breaking news history

Schroeder appointed to Pine Co. Auditor-Treasurer post

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Pine County Board moved forward with their plan to appoint someone to fill the position of auditor/treasurer at the Oct. 16, 2018 regular meeting.
Five candidates were interviewed the previous week including Kelly Schroeder, who currently holds the title of Assessor-Recorder Land Manager.
At their request, Pine County Commissioners had the State Legislature draw up a special bill to make the last of the main floor elected officials, appointed positions. Commissioner Matt Ludwig testified at the state legislative committee meeting in favor of making it an appointed position. Rep. Jason Rarick authored the bill. The recorder, assessor, treasurer and auditor are no longer offices elected by Pine County voters. They are appointed.
The personnel committee has gone about restructuring the hierarchy of the courthouse.
Besides the commissioners, only two remaining officials will be chosen by voters - county attorney and sheriff.  
They formally approved hiring Schroeder with a resolution to accept the personnel committee’s recommendation which included shifting Schroder’s responsibilities to other department heads. The motion was made by Commissioner Steve Chaffee, seconded by Commissioner Matt Ludwig and unanimously approved.
PiCK News spoke with Schroeder after the meeting to get her perspective on the scope of her duties and plans for the office.
Schroeder said she has an educational background in accounting and feels she’s more than ready for the job. Prior to her six years as assessor in Pine County, she worked in the Isanti County Auditor’s office.
Her challenges will be the day-to-day questions and answers focused on her work as the assessor/recorder land management director. Learning to pass those questions on to the appropriate department when she could just as easily handle them, will take some getting used to. She sees a different phone number in her future.
Elections are a big part of the auditor’s job. She anticipates communication with township clerks and supervisors through email or calls. Most of the townships know Schroeder because of her visits to their Boards of Equalization each spring.
The current mid-term elections have been an example for her. There are so many early voter ballots this year, she is planning on adding temporary help during the election cycle to keep voters from experiencing long lines for early voting. It is also complicated by tax day and residents coming in to pay their taxes in October, causing long lines at the auditor’s window.
“I focus on the customer,” Schroeder said.
She said other counties hire help during the election and the absentee-early voting numbers have to be addressed for the 2020 elections.
“I’m excited to dig into the county’s finances,” she said, adding that she wants to get more in-depth with the county’s investments and focus on a better return on the dollar.
The biggest challenge for transitioning into the new office will be “letting go” of the old office.

Pine Co. Commissioners put finishing touches on restructuring offices, get update on new construction of county building

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
In October, commissioners approved making Assessor/Recorder Land Manager Kelly Schroeder the auditor/treasurer. Then they began shifting employees into departments and, in some cases, renaming the departments.
Pine County Board voted on the restructuring of county offices, promotions and pay grade increases resulting from making the last of the main floor department heads an appointed position.
The board voted 4-0-1, at the Nov. 20, 2018 meeting to approve these changes. Commissioner Steve Chaffee abstained from voting because Caleb Anderson is his son-in-law.
n the restructuring, Anderson was promoted to Land and Resources Manager at pay Grade 13.
School Districts’ 2165 and 2580 polling places
Under the consent agenda, the board approved a request from Hinckley-Finlayson and East Central School District to approve the two high schools and the Finlayson Elementary School as polling places for school elections.
Because the school districts choose to hold their elections on odd years rather than general election years, the county must approve a designated polling place for those elections.
Schools that hold their elections during the even years would be on the general ballot and the election would be held at each township and city’s polling place.
Because Hinckley-Finlayson and East Central schools to choose to hold elections in their districts on odd years, the resolution approved by the board means there will only be three polling places for the two districts.
New county building in Sandstone
Commissioner Josh Mohr updated the board on the facilities committee meeting and the county’s new building in Sandstone. He told the board framing was underway and they expected to have the building weather-tight by the end of the third week in November. He said the committee also talked about the John Wright Building and that they were working with Representative Jason Rarick, Senator Tony Lourey and Pine County Attorney Reese Fredrickson to get a release from the state on the 20-year lease between the East Central School District and the county.
Meeting closed to discuss litigation in Raymond vs. Pine County
The board closed the regular meeting and reconvened in closed session to discuss the ongoing litigation in Raymond vs. Pine County, et al.
The suit involves a Pine County Deputy who, Nov. 6, 2013, ran over Joseph A. Kelley, who was thrown from his vehicle during a traffic accident. The deputy, who was on his way to work in Pine County, was driving a county vehicle and was northbound, on I-35, in Chisago County when he ran over Kelley who was lying on the roadway.
District court determined the deputy was “…not entitled to immunity because he was not performing his official duties when he was driving to work and did not assume his official duties before the collision that gave rise to this lawsuit…”
Minnesota Court of Appeals’ decision, in May 2018:
The deputy “… is not entitled to official immunity because he was not performing his official duties when he engaged in the conduct that Raymond alleges was negligent. Pine County is not entitled to vicarious official immunity. Therefore, the district court did not err by denying appellants' motion for summary judgment.”
Meeting closed to evaluate Administrator Minke
The board held a second closed meeting to evaluate the performance of Pine County Administrator David Minke. Commissioner Matt Ludwig made a motion to set Minke’s salary at $123,074 effective on his anniversary date of July 2, 2018. The board unanimously approved the motion 5-0.


