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County has decisions to make as County Attorney search continues

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Stevens County's list of county attorney candidates appears pared to two, but it became clear during interviews with four lawyers on Monday that before it can choose Charles Glasrud's replacement it will first have to decide how it wants the elected office to operate.

A panel of five County Commissioners and five county officials interviewed Aaron Jordan, Torrey Westrom, Jeanine Brand and Lars Markson at the courthouse Monday. They are candidates to succeed Glasrud, the long-time County Attorney who on July 8 will be sworn in as an 8th Judicial District Judge. Glasrud has been with the county attorney's office since 1984 and was elected to the office 21 years ago.

The interview panel included: County Commissioners Ron Staples, Jeanne Ennen, Larry Sayre, Paul Watzke and Phil Gausman. The county officials were Human Resources Director Sue Schultz, County Coordinator Brian Giese, Human Services Director Joanie Murphy, Sheriff Randy Willis and interim county attorney Bill Watson.

Following the interviews, the five county officials voted - the commissioners did not cast votes - and Jordan was the top candidate of all five, and Westrom was the No. 2 choice of three of the five.

But the voters stated they did not factor budgets presented by the candidates into their decision. That, and how Jordan and Westrom differ in how they propose to run the office, led to extensive discussion among the panel Monday afternoon.

Glasrud is a part-time county attorney who operated a private law firm with his wife, Deb Economou, who also is assistant county attorney.

Westrom, who has a private practice, wants to continue in that vein. Westrom, an eight-term Minnesota House Representative, said he would resign from the Legislature if appointed to the county attorney office.

Jordan is an Assistant Cass County Attorney and said he does not intend to operate a private practice.

When parsed out, the candidates' proposed budgets were not far apart in terms of dollars, but Jordan did propose that he and an assistant attorney be full-time and that a paralegal/secretary also be full-time. Westrom proposed operating with a part-time staff that would also work in his private legal practice.

The panel said Jordan's proposal would make attorneys more accessible to county staff. Westrom also admitted he had little criminal law experience - which is a significant part of a county attorney's workload - while Jordan said his job now if focused primarily on prosecution and that he has brought at least 20 to 25 jury trials to verdict.

County officials will contact cities in the county - the City of Morris in particular - to determine if they want to contract with the county attorney for legal services. Westrom's proposal to also operate a private legal practice would mean he would maintain a separate office. Jordan and his staff likely would be housed in the courthouse.

The county board will discuss the issues further at its July 5 meeting, but none of the commissioners stated that a decision was likely to be made at that meeting. Watson, the Big Stone County Attorney, will provide services as interim county attorney until Glasrud's replacement is chosen.