County board approves salary increases for sheriff, attorney

Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, December 1, 2020

On the same day the Minnesota Supreme Court was slated to hear oral arguments about the Minnesota Court of Appeals decision regarding the salary of Freeborn County Sheriff Kurt Freitag, the Freeborn County Board of Commissioners voted on Freitag’s annual salary raise.

Freitag petitioned the court in June to review the decision after the Court of Appeals the month prior stated it was satisfied the Freeborn County Board of Commissioners acted in accordance with state statute when it awarded Freitag a salary of $97,020, a 5% increase from his $92,403 pay in 2018.

“In my opinion, he’s done an adequate level of service through his duties and so on,” said Commissioner and board Chairman Glen Mathiason. “I think maybe now would be a time to compensate him somewhat.”

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Mathiason then asked that a prepared statement be read by one of the board members.

“The board of commissioners as a whole has considered the duties, responsibilities, education, experience and performance of the sheriff, as well as the supporting documents/documentation provided by the sheriff,” Commissioner Mike Lee said, reading the statement. “With the salary currently under appeal — the open salary for 2020, as well as the current economic conditions of the county and COVID-related impacts, and have made the following determinations.”

Going off of his 2020 salary being the contested $97,020 set last year, Lee motioned for a 2021 salary of $101,010 for the sheriff. The commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of the amount, with commissioners Dan Belshan and Chris Shoff voting against. Freitag had requested a 2021 salary of $122,370 heading into Tuesday’s county board meeting.

Neither Belshan nor Shoff indicated the reason for their votes.

Freeborn County Attorney David Walker, however, requested that his salary be frozen at its current amount of $118,456 for 2021.

“I feel that, I know what he was asking and so on, but I feel it appropriate that we give him something,” Mathiason said. “I think he’s done a very good job, and … for one thing, if we give him something now, then we aren’t slipping behind as time goes down the road, so I just feel some adjustment should be made.”

“I want to thank him for his service, he’s done really well. It’s important to have legal opinion, and correct legal opinions can save the county tons of money,” Belshan said. “I appreciate that he’s stepping forward in a leadership role of saying ‘No, just freeze my wage,’ and that’s the way I feel with our wages on the county board, and everyone’s elected wages, during this time. There’s never been a time like this in the last 100 years.”

Belshan said he supported Walker in his decision and motioned for Walker’s salary to stay the same for 2021, but the motion did not carry. Instead, the board voted 4-1 to increase Walker’s salary in 2021 to $122,520. Belshan was the lone vote against.

The board voted unanimously in favor of freezing commissioner salaries in 2021 at the current $23,795.20.

In other action, the county:

• Voted unanimously in favor of Administrator Tom Jensen and Public Health Director Sue Yost drafting a letter from the county and county health board to send to Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea and Austin about the possibility of using the Albert Lea hospital should it be needed to treat those with COVID-19. The point was brought up after citizen Marti Jones read a letter earlier in the meeting asking the commissioners to get several figures from Mayo as she was concerned for county residents amid rising case numbers.

• Unanimously approved appointing the position of county recorder and approved a contract with current Recorder Kelly Callahan. Callahan declined banked vacation or paid time off along with other benefits. The contract would result in an approximate $1.07 raise.

• Approved Jensen signing a purchase agreement on behalf of the county for the property at 2020 Pioneer Trail in Albert Lea for $299,000, with the money coming from CARES funding. The site will be a county facility for household hazardous waste and recycling.

• Had a public hearing for a petition to modify and partially abandon county ditch 79.

• Set the final 2020 board meeting for 8:30 a.m. Dec. 29.

• Approved resolutions to setting supplemental ditch assessment parcel 04.030.0041, setting 2021 payable ditch assessments and setting a public hearing date and time for county ditch 15 improvement and repair.

• Approved the 2021 purchase of service agreement between Senior Resources and the Freeborn County Department of Human Services.

• Placed Cara Casteron, child protection social worker, on regular full-time basis.

• Accepted the resignation of office support specialist Debbie Flink due to her retirement, effective Dec. 30.

• Placed Courtney Poplow, registered nurse on regular full-time status.

• Placed Matthew Munson, highway maintenance laborer, on regular full-time status.

• Approved making the final payment for widening Bridge Avenue for turn lanes near the county highway shop and the future site of Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services.

• Approved the grant contract amendment for child and teen checkup outreach with the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

• Approved a resolution for Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Aid.

• Approved a resolution for a sub-agreement between Freeborn County and Mower Soil and Water Conservation District for 1W1P funds.

• Approved a new joint powers agreement for Greater Blue Earth River Basin Alliance.


About Colleen Harrison

Colleen Harrison is the photo editor at the Albert Lea Tribune. She does photography and writes general-assignment stories.

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