 

Pine County Commissioners raise preliminary property tax levy 4.9 percent

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Pine County Commissioners voted to continued their large property tax increases into the sixth year with a preliminary levy increase of 4.9 percent.
Commissioners can choose to reduce their taxing precedent by approving a zero or lower increase or an actual decrease final levy, in December. The last time this was done was the 2012 levy which decrease from 2011 by $214,330.
This discussion took place at a special meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, led by Board Chairman Steve Hallan and did not favor a zero levy increase.
All five commissioners voted in favor of the preliminary levy increase, Commissioners Matt Ludwig and Steve Chaffee said they were not comfortable with a 4.9 percent increase, but voted yes.
Though the 2018 levy was $17,912,930, payroll is $23 million.
The budget in 2017 was $40.25 million. Not all the money the county spends comes from the levy. That year, according to Auditor/Treasurer Cathy Clemmer, $16 million came from federal and state reimbursements $1.8 million in program aid, $2.2 million in state aid, $1.8 million in general revenue and $6.8 million in fees.
At the previous regular board meeting, commissioners talked about decreasing the departments’ requests to get the preliminary levy down to a goal of 4.5 percent increase. They came to the special meeting with the budget lowered to a 4.9 percent increase. They also discussed a 5 percent increase.
“Whatever you set it at, you can’t go above it,” Hallan said. He was referring to the December final levy which can decrease from the preliminary or stay the same as the preliminary. Hallan also said he was not afraid to make it the high end.
Commissioner Matt Ludwig said the target was 4.5 percent increase. “We’re not doing it,” he said.
“It’s close,” Hallan said.
Ludwig said the county has reserves. Hallan told him they were not going to spend reserves
Hallan said, Aitkin County was looking at a 9 percent preliminary levy increase.
“If we’re going to sit here and worry about a 4.5 or 4.9, what’s the impact. I think the sheet Cathy (Clemmer) put out, my taxes get impacted this year more than anybody. And, it’s about a-buck-ten a month difference.”
Ludwig wondered where the schools’ levies were being set.
Hallan said the townships had already set their levies.
Clemmer commented that Windemere Township had cut their levy almost in half because they were “healthy” in reserves.
“I told them they were crazy,” she said, noting that they would have a hard time bringing the tax back up.
Commissioner Steve Chaffee said they need to send a message to the departments. If the board set the levy at a 4.9 percent property tax levy increase, they need to keep working on lowering their budgets. He said he would still like to challenge the departments. “It’s our responsibility as commissioners, he added.
Chaffee made the motion to approve the preliminary property tax levy of $18,790,664. It was seconded by Commissioner Josh Mohr and unanimously approved.
That is an increase of $877,734 over the 2018 levy.
“I’m not comfortable with this. But, we have to. We crunched it,” Ludwig said.
PiCK News asked Hallan what was the percentage of increase. He said, “We levy in dollars and not percentages.”
Ludwig answered it is a 4.9 percent increase.

