Tuesday, April 9, 2013

April 9, 2013 County Board Meeting: Courthouse Security, Cook County Family YMCA, Closed Session, Highway Department Work Session

County Board Chair Jan Hall, along with Commissioners Doo-Kirk, Gamble, Martinson and Hakes were all present for today's 8 1/2 hour Board Meeting.  Also present were Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers, Personnel Director/Board Secretary Janet Simonen, and County Attorney Tim Scannell.

Public Comment
Jerome Brandt came before the Board to express his opposition to an X-ray machine and additional deputies in the Courthouse.  He stated his fears that if this happens, the County Board (and other Boards) will change from being helpful, kind and considerate to being arrogant bullies.  Brandt asked for mercy on the poor and no extravagant spending.

MN Counties Insurance Trust (MCIT)
Jeff Holubar of MCIT came before the Board to present the 2013 MCIT report to Cook County.  MCIT is a joint powers entity made up of counties and associated public entities that pool resources to provide property, casualty and workers' compensation coverage to members.

Holubar reported that Cook County's 2013 cost is $137,529, up approximately 40% over the past 3 years.  Rates are based on a formula that uses the frequency and severity of work-related injuries and illnesses.  Holubar also reported that 31.2% of Cook County employees use the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a voluntary program that provides access to professional counselors for support and advice on personal issues that may affect an employee's work performance.

State-wide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) Coordinator, Kristin Wharton
SHIP Coordinator, Kristin Wharton, updated the Board on the Active Living Summit held last Fall.  The Board also agreed to her request for a letter of support from the County for Sawtooth Mountain Clinic's application to Prevention MN for the "Active Living for All" grant project.

Highway Department, County Engineer David Betts
The Board approved a special event permit for the Ham Run.  The Board also accepted the bids as submitted for the CSAH 7 Rehabilitation Project and authorized awarding the project to low bidder Northland Constructors for $2,876,217.14. County Engineer David Betts and Assistant County Engineer Sam Muntean are working to reduce the cost of this project by approximately $200,000. The CSAH 7 Project is slated to begin in June with completion in August of this year.

Office of Planning and Zoning (OPZ) and Solid Waste Officer, Tim Nelson
The Board passed a resolution to continue the Lakeshore Septic System Compliance Program with inspections on (3) area lakes:  McFarland, Greenwood, Tom.  Cook County, with the assistance of SWCD, has been awarded a Clean Water Legacy grant to fund the inspection of these lakes.  Cook County SSTS Loan Ordinance #60 was passed in 2012 authorizing Cook County to establish and administer a low interest public loan program that assists private landowners to finance site evaluation, pumping, design, installation, repair, and replacement of Subsurface Sewage Treatment Systems.

The Board authorized hiring Gary Kimball at the Tofte Transfer Station as recommended by Tim Nelson.

The Board authorized writing a letter of support to the appropriate State Legislators in support of H.F. 865 and S.F. 639 to enable manufacturers of carpets, batteries, and paint to implement end-of-life management systems for their products.

Cook County Family YMCA Project
Wade Cole, ORB Management, presented the re-bid results for Earthwork and Aluminum Storefronts/Glazing and the County Board authorized making awards to the low bidders.  The costs for the Earthwork and the Aluminum Storefronts/Glazing both went down.

Cole informed the Board that the original low bid for the Painting and Coatings was incomplete.  The Board directed ORB to re-bid the Painting and Coatings.

The Board also directed Cole to get bids for HVAC System Commissioning which is the process of assuring that the HVAC system and its components are installed, tested, operated and maintained properly.  Once these bids are received the Board will consider authorizing this work.

Courthouse Security
Sheriff Mark Falk, supported by several members of the Courthouse Security Committee, presented a choice of (2)  written resolutions on Courthouse Security for consideration by the County Board.  These recommendations were based heavily on the professional recommendation of  Steven Swenson of CJES Security and 15 months of study by the Courthouse Security Committee.  Both are summarized below:

Resolution #1:  2 full-time deputies for Courthouse security. Full screening of persons and bags entering the Courthouse during regular Courthouse hours. Purchase of equipment necessary to screen bags and persons (X-ray and Metal Detection).

Resolution #2:  1 full-time deputy for Courthouse security.  Full screening of persons and bags entering the Courthouse during any District Court hours or other highly-charged/high-risk events n the Courthouse at the discretion of the Sheriff. Purchase of equipment necessary to screen bags and persons (X-ray and Metal Detection).

The Board then engaged in a lengthy, passionate, complex and difficult debate about Courthouse Security, but did not approve either resolution.

