Wednesday, June 11, 2014

June 10, 2015 County Board Meeting: MIS Request, Public Hearings for Highway Lighting & Rumble Strips, AMC District One

Board Chair Jan Hall and Commissioners Heidi Doo-Kirk, Garry Gamble, Sue Hakes and Bruce Martinson were all present at the June 10 County Board Meeting.  Also present were County Administrator Jay Kieft, Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers, Attorney Jeanne Smith, and Administrative Support Bev Wolke.

Consent Agenda
The Consent Agenda including an Amendment to Subsurface Sewage Treatment System Loan Policies and Procedures, Planning Commission Appointment and Claims was approved.  Charles LaBoda was apointed to the Planning Commission.

Public Comment
No member of the Public opted to address the County Board.

Management Information Systems
The County Board approved the purchase of (5) Cisco switches at $20,181.59 to support the County facilities Wide Area Network (WAN) and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone systems.

Information/Communications Director, Rena Rogers, presented the MIS Infrastructure Improvement Program Summary, a series of improvement projects that will enable County government to fully realize the potential of Broadband Connectivity.  Phase I is currently underway and consists of a Firewall/Security Monitoring Project and the New Server Room/Courthouse Re-cabling Project.  Phase 2 will extend Broadband to other County facilities in Grand Marais.

County Highway Department--PUBLIC HEARINGS SCHEDULED
The County Board scheduled (2) dates for Public Hearings on Intersection Lighting and Paved Shoulders and Rumble Strips.

The Cook County Highway Department has received a federal Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) grant for 2015 to provide intersection lighting at the following intersections:

1.  CSAH 8 and CSAH 12 (2 lights)
2.  CSAH 7 and CSAH 6 (1 light)
3.  CSAH 7 and CR 45 (1 light)

Downcast cutoff lights will be used to minimize the spread of the light.

The Cook County Highway Department has received a federal Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) grant for 2015 to provide 2-foot paved shoulders with edgeline rumblestrips on the Gunflint Trail from the city limits near the water tower to the intersection with CSAH 8.

The County Board has scheduled public hearings on both of these matters as follows:

Monday, June 14 at 7:00 pm in the Commissioner's Room at the Courthouse
Tuesday, June 15 at 10:30 am in the Commissioner's Room at the Courthouse

Th public is encouraged to attend either or both of these public hearings to provide input for consideration by the County Board.  Let your voice be heard.

Emergency Management
The Board approved a Memorandum of Agreement between Cook County and the Conservations Corps of Minnesota and Iowa.  An agreement with Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa would be for services during emergencies and disasters, but can also be used for routine trail work without the need to bid projects out.  It allows the County to move more quickly when it needs to.

The Board approved the public notice of a proposal by the Firewise Committee to use the $28,922.22 of Title III funds for the following purposes:  1)  Search and Rescue in the amount of $5,000, and 2) compensation for the Firewise Coordinator in the amount of $23,922.22.

The Board approved up to $10,000 to move and set the old Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department Hall (GTVFD) #3 as the mid-trail Search and Rescue Building at the GTVFD Hall #1 Poplar Lake site.

Budget Process Changes, Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers
Braidy Powers has been contemplating changes to the budget process with the goal of improving management and department head understanding of their roles, a smoother process and better predictability.

In addition to changing the date of the budget hearings, Powers is suggesting a general review of department budgets by the Auditor (Powers) and County Administrator Jay Kieft before the County Board budget hearings.  Most significantly, Powers is proposing the creation of a Finance Committee consisting of one or two County Commissioners, County Administrator, Auditor and Financial Coordinator.  It is believed that more upfront work on the budget will enable greater operating efficiencies through the year.

The County Board is generally supportive of the changes, but asked for clarity on the powers and obligations of the proposed Finance Committee before any decisions will be made.

The Board approved the renewal of Life Insurance plan with MN Life and the Long Term Disability Plan with Madison National; both were low quote.

Highway 61 Centerline Rumble Strips
Commissioner Hakes happily acknowledged the June 5 MN Department of Transportation Press Release that stated in part, " MnDOT will also fill in all of the centerline rumble strips in Cook County except those located north of Grand Portage where there aren't any adjacent homes."  MnDOT District 1 acting traffic engineer Jim Miles also noted, "Considering this (housing density), and the mix of tourist and local traffic, which leads to increased passing an driving over the centerline rumble strips, we decided to fill them in."