Pine County Commissioners moving toward another large property tax levy increase

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
A zero preliminary, property tax levy increase was not mentioned by Pine County Commissioners at the regular meeting held in Askov this week. Chairman Steve Hallan said the board was working on a 4.5 percent increase.
The commissioners’ historic and progressive five-year levy increases will make it six years in a row if they continue this spending shift.
Years of no levy increase and actual decreases ended the last full year Commissioner Doug Carlson served.
By 2011, county taxpayers had experienced several years of zero increases in the property tax levy.
The board made a bold move in 2012, by lowering the property tax levy. It stayed at that level for two years.
The current upward shift began when the 2013 board voted, in December, to increase the 2014 levy. Each year after, commissioners continued to vote in favor of levy increases.
That upward levy trend went unchecked, surpassing itself each year.
In 2017, the property tax levy went up a historic 6.5 percent - over $1 million dollars. Commissioners approved a 5.5 percent increase for 2018, making the total increases over five years $3.8 million. That equals a 26 percent increase in the last five years from a levy of $14,075,000 in 2013, to a levy of $17,912,930 in 2018.
Not only are property taxes increasing, the board approved a county transit tax. Pine County residents are seeing this tax on goods and services. It began in 2017. An additional $1 million in transit taxes was collected last year and will continue until a list of highway projects is complete. The board can choose to continue the transit tax when they have received enough in transit taxes to complete the list of road projects.
Here are a few of the county’s decisions that affect the budget and levy.
The commissioners approved tearing down the county’s building in Sandstone which housed Veteran’s Services and additional county departments. They also approved building a new structure which will house Veteran’s Services, Health and Human Services and several other departments. The estimated $2.5 million building, being paid for by a $4.1 million bond, came in over-budget - a million dollars over budget. The excess bond money was scheduled to be used for upgrades on other county buildings.
The county is facing two costly court actions including a suit brought against it with the termination of County Recorder Tamara Tricas.
The other court action was triggered when county commissioners decided recently to take a resident’s land by eminent domain for recreation and access to timber. This decision, if approved by a judge, will go to a separate board who will determine damages. Damages will be court costs and payments to the landowners and the land trust which manages the property. There is no estimate on what this will cost taxpayers.
Administrator David Minke handed out a 2019 budget update to the board at Tuesday’s regular meeting. It showed a general fund budget increase of $1,659,238, which would equal an approximate levy increase of 10 percent.
Trimming the general fund budget down to $715,489 would still mean a levy increase of 4.5 percent. Minke and department heads have done some cutting back but are still $205,000 above the 4.5 percent increase.
The board has one more budget meeting scheduled for Sept. 25, 2018, 9 a.m., at the courthouse.
The preliminary levy must be approved by Sept. 30, 2018. When the 2019 levy is finalized in December, commissioners can approve the final levy at the preliminary levy amount or decrease it anywhere below that number. It can not be increased.

