Gabrielsen loses temper during budget meeting

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 14, 2003

Tempers flared so high Wednesday at a Freeborn County budget meeting that County Administrator Ron Gabrielsen picked up Commissioner Dan Belshan’s tape recorder and slammed it on the table.

The exchange started after Belshan began asking Environmental Services Director Randy Tuchtenhagen if sharing building inspector position with the city was a possibility. Tuchtenhagen explained that the city and county departments are already behind in their work, and the combination of departments wouldn’t eliminate a much-needed building inspector position. It’s a topic that has been researched and discussed several times by county and city officials, he said.

Belshan then brought up an Albert Lea Tribune story in which Gabrielsen agreed with Albert Lea City Manager Paul Sparks that combining building inspections departments could be done. Belshan made a post on the Tribune’s Internet forum on the topic, pointing out that Gabrielsen had previously opposed sharing a building inspector position with the city.

Email newsletter signup

As Chairman Mark Berhends tried to end the discussion, Belshan said, &uot;Reading Ron’s comment, he thought it would be possible in the paper, unless they misquoted him.&uot;

Gabrielsen responded: &uot;As typical, it was misinterpreted as usual and erroneous information was frequently put out by people who don’t know their rear end from a hole in the ground. Does that make sense?&uot; Gabrielsen asked, raising his voice, walking toward Belshan and coming within a foot from his face.

Belshan suggested asking for a correction, to which Gabrielsen said, &uot;No sir, I don’t need to.&uot; He then picked up Belshan’s tape recorder and slammed it on the table, turning off the machine.

Gabrielsen then walked to the other side of the room.

&uot;You have no basis to talk to me that way,&uot; Belshan said.

Belshan said his tape recorder was broken; Gabrielsen said it had been in his way. Later, Belshan was able to operate his tape recorder.

After Belshan requested an apology, Chairman Mark Berhends had to block Gabrielsen and told him to take a break.

Gabrielsen later said he was referring to information spread by Belshan when he referred to &uot;erroneous information.&uot;

He said he didn’t know if an apology was necessary and didn’t plan on offering one.

The conflict came after months of tension on the county board involving Belshan and Gabrielsen and precedes months of intense budget meetings.

After Gabrielsen left the meeting room, Belshan asked, &uot;Is anyone going to support me that that was out of line?&uot;

Belshan repeatedly asked commissioners to comment on the matter. Several commissioners told Belshan that he could be frustrating.

Berhends repeatedly asked Belshan to drop the subject. &uot;Mr. Belshan, we’re going to stop this conversation right now,&uot; he said.

Belshan asked if this meant that Berhends agreed with Gabrielsen’s actions.

Berhends said he wouldn’t comment because &uot;You’ll misconstrue my response just like you misconstrue everything else.&uot;

At one point Belshan asked what was wrong with asking county employees questions, referring to Tuchtenhagen.

Commissioner Dan Springborg said that wasn’t the problem, &uot;It’s when you get on your soapbox.&uot;

Gabrielsen said the exchange resulted from Belshan constantly asking politically motivated irrelevant questions about topics that had already been discussed. He said Belshan misinterpreted his comments in the Tribune, but that he was not misquoted.

He said Belshan knew that he supported the combination of the departments to eliminate support staff, but after the courthouse is completed.

Gabrielsen said Belshan’s comments &uot;look good in the paper. He’s got great statements but no solutions.&uot;

Afterwards Berhends would not make specific comments on the matter. &uot;So many of the questions he brings up, we’ve talked about time after time after time,&uot; he said.

&uot;Both of them were frustrated. How’s that for vague?&uot; he said.

Glen Mathiason said Gabrielsen shouldn’t have acted as he did but said Belshan frustrated him as well. He said Belshan often brings up ideas that have been decided upon.

Belshan said that Gabrielsen should have just clarified his comments from the paper. He called Gabrielsen’s reaction unprofessional, and said he saw nothing wrong with bringing up old topics that had been already decided, since it was a budget meeting.

He said he was disappointed that the board didn’t support his disapproval of Gabrielsen’s actions. He said under board rules, had it been a board meeting, and a normal citizen had acted as Gabrielsen had, he would have been banned from the meeting. But he said he bears no ill will towards Gabrielsen.

For the next six hours of the meeting, Gabrielsen and Belshan were polite to one another and didn’t argue.

(Contact Tim Sturrock at tim.sturrock or 379-3438.)