need 10 years experience to get to where Jordan is now, he said.

"I don't know if (the county) can afford to be the place where he gets that experience," Willis said.

Hill was not involved in the interviews and didn't speak about the individual candidates, but he did stress that prosecutorial experience was the top priority for the city. Glasrud currently also is the Morris City Attorney, which is not an elected position.

"You need somebody who knows prosecution," Hill said. "You really do. This isn't a training ground for prosecution."

When Hill worked in Breckenridge, Wilken County had a full-time attorney. Hill said that made the office more efficient, more effective, more focused and more responsive. There are fewer instances of conflict of interest, as well.

Hill said he could not speak for Morris' City Council but that he would not recommend Westrom as Glasrud's successor.

"(The city) is not interested in seeing any attorney who is not experienced in prosecution," Hill said.

Hill also stated that he didn't believe the county attorney's office caseload warranted two full-time attorneys, which is what Jordan proposed in his budget.

"In my 17 years in Breckenridge, we never used assistant attorneys," he said.