Most Pine Co. departments' request increased 2019 budgets

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Pine County Board held the first of two scheduled budget meetings last Thursday, August 23, 2018.
Commissioners took their places around a table as county department heads made their requests for money to cover projected expenses for next year.
Most of them requested increases.
- Auditor/Treasurer Cathy Clemmer talked about the age of voting equipment and future need for replacement.
Chairman Steve Hallan said he would like to see a steady amount allocated for elections. Mid-terms and general elections take more and the auditor’s department prepares for that. He said he’d like to see a set amount each year and he would like to start that now.
- Probation Director Terry Fawcett asked for a 5 percent increase.
- Soil and Water Director Jill Carlier requested $77,539. That is an $18,200 increase over 2018.
- Court Administrator Luann Blegen said, “The good news is, I’m not asking for any change.”
She outlined the fiscal responsibility for the county such as the cost for court-appointed attorneys. The State of Minnesota also is responsible for some court costs.
Blegen said it was all decided in 2005 what would be paid for with State funding and what would be paid for by the counties.
- Information Technology Manager Ryan Findell asked for an 11 percent increase in 2019. He said his department will be replacing a lot of things and, hopefully, in the next few years they can level off.
- County Engineer Mark LeBrun also asked for a budget increase. He said there are retirements coming up in his department in the next couple years. He discussed hiring new staff to fill the positions. LeBrun also talked about hiring an assistant engineer or project engineer. He did not press the budget increases saying they would not “shut down” if they did not fill his requests.
- Pete Leibel from the Pine County Fair Board asked for the commissioners’ continued support of the event.
- Commissioner Josh Mohr said the East Central Regional Library (ECRL) is asking for a 7.6 percent increase for 2019. He said each county in the ECRL system pays their share of the total with a formula that is 50 percent of the county’s tax capacity, 25 percent by population and 25 percent by library usage.
Commissioner Matt Ludwig stated if everyone had access to the internet, would you need a library.
County Administrator David Minke said the bulk of the library’s budget is for personnel.
- Minke gave highlights of his 4-page Administration report/request.
Under staffing opportunities he stated, “generally positive moral,” and under staffing threats he stated “With 10 unions co-workers may be working under different collective bargaining agreements with different requirements.”
Under the Budget/Finance “Opportunities” heading, it stated “Explore new revenue sources? (i.e. sales tax for transportation*).”
Not part of the budget discussion was lawsuits pending against the county.
Former County Recorder
Tamara Tricas has filed suit against Pine County for Count 1 - Age Discrimination in violation of State Law, Count 2 - FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) Retaliation/Reprisal and Count 3 - Invasion of Privacy.
Pine County also faces payment for attorneys and the cost of purchasing James and Wilda Obey’s property if the court decides in favor of the county’s use of eminent domain in the taking of the property. Attorneys’ charges will also be an expense along with satisfying the Minnesota Land Trust.
______________
*Transit tax
The county began a half percent sales tax in 2017, replacing the wheelage tax.
LeBrun gave his report last month to the board about county roads and bridges. He said residents complained about the $10 wheelage tax line item on their license plate renewal. However, he wasn’t hearing complaints about the sales tax increase in the county which works out to about $150 per household each year.
