Letter: County attorney needs to provide open dialogue

Published 9:55 am Thursday, February 2, 2017

As a party close to the situation, I would like to briefly respond to the statements made in the Jan. 31st article in the Albert lea Tribune entitled, “Watershed property tax blocked.”

Throughout this process, and as affirmed by the statements in that article, I have been surprised by the uncooperative approach taken by the Freeborn County attorney. The district has made multiple attempts to comply with Freeborn County officials’ strict and strained interpretation of state law. Of greatest significance, the district obtained the green light from their investment adviser and bond attorney to issue and sell a bond supported by a property tax levy. The funds obtained from this bond were to be applied to the Fountain Lake restoration project until the sales tax extension receives approval at the state level.

At the demand of county officials, the district obtained an additional outside legal opinion from the Minneapolis law firm of Briggs & Morgan, clearly articulating the legal basis for issuing this property tax-supported bond. A copy of this opinion was previously provided to the Albert Lea Tribune and is publicly available for review at the district’s website.

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In contrast, despite written requests for disclosure, the county attorney has refused to provide a copy of the outside legal opinion that he received. In the Jan. 31 article, the county attorney touts this legal opinion as the basis for blocking the district’s funding needs. Furthermore, this article for the first time discloses that the county also has a statement from the Minnesota Department of Revenue giving an opinion on this issue. Disclosure of these important documents and an open dialogue would certainly be a good first step in finding a solution beyond the series of “no’s” that have been given to date.

In the meantime, the district should continue its collaboration with its community partners in efficiently improving our lakes for future generations. The district and the county have the same constituency and the same natural resources to protect and should strive to strengthen these cooperative efforts.

Matt Benda

Albert Lea