Ultimately, the Board did pass (3) separate motions in a very fragmented and bumpy manner:

Motion 1.  Authorized Sheriff Falk to obtain a used X-ray machine from FBI Office in Duluth at no charge; or if not available or not in working order, authorization to purchase an X-ray machine. (Passed 3-2 with Hakes and Hall opposed because motion did not address staffing or Metal Detector.)

After the motion to obtain the X-ray machine passed, Commissioner Hakes made a motion to support Resolution #2.  Jan Hall made the second, but it failed 2-3 with Doo-Kirk, Gamble, and Martinson opposed.  (Note that both Commissioners Hall and Hakes were members of the Courthouse Security Committee.)

Motion 2.  Authorized Sheriff Falk to hire part-time licensed peace officer to staff the X-ray machine on Court Days.  (Passed 3-2 with Hakes and Hall opposed because Sheriff Falk was not consulted.)

Motion 3.  Authorized Sheriff Falk to purchase a Metal Detector. (Passed 5-0)

Personal Note on Courthouse Security--

I fully supported the recommendations of Sheriff Falk, the Courthouse Security Committee, Security Expert Steve Swenson of CJES, and the teachings of security trainings I have attended.  I believe that Security decisions are best made by those responsible for providing that security, namely the law and order of our County, and should be based on the knowledge and recommendations of those professionals with security expertise.

Beyond that, I believe that NOT taking the recommendations given to the County Board exposes the County to enormous financial liability.  This financial liability is in addition to the costs being incurred from the December 15, 2011 shooting (security enhancements to the building, lost work and lost productivity, increased insurance costs, training, workman's comp, staff time working on security issues, health care, Employee Assistance Program services, building cleanup, additional attorney services, etc.). 

But far and above all, I'm concerned about the safety and welfare of all those who enter the Cook County Courthouse including members of the Public, County employees, jurors, elected officials, Court Administration and Courtroom Staff, Judges, defendants, victims, witnesses, probation officers and law enforcement.  

I was in the Courthouse during the shooting event, I've heard the complete 9-1-1 tape and viewed the photographs of the incident.  I've had detailed conversations with the victims, the employees involved in the struggle, and many of the employees in the building at the time of the shooting.  I heard the gun shots, the cries for help, and the struggle. I witnessed the chaos and the extreme pain and anguish suffered by the families of those involved and the employees present. Like others, I am forever changed.

I've been accused of being too emotional in my decision-making about Courthouse Security.  Yes, I am emotional about it.  More importantly, I am aware of what can happen when we least expect it.  It can and did happen to us.  I don't ever want this to happen to anybody again and will do what I can to ensure that it doesn't.

Certainly, there is no promise that by implementing the proposed security recommendations that we will never have another incident of violence in our Courthouse.  But, we need to take all reasonable steps to minimize the possibility of another Courthouse shooting or act of violence.  If we do this, we have a good chance of preventing the next emotionally charged person from making a bad decision for him or herself.  If we do this, we have a good chance of preventing harm to those who enter the Courthouse.  If we do this, we will know that we've done all that we reasonably can.  I cannot, in good conscience, support anything less.

-The Board approved 10 sesonal liquor license renewals.
-The Board approved a grant agreement for $5000 for the completion of the Gitch Gammi State Trail which included a $5000 match to be paid equally by Cook County, Lake County and the Gitch Gami Trail Association.
-The Board approved a contract with Pro-West and Associates for GIS address point data development to be paid with funds allocated from the Title III USFS SRS funds.
-The County Board agreed to send a letter of support for the grant application being made to the MN Historical Society for Historical and Cultural Legacy grant funds to purchase and stabilize the historic Bally Blacksmith Shop in Grand Marais.

Closed Session of the Cook County Board of Commissioners
Attorney Dyan Ebert of Quinlivan and Hughes was present for a closed session of the Cook County Board of Commissioners pursuant to client/attorney privilege to discuss strategy regarding threatened litigation by Tim Scannell.

Work Session with County Highway Department
The County Board and the Highway Department agree that quarterly work sessions would help the Board understand Highway Department operations and enable better decision-making.  This first of these work sessions was held this afternoon and included 2013 Summer Projects, Capital Improvements, Staffing Issues, City Maintenance Agreement, and Event Permits.

Meeting Minutes
Formal meetings minutes may be obtained by going to the Cook County website or by calling Board Secretary Janet Simonen at 218-387-3602.  A video of this meeting in its entirety is available by going to Boreal.TV.