A second  special county board meeting for budget purposes is scheduled for Thursday, August 30, 2018, at 9 p.m. in the boardroom at the courthouse.

State's first 2018 case of West Nile Virus in Pine Co.

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Pine County has Minnesota’s first recorded case, for 2018 ,of a horse diagnosed with West Nile Virus (WNV). This is just the beginning of peak season for the disease which runs through September.
The Minnesota Board of Animal Health (MnBAH) confirmed that a 3-year-old miniature horse had been diagnosed in Pine City with the disease. It was reported that the horse had not been vaccinated against the mosquito borne illness.
According to Doug Schultz, spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), there have also been four human cases of West Nile Virus reported in the western part of the state.
In 2017, 15 years after the first recorded WNV occurrence in the state, there were a total of 30 reported cases of human WNV in Minnesota. The disease is carried by mosquitos infected with WNV. Birds, horses and humans can be infected with the disease but according to the Oklahoma Department of Health website, cats and dogs appear to be resistant to developing the disease.
Pine County Veterinarian Dr. Delores Gockowski said horses can be vaccinated annually to prevent the disease. Though she has never treated a horse with WNV some owners will not allow their horses to be tested and, she added, some will recover with just supportive care.
Gockowski said WNV vaccine is a “core” vaccine for horses.
Both Gockowski and Schultz said decreasing the mosquito population is one preventative measure.
MnBAH website can provide useful information about WNV including how to reduce mosquito population, Gockowski said. They recommended changing water in drinking troughs every week, mowing long grass, draining stagnant water puddles and removing items such as old tires and tin cans to help eliminate eliminate breeding grounds.
She said increasing air flow around stabled animals can keep mosquitos from getting on the animals.
Gockowski and Schultz said using high quality repellant can also be helpful.
Schultz said MDH recommends recommends repellents containing 30 percent DEET which they say is a safe concentration for children. Do not use repellents on infants under two month old. Repellents containing permethrin can be applied to clothing or gear but should never be applied to skin. Other repellents include picardin, IR3535 and oil of lemon eucalyptus. Wear loose fitting, light-colored clothing with long sleeves and pant legs.
Both said there is more possibility of exposure for humans and animals at dusk and dawn.
There are two severe forms of the illness which can develop in humans, Schultz said. Twenty percent of those infected will develop West Nile fever. The symptoms include sudden onset of fever higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit, severe headache, nausea, vomiting, sore throat, backache, joint pain, prominent muscle aches and weakness, prolonged fatigue, rash and swollen lymph nodes.
One in 150 of those infected by a WNV mosquito will develop West Nile encephalitis.
The symptoms are consistent with encephalitis or meningitis. They include mental status changes, vomiting, sensitivity to light, altered reflexes and seizures; of which 15 percent of those will progress to coma. Acute placid paralysis occurs in a small percentage of severely affected patients.
the most severe cases of WN infection occur in the elderly.
There is a percent mortality rate for those with encephalitic West Nile infection.
Gockowski advised horse owners to have their animals properly vaccinated prior to the season.

