Sparks: Proceed on dam swiftly

Published 9:40 am Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Freeborn County Commissioner Linda Tuttle was not present at the county board meeting Tuesday morning. She is still currently a county commissioner even with a felony charge filed against her. Her options are few. She can choose to stay a commissioner, and thus collect a salary, but she would need to attend a meeting within 90 days. State law says a commissioner can miss or refuse to go to meetings for 90 days before the county board can vote to appoint someone to fill the vacancy for the remainder of the term. Her other option is to quit, which any elected official can do at any time. If she is found guilty of committing a felony she would lose her commissioner seat, but because court cases can take so long, it might be moot. The seat is up for election in 2012.

State Sen. Dan Sparks has advised Freeborn County Administrator John Kluever to move forward on the Jugland Dam project at the outlet of Albert Lea Lake.

At the Freeborn County board meeting Tuesday morning, Kluever said that County Attorney Craig Nelson’s previous temporary easement still applied. This easement is with Greg Jensen, who owns the property around the dam. Nelson said the easement allows for construction of a new dam or repairs to the existing dam.

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Kluever said he would be in contact with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to identify funding sources and work on the permit process.

“The permit process doesn’t happen overnight,” Kluever said.

He also said he would try to get some sort of time frame from the DNR. The letter from Sparks was encouraging county officials to move forward on the project because House legislators are re-examining unspent appropriations. At this time the DNR has approved matching funds for the dam of up to $150,000, to be used by July 1, 2011. Because the state budget is so tight, these funds from the 2005 bonding bill could be reappropriated.

Staffing concerns

The Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office has two correctional officer positions and a correctional programmer position to fill. Sheriff Mark Harig asked the board for permission to fill these positions Tuesday morning. He said his office holds testing and interviewing during certain times each year and keeps a list of potential candidates. He said he would most likely contact people from this list, and if none were available he would advertise, test and interview other candidates.

Commissioner Dan Belshan said he would rather the sheriff did not use the list and that he should advertise for the positions.

“My concern is overtime and advertising costs,” Harig said. “There’s down time when waiting for applicants and doing testing and interviewing — I’m not opposed to re-establishing a new list.”

Belshan said that because jobs had recently been lost in Albert Lea and Lake Mills, Iowa, that the jobs should be opened up to the public now, instead of waiting for another wave of testing. Harig replied that before testing he accepts applications from anyone. He also said his list of potential job candidates changes and is never more than a year old.

Commissioner Chris Shoff said he agreed with Harig that it would be a waste of resources to revise the list if it is so recent. Also, because of the testing, interviewing and training process for new employees Shoff said it would be best to be able to hire people from the list who have already tested and interviewed to save time. The board approved the hiring for all three positions.

The positions of correctional officers were previously occupied by Jeff Paulsen and Bob Larson. Paulsen accepted another job and has left, and Larson is moving out of the county and will be done on July 28. Jessica Meyer is the correctional programmer who has accepted a programmer job in Steele County and will be leaving on July 9. Harig said all three employees provided excellent service while they were working for Freeborn County.

Freeborn County Public Health Director Lois Ahern asked the board to accept the resignation of Yolanda Gallardo, an office support specialist with the Women, Infants and Children program in Freeborn County. She also asked and received approval to start the hiring process to fill the part-time position. The position is funded by federal WIC dollars. Ahern will be looking for someone who is bilingual in English and Spanish for the position.

In other action, the commissioners:

Approved the sale of 28 parcels of land that had been forfeited because of non-payment of taxes. Freeborn County Auditor-Treasurer Dennis Distad said he would have set prices and the finalized date of the sale at the next county board meeting on July 20.

Approved a professional services agreement for Global Information Systems. Scott Woitas, head of the county’s information services department, said the GIS would have land parcel information like size, owner and addresses. The cost and use of this system would be shared with the city of Albert Lea, the County Assessor’s office, Recorder’s Office and Auditor-Treasurer’s Office, among other county and city departments that would use it.

Heard from County Ditch Inspector Phil Tennis about broken drainage tiles because of the Bent Tree Wind Farm project. He said the Morreim Drainage company of Albert Lea has been following workers who are making trenches for the cables that will transport the power from the wind towers to the substation, and the drainage company has been fixing broken tiles as needed.