Hakes commended the Public for making their concerns about the Centerline Rumble Strips known directly to MnDOT and the County Board.  It made a huge difference and resulted directly in the positive action taken by MnDOT.

Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) District One Meeting
Cook County is hosting the Spring AMC District One Meeting on June 12-13.  In addition to AMC business, Cook County will host a tour of the YMCA and a tour of the Security enhancements made to County facilities.

Closed Session:  Attorney-Client Privileged
The meeting was closed and the Board engaged in an attorney-client privileged closed session.

Meeting Minutes
A copy of the official meeting minutes may be obtained by calling the County Administrator's Office at 218 387 3602 or by going to the Cook County website.  A video of this meeting in its entirety may be viewed on Boreal.TV.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Hard Choices

Representing District 3 on the Cook County Board of Commissioners is the most challenging--and the most rewarding--position I've ever held.  In a nutshell, I love the work.  Working with and working for the people of Cook County has been inspirational, a gift.  I'm grateful for the relationships, the knowledge gained and the life lessons learned, especially the hard ones.

In March 2014, I was honored to be selected as a 2014 Bush Foundation Fellow.  I will use this two-year fellowship to pursue graduate work in Public Affairs Leadership at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School and Executive Education coursework at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Classes begin in August.

And, so, it is with mixed emotions that I have decided not to run for re-election to the County Board.  The gift of a Bush Fellowship is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I want to take full advantage of all that it has to offer.

It is my strong desire to combine the experience and knowledge I've gained as an elected official with my Bush Fellowship to continue working on the challenges facing small, rural communities.  It is important to the success of all of Minnesota, that we thrive and prosper in northeastern Minnesota.

My term ends on December 31, 2014.  However, the filing period for the November 2014 General Election begins on May 20 and ends on June 3.  For more information on how to file and run for elected office, go to the Minnesota Office of the Secretary of State.

If you are interested in running and wonder what it's like to be a County Commissioner in a small community, give me a call at 387-2111 or send me an email at  I would be happy to share my experiences with you.

In the meantime, think about these words from Researcher and Storyteller, Brene Brown...

“When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make,” says Brown. “Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.”

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Cook County Board of Commissioners Meeting for April 8: Tower Lighting, Kelly Hill's Road, VeteranTransportation

Board Chair Jan Hall and Commissioners Heidi Doo-Kirk, Garry Gamble, Sue Hakes and Bruce Martinson were all present for today's County Board Meeting.  Also present were County Administrator Jay Kieft, Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers, Assistant County Attorney Jeanne Smith, and Administrative Support Bev Wolke.

Public Comment
Representing herself, Deb Benedict came before the County Board to express her concern about the white strobe light planned for the 350' tower north of Grand Marais. Rena Rogers, IS Director, explained that this decision was made by the Communications Committee based on cost, risk mitigation, and impact to the community.  Rogers reported that a low scatter LED light has been specified.  An alternative to the lighting would be to paint the tower in a candystripe fashion with alternating red and white paint. The County Board will consider Benedict's request, but need more information on the pros and cons of both alternatives.

Community Center
Community Center Director, Diane Booth, came before Board with a revision of the Community Center Board of Trustees By-Laws.  The Commissioners had several questions regarding the revisions and will forward them to Jay Kieft for compilation. Booth will incorporate changes as appropriate and re-present to the Board.

Booth presented the Board with the recently updated Community Center Fee Schedule.

Highway Department
The County Board approved the purchase of a Cyclone DP48 Sand Blast Cabinet for $1725 plus freight.  This purchase is in the 2014 Highway Department budget.

The Board authorized the Highway Department to advertise for bids for a) aggregate stockpile, b) liquid calcium chloride, and c) summer road maintenance bids for Evergreen Road, Voyageur's Point Road, Mile O'Pine Road, West Rosebush Lane, and Rosebush Hill.

The Board authorized awarding (2) service contract bids for geotechnical borings and evaluation to Braun Intertec Corporation based on low bid.

The Board authorized the Highway Department to solicit proposals for design of the CR46 Bridge.  It is anticipated that State Local Bridge Replacement Bonds will be used to pay for the bridge replacement.

New Director Information System and Communications
Rena Rogers, recently hired Information Systems and Communications director, came before the Board to share initial observations of her new position.  Rogers shared that she has felt very welcome by the Board and county employees.  She talked about her vision to make County business more effective both internally and externally.