Pine County Commissioners questioned about their support for elk study

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
The city of Sandstone was the site of last week’s special committee of the whole, county board meeting.
Invitations were sent to clerks, chairmen, mayor and city administrator for three of the highest populated jurisdictions in Commissioner Matt Ludwig’s District. Sandstone, Sandstone Township and Finlayson Township were invited. These municipalities were sent a notice to post inviting residents. Finlayson Township was not represented at the meeting. One resident, Skip Thomson, who is a candidate for District 5 Commissioner running against Ludwig, was also in attendance. Thomson is the chairman of the county’s newly formed zoning board and also chairman of Pine County Soil and Water.
Public comment
At the beginning of the meeting, public comment was taken. Sandstone Township Supervisor Carlson asked about the board’s stand on introducing elk into Pine County. He said he knew of someone who had received a survey about the introduction of elk into the county.
In February 2015, the Fond du Lac Band’s Wildlife Biologist, Mike Schrage, requested verbal support from Pine County Commissioners to conduct a feasibility study about bringing elk back into parts of Pine County.
The board approved support for the project on a motion by Commissioner Ludwig. It was approved on a 4-1 vote with Ludwig, Hallan, Mohr and Chaffee voting yes. Commissioner Curt Rossow from District 4 was the only no vote.
Nemadji State Park was the area discussed as the place to reintroduce elk along with State Parks in Carlton and St. Louis County. Recent maps also show St. Croix State Park as an area of interest for the elk.
Pine County Board also touched on the subject, July 3, 2018, at the first board meeting of the month.
At that meeting, Ludwig said he’d had questions from residents about the elk. He said he remembered the board was concerned about the elk interfering with farm operations in the county.
Hallan also said, at that meeting, he remembered the research would be good for Nemadji and that Fond du Lac was the preferred place to bring in the elk.
Hallan answered Carlson’s question saying, “We supported a study. In my mind, a study is a study.”
Administrator David Minke said 8,500 surveys were sent out and they expect results in the summer or fall.
PiCK News learned the Introduction of elk into other parts of Minnesota have been a costly venture for farmers and taxpayers.
Rocky Mountain Elk were brought into the state in the northwest Minnesota County of Kittson. Just to the south of Kittson is Marshall County where the town of Grygla is located. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) manages the herd near Grygla.
The herd grew, grazed in the farmers’ fields and damaged their crops.
In 1985, farmers lobbied to remove the elk. The DNR used helicopters and tranquilizing guns to subdue the animals and round them up. One tranquilized bull drowned. The Sierra Club brought a lawsuit against the DNR to stop the roundup.
The state legislature, in 1987, voted to pay farmers for their crop damage and contain the herd to 20-30 animals, which would include a hunting season to keep the numbers down. Farmers have been compensated more than $55,000 for their loss of crops due to damage by elk in the years since the legislation. It took many years to establish a hunting season.
Schrage said in his 2015 presentation to Pine County Board, if Fond du Lac’s project is feasible and a herd is established in the three counties, the natives could hunt but the elk would be protected from other hunters.
PiCK News talked to Representative Jason Rarick last week. He said the state continues to pay farmers in northwestern Minnesota for their losses due to crop damage by the elk.
Chairman Hallan signed a letter of support on April 14, 2015, which talked about the board being “excited by this proposal.” It was sent to LCCMR. LCCMR is the Legislative-Citizen’s Commission on Minnesota Resources. Its function is to make funding recommendations to the Minnesota Legislature for special environment and natural resource projects.
The 2015 letter states:
Re: LCCMR Proposal “Restoration of Elk to Eastern Minnesota: A Feasibility Study”
Dear LCCMR Members:
On February 17, 2015, the Pine County Board of Commissioners approved a letter of support for the proposal by the University of Minnesota and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to conduct a feasibility study for the restoration of elk to eastern Minnesota, including areas of Pine County.
Elk were once common across most of the state. Today, however, the elk numbers and range are only a fraction of their historic level. We are excited by this proposal to investigate the feasibility of returning elk to eastern Minnesota and believe the University and the Band have a sound proposal to study the issue. Returning wild elk to eastern Minnesota would mean restoring part of our traditional wildlife heritage and could provide significant ecological and economic benefits.
The county board believes that public attitudes towards elk and suitable habitat need to be considered and positive results for both aspects are needed before further steps towards elk restoration should be taken. We strongly support this application, and urge LCCMR to recommend full funding for it.
Sincerely,
Stephen M. Hallan, Chair
Pine County Board of Commissioners.

