Wadena County Board rejects appointment of judge to community corrections executive team
Commissioner Bill Stearns cited too many absences by previous judges appointed to the committee
The makeup of the Todd-Wadena Community Corrections Executive Committee may be shaken up after three Wadena County commissioners voted not to approve what seemed to be a noncontroversial appointment on Tuesday, May 16.
Wadena-Todd County Community Corrections Director Kathy Langer recommended to the county board that Wadena County District Court Judge Douglas Clark be appointed to a position on the executive committee, to fill an opening left by the retirement of former District Judge Daniel Benson on May 8. Langer shared that a similar recommendation was being made to the Todd County Board on Tuesday as well.
The joint powers agreement currently states that the executive committee consists of eight positions – two appointed commissioners from each county, Director Langer, an appointment from each of the county attorney offices and the judicial appointment. Wadena County Commissioners Bill Stearns and Ron Noon currently serve on the executive committee, as well as Todd County Commissioners Barb Becker and Lew Noska.
Langer mentioned that the judge’s appointment would last the rest of the calendar year, and again would be up for a vote when the entire executive committee was brought to the county board next January for an annual approval.
However, Commissioner Stearns led a revolt, of sorts, over appointing another judge to the committee to replace the outgoing district judge.
Stearns, who has served on the county board for years, said that in his experience the judges appointed to the Todd-Wadena Community Corrections Executive Committee have had poor attendance at meetings because of their busy schedules and the distances they need to travel for the meetings.
When asked by Langer to approve the resolution supporting Clark’s appointment, Stearns asked whether the executive committee had to contain a judge. Langer answered that it always had, and supported the practice given the professional expertise judges bring to the committee.
Commissioner Ron Noon also seemed to support keeping a judge on the committee, saying that while the previously appointed judges did miss a number of the meetings because of their schedules, it was still important to have their perspective on the committee.
But ultimately when the commissioners finally voted on the recommendation, it failed on a 3-2 vote, with Noon joining Stearns and Murlyn Kreklau in opposing the appointment.
Commissioners Jon Kangas and Mike Weyer voted in favor of approving Judge Clark to the executive committee.
Wadena County Coordinator Ryan Odden said Wednesday in an interview that what happens now is unknown.
The Todd County Board on Tuesday ultimately did approve Judge Clark’s appointment. So now Langer will need to visit with the chair and vice chair of the executive committee to determine how they would like to proceed, Odden said.
If the executive committee agrees to change the makeup of the committee by removing the requirement of a judge appointment, the proposal would have to be brought before each of the county boards for approval. But it’s uncertain at this time what the executive committee may decide, Odden added.
In 1976, Todd and Wadena Counties entered into a joint powers agreement and established Todd-Wadena Community Corrections, which provides supervision of adult and juvenile probationers and supervised releasees as well as investigative report writing for courts and the Department of Corrections.
The department also provides programming in the areas of juvenile diversion, Sentencing to Service, pre-trial supervision, sex offender treatment, domestic abuse education, female-specific programming, and other programming aimed at reducing recidivism.
Todd-Wadena Community Corrections has offices in Long Prairie, Staples and Wadena.
In other business, the Wadena County Board:
- Tabled a proposal by county Planning and Zoning Administrator Deana Malone to amend language in the county’s ordinance governing the use of county parks.
“The intent on amending the Parks Ordinance is to provide clarity in what a ‘campsite’ is in comparison to the entire ‘campground’. This will assist Parks staff to better guide campers in the number of consecutive days they can occupy a campsite in a campground in our efforts to keep the campgrounds comfortable for all campers and avoid the potential for vagrancy in the County Parks.”
Currently, campers have to move campsites after seven consecutive days, but with the proposed new language, the amended ordinance would require campers to move to an entirely new county park to camp longer than seven consecutive days.
The County Board had no issues with amending the language; however, led by a charge from Commissioner Noon, they tabled the proposal until Malone can come back with a new proposal that contains the wording change and a second change that increase the number of consecutive days campers can stay in the same site to 14 days.
All five county commissioners voted to table the proposal, and have Malone bring it back with both changes. “‘When you get your campsite set up, after seven days it’s a lot of work to move, especially with kids,” Commissioner Stearns said.
- Approved a recommendation by Malone to use the Statewide Survey of Historical and Archaeological Sites to obtain an updated archaeological survey of Old Wadena Park and Campground.
The survey process is administered through an oversight board consisting of representatives from the State Historic Preservation Office, Minnesota Historical Society, Office of State Archeologist and the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council.
“This board prepares the scope of work and manages every aspect of the work to be completed,” Malone’s report states. Malone said this effort will not cost the county anything other than her time required to participate in the process. The county board unanimously approved the recommendation.
The other option would have been for the county to apply for a grant and conduct the work itself. The object of the survey is to provide updated historical information about Old Wadena Park with the goal of resubmitting to the National Historic Registry for Historic Places for new designation. Malone explained that currently the entire park is considered a historic site, and as such when the county went to clean up the blown down trees after last summer’s storms, they ran into complications removing the debris.
Malone said the new archaeological survey will define just the important historical sites in the park, and if the National Historic Registry for Historic Places accepts the new submission, this may make it easier to manage the rest of the land in the park, especially for timber harvesting.
- Voted to create a new taskforce to study the county’s zoning ordinances in the hopes of creating a better environment for economic development in Wadena County.
Commissioner Kreklau proposed the committee to the rest of the board, partly based on his interest in economic development and also because of the feedback the county board received at a recent board meeting held on the road in Sebeka.
The task force will include one person appointed by each of the county commissioners and also commissioners Kreklau, Weyers and Kangas. The commissioners are charged with deciding their appointment and presenting them at their next board meeting on June 6.
- Tabled a proposal to sell land remnants left over from the county’s realignment of County State Aid Highway 4. Odden had proposed to the county board packaging two parcels of land consisting of a total of 1.27 acres and giving adjoining landowners a chance to bid on the property.
But as the discussion waxed on, several commissioners started wondering what the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s interest in that specific piece of land might be. MnDOT soon will be expanding the portion of U.S. Highway 10 that intersects with CSAH 4, and they may have interest in acquiring some of the land for right of way purposes, the commissioners reasoned.
That project is scheduled to begin in 2025, and the state already has begun the right of way process, Odden said. The County Board asked Odden and County Engineer Darin Fellbaum to reach out to the state to inquire about their interest in the property. Odden said he could logically see two outcomes, the first being the state says it already has acquired the land it needs for right of way, and then the county can proceed in selling the land; or the state indeed may have some interest in purchasing some of the land for the same purpose. And then, after the state acquired what it needed, the county would proceed with selling what’s left of the parcels.