Board unsure about selling ’54 building

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 2, 2002

The county board eluded a decision on the offer by retired Realtor Howard Jensen to purchase the 1954 building Tuesday. The commissioners tabled the issue to gather more information about legal ramifications and similar examples in other counties.

Jensen asserted that a buyer, who he will not identify, told him they would buy the building, as-is, for $150,000. Combined with the $300,000 cost to demolish the ’54 building, Jensen claimed the county would save $450,000. Besides, the building, under private ownership, could potentially bring $5,200 annually in tax revenue to the county.

&uot;I’m not against the (courthouse) plan. I’m against the waste,&uot; said Jensen, who is affiliated with the Committee for Fairness, which has lobbied against the board’s handling of the project. &uot;Leaving this building here will not disrupt your plan.&uot;

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Jensen refused to identify the buyer, saying, &uot;We never reveal a buyer until somebody accepts to sell.&uot;

County Attorney Craig Nelson presented his research on case laws, from which he concludes that the sale is legally problematic.

The Minnesota Supreme Court issued opinions in 1949 and 1961 addressing the use of dedicated public property. In both cases, the court ruled that diverting the property to a use inconsistent with the purpose for which the dedication was made is unlawful.

&uot;We have those two cases in Minnesota that are pretty clear that once you have dedicated a property, it is very difficult to transfer the ownership for any other purposes other than what is dedicated for,&uot; Nelson said. &uot;So, we’re going to have to deal with that situation. And you probably have to get some kind of a court ruling or order saying that we could go ahead and sell this property.&uot;

Commissioner Dan Belshan asked about Olmsted County, which sold the old courthouse site to a private entity and built a new government center in a different location.

Nelson said Olmsted County acquired the land for the previous courthouse by purchase, not by dedication, so the case is not identical.

The tabling motion was entered by Commissioner Dan Springborg and approved unanimously.

Frank Gjersvik of Manchester told the board that a rejection of the proposal, following the decision not to have a public referendum, would only reaffirm the unwillingness of the county to allow public input into the courthouse project. &uot;Here is a chance to make it up to us a little bit. Let us have a little bit to say in it,&uot; he said.

Defending the county, Commissioner Glen Mathiason pointed out that the board and administration made efforts to hear public opinion through informational meetings and telephone, e-mail and fax hotlines.

Karen Smed, former co-chair of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee charged with recommending a courthouse plan, said, &uot;There has been seven years where anybody in this county could come forward, could involve themselves in any which way. I find it reprehensible that at this point of the game that we’re seeing roadblocks and obstructionist behavior.&uot;