In 4-1 decision, Pine County Commissioners take Obey's land by eminent domain

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Pine County Board of Commissioners voted in favor of taking a portion of James and Wilda Obey’s land, located in Munch Township, by eminent domain.
There was some board discussion and comments from the affected parties before the board made a motion to approve the eminent domain resolution at the May 15, 2018 board meeting.
Chairman Steve Hallan said the county needed to get the forester into the Memorial Forest to get the timber evaluated.
In February, a 90-day time limit was given to negotiate easement across the Obey property. That time ended May 8, 2018.
An offer was sent to County Attorney Reese Fredrickson on May 11, on behalf of the Obeys.
James Taurinskas, the Obey’s attorney whose family also has property near the Obeys, said the offer sent to Fredrickson was made because the county attorney said they had to have access to the timber in the forest.
The forest is adjacent to the Obeys land and is the reason the county wants access across the Obeys land. In 2006, the Obeys had their property put in a land trust which restricts the ways their land can be used. The restrictions include no commercial use or road construction.
In 2010, the county had the approximately 1,100 acres of tax-forfeited land next to the Obeys land declared Memorial Forest along with 33,0000 additional acres in the county. Before a piece of land is declared Memorial Forest it must first be determined whether there is viable access to the land.
Much of the Memorial Forest in question is wet, lowland. Those with land adjacent, must access their land over a corduroy road. They have been granted access across the Obey’s gated land to the corduroy road beyond it. Several were present at the meeting. They had voiced their concerns at the previous board meeting when Fredrickson said one of the county’s options besides eminent domain was making the Memorial Forest walk-in only.
“We can grant an access in different ways. Everybody isn’t going to win.” Hallan said.
Commissioner Matt Ludwig, who is on the zoning board, said the idea is “not to tread on people’s rights” and added that the public should be able to access the forest across the Obey’s land.
Hallan said he was certain he could solve the problem of access across their land if he could have a one-on-one conversation with the Obeys.
County Forester Greg Beck said he had been fairly silent until now.  He said the road was an old town road. No documentation has been found showing the land the county wants to condemn has been recorded as a road. Beck indicated township record keeping was not flawless. He said the road is shown on maps. He also said the road was there when the Obeys purchased the land.
A road that has not been recorded can legally be gated, he added. Pine County just wants to reopen the road.
“We’re not trying to take something away, we’re just trying to get something back,” Beck said.
Steve Quam, attorney for the Minnesota Land Trust which regulates the Obey’s trust land, said they weren’t trying to leave Fredrickson out of the negotiations with the Obeys and Taurinskas. They had to find something that would work for those parties before the offer was made to the county.
Quam said the trust allows for forestry management across the land trust easement. It calls for the Obeys to submit a plan and walk-ins are allowed also.
Peter Taurinskas said the gate was erected because of the instances of criminal activity on the land. James Obey had a hunter point a gun at him and a meth lab was located just beyond the Obeys land in the Memorial Forest. Remnants of that structure still exists. Another of his neighbors around the forest had $30,000 worth of equipment stolen from a shed on his land.
“Have respect for private property owners’ rights.If you don’t, to me, it’s just a sad day in Pine County for private land owners,” Peter Taurinskas said.
Commissioner Steve Chaffee asked if there was any window of access to the land which would be acceptable to Beck to do his job.
Pine County Forester Greg Beck said 12-month access would be acceptable. Besides access to timber management in the winter, they would need to plant conifers May through September, and mid-summer they would need to work on improving the road.
James Taurinskas asked whether there would be negotiations that included topics such as walk-in accessibility and wetland permits.
Pine County Administrator David Minke said they weren’t negotiating at the current meeting. He said, the board requested a 90-day window for negotiation before the vote on the eminent domain resolution.
Attorney and landowner adjacent to the forest,Brian Taurinskas, said the statute requires good faith negotiations before proceeding with eminent domain. He asked that negotiations continue before eminent domain is considered.
According to Fredrickson, with any court proceedings there is always the potential for negotiations.
Commissioner Steve Chaffee, whose district includes the township of Munch, made a motion to proceed with the eminent domain resolution. “That still leaves the door open,” he added.
Ailene Croup, reporting for PiCK News asked it there had been any other requests from people wanting to access the Memorial Forest across the Obeys’ land, other than board members. It was also asked what the cost would be to build or improve the corduroy road, to allow timber trucks to access the land.
Hallan said there had been requests over the past several years to access the Memorial Forest. Chaffee said loggers have used that road before this and Minke said timber cutting companies would be responsible for improving the road.
Hallan said the price of improving the road would most likely be figured into the price for the timber.
One resident of Mallard Road, which goes directly to the Obey’s access, asked if the loggers would be repairing Mallard Road when they tear it up. There was no answer to that question.
Commissioner Ludwig seconded the motion. The vote was 4-1 with Commissioners Ludwig, Chaffee, Josh Mohr and John Mikrot, voting yes and Hallan voting no.
PiCK News asked Hallan after the meeting why he voted “no.” He said because he believed in the hope of negotiation.

DNA testing may take mystery out of missing persons search

by Ailene Croup for PiCK News
Fifty years ago my Dad went to work and never came home. I wanted answers. The search for those answers began with me filing a missing persons report in January 2015.
Pine County Sheriff’s Deputy Barry Sjodahl swabbed my cheek for DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). My brother also provided DNA. It is now in the national missing person’s database.
My Dad was, by trade, a house painter and had his own business in the Twin Cities before moving north to Pine County in 1961. He would take on extra jobs in the metro area to support my mother and the seven of us children. Everyone worked.
We had paper routes, we were waitresses, we washed dishes, mowed lawns - we all had jobs. It was that work ethic which was the fabric of families back then.
I was living in Duluth with my sister, Carol in the summer of 1967. She and I had bought bus tickets to visit Mom and Dad for Father’s Day, June 19, 1967. It was a fun visit with cake and gifts for Dad. I remember the blue cotton fishing hat we bought him.
The day ended too soon. Dad drove us out to Tobies and we boarded the bus for the return trip to Duluth.
Later, I would look back on that moment, wishing that last kiss, last hug, last goodbye would have been longer, would have said much more about what was in my heart instead of being just in the moment.
The next morning, the hat and other Father’s Day momentos were tucked into a box along with some salami, homemade bread and pickles. Dad would be staying with grandpa in the Cities, as he occasionally did when he was hired to do some painting. This one was an inside painting job - a two-story apartment building.
Dad told mom he expected to be finished on Wednesday and would be home late that day. If he ran into problems, he would call and be home the next day.
I had been contemplating moving back to Hinckley and the idea was reinforced by my trip home.
A friend from Hinckley, who was attending college in Duluth, called that Monday. He apologized for not having been in contact with me sooner. We exchanged news of the past year and he said he was moving back home for the summer. I asked if he had room in his car for my stuff. There wasn’t much. We found a way to squeeze it all in and headed to Hinckley that day.
Mom was pleased. There was always room for one more. Moving home meant pulling my weight. I immediately got a job at local restaurant working evenings.
My youngest brother was only four months old and Mom had just gone back to work. She needed someone to watch him during the day. She worked mornings at the same restaurant. The plan was for me to take care of my brother while she worked.
I made it home from my shift that Wednesday about 11:30 p.m. Dad hadn’t made it home yet. Mom said he had not called so he’d probably be pretty late. We all went to bed.
He didn’t come home the next day and he didn’t call. Mom planned to call grandpa if Dad wasn’t home Friday morning,
Bright and early Friday morning, she called before going to work. Grandpa said he had not seen Dad at all. Mom called several friends in the metro area. They had not seen him.
She was upset. The next call was to the Pine County Sheriff’s Office. They said “technically” he hadn’t been missing 48 hours because he said he would be home Thursday. She was instructed to call the sheriff’s department on Monday if he didn’t show up over the weekend.
This was not like Dad. There was no consoling Mom. I don’t know how she did it but she went to work that morning.
The weekend was unbearably long. Mom cried a lot. We called everyone who could possible know Dad’s whereabouts, to no avail. Lifelong friends of Mom and Dad came to stay with us and offer Mom support. Mom didn’t sleep.
Monday morning finally came and we were hungry for any news or help we could get from the sheriff.
Mom repeated the story about Dad not making it home. The response was cold. They considered Dad’s disappearance “a domestic” and said they would not get involved.
Mom slept with the light on for months. She didn’t sleep much. We went about our business at a mechanical pace, a day at a time. Slowly the tears turned to resolve. Mom worked 10 hours a day, six days a week for $1.10 an hour. She said she was determined to keep us all together. And, she did.
Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole, and Sheriff Jeff Nelson after him, proved law enforcement has changed over the last 50 years by taking information about my Dad’s disappearance along with my DNA.
There is now a ray of hope to solve old and new missing persons’ cases.
Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) is hoping to match the DNA of 100 unidentified remains by providing opportunities for people to voluntarily provide DNA to locate missing family members.
BCA Public Information Officer Jill Oliveira, with the Department of Public Safety, told PiCK News that there are a series of collection opportunities scheduled over a two-week period. The first was held Saturday in St. Paul. Nine people came to the location to provide information about family members and offer their DNA. The second was held Tuesday, in Duluth and Wednesday it was held in Bemidji.
For those families who were unable to attend any of the first three, there will be one more opportunity to provide DNA and information at the Blue Earth County Justice Center, 401 Carver Road, Mankato, Minn.,, on Thursday, July 27, 2017, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. This is an updated location.
Hope is there.
Oliveira offered one example of a 30-year-old missing person’s case.
Family members of 19-year-old Cassandra Rhines, who was last seen in Minneapolis in June of 1985, came forward to offer DNA in hopes of solving Rhines disappearance. No matches were found in the missing persons’ database.
In 2016, a few months later, her remains were found at Gooseberry Falls and they were able to identify her from those samples and give the family closure.
Oliveira recommended to those who have old or new missing family members come to the Mankato collection to speak with BCA agents to explain the conditions of the disappearance and volunteer their DNA. The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center will have staff on hand to provide family support, Oliveira said.
No one has ever come forward with any information about my Dad. His Social Security Number has not been used since he went to work the day after Father’s Day, in 1967. My hope is that through providing my DNA, my Dad’s disappearance will be solved.

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