Land Use Guide Plan Steering Committee
Office of Planning and Zoning (OPZ) Director, Tim Nelson presented the Land Use Guide Plan Update Committee recommendations for reviewing the existing Land Use plan, identifying issues, and updating the Land Use Guide Plan.  The county will contract with Consultant John Powers to lead the process which will include opportunities for public input, including (2) public meetings.

Mark Sandbo request
Mark Sandbo came before the Board requesting a letter of support for him to continue serving on the Governor's Council on Minnesota's Lake Superior Coastal Program.  The Board agreed to provide the letter as requested.

Kelly's Hill Road
At the request of the County Attorney's office, Baiers Heeren reviewed correspondence from Kelly's Hill Road Maintenance Association (KHRMA), applicable statutes and real estate record relating to Kelly's Hill Road.  Heeren reported that there is no record evidence that establishes Kelly's Hill Road as a Town Road or subsequently as a county road or highway.  Jeff Wenz of KHRMA expressed surprise and disappointment at this finding and will need some time to review the written opinion provided by Heeren.

National Crime Victim's Rights Week
The Board approved Jeanne Smith's request to create an informational display in the Courthouse lobby during National Crime Victims' Rights Week.

Assessor's Office
County Assessor, Betty Schulz, provided a progress report on the Assessor Office's work in their quintile property review as required by the State.  This past year, 2660 reviews have been completed including north Hovland, Grand Marais, new construction and land.   Commissioners Doo-Kirk, Martinson and Gamble complimented them on their work.

Superior National Golf Course Bonding
The Board discussed pros and cons for creating an abatement of property taxes for certain Lutsen area properties and pledging that revenue for payment of financing a portion of the Superior National Golf Course renovation.  Commissioner Hakes raised multiple concerns, most notably the risk in this proposal.  No action was taken, but Commissioner Doo-Kirk requested that all questions regarding this matter be forwarded to her in writing to be delivered to the EDA.

Veteran's Transportation Services
Commissioner Hakes reported on a meeting she attended with VSO Clarence Everson and VSO Pat Strand to discuss transportation for Veteran's from remote rural areas in northeastern MN to Vet medical facilities in Minneapolis.  Hakes reported that Reggie Worlds, MN DVA Deputy Commissioner, is securing $200,000 in funding to purchase (1) bus and (2) vans.  Subsequent planning meetings will be held to determine routes, schedules, van locations, and other details necessary to provide this service.  This is good news for northeastern MN veterans!  Stay tuned for more information.

Spring 2014 Declarations for Spearing
The Board discussed the 2014 Declaration for Spearing in the 1854 ceded territory. The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has worked with the State of MN to develop a list of lakes authorized by the Band for spearing walleye.  Cook County lakes include Ball Club, Caribou, Cascade, Elbow, Fourmile, Pike, Tait and Tom. The Bois Forte and Grand Portage bands will not spear walleyes in the 1854 treaty area.

Road Maintenance Funds for Superior National Forest
The Board passed a motion requesting the USFS properly maintain the roads within its jurisdiction and increase future dollars budgeted for road maintenance within the Superior National Forest.  Well maintained USFS roads are important to tourists, local residents, loggers and firefighters.

Meeting Minutes
Official meeting minutes for today may be accessed by going to the Cook County website or by calling the County Administrator's Office at 218-387-3602.  A video of this meeting may be viewed by going to Boreal.TV.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

March 25 County Board Meeting: Conditional Use Permits, CCLEP Financial Support, Child Abuse Prevention Month

Board Chair Jan Hall and Commissioners Heidi Doo-Kirk, Garry Gamble, Sue Hakes and Bruce Martinson were all present for today's County Board Meeting.  Also present were County Administrator Jay Kieft, County Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers, Assistant County Attorney Jeanne Smith and Administrative Support Bev Wolke.

Public Comment
No member of the public opted to come before the Board.

Office of Planning and Zoning
The County Board approved (2) Conditional Use Permits (CUP) as presented by OPZ Director Tim Nelson and Planning and Zoning Administrator Bill Lane.
1)  A CUP was approved for Jean Kloster-Jezierski and Edward Kloster allowing the continued use of a recreational vehicle for storage on property adjacent to Maple Hill Road.
2)  A CUP was approved for Paul Goettl to modify an internally illuminated sign at the Clearview Store in Lutsen.

Cook County Local Energy Project (CCLEP)
The County Board approved 3-2 (Doo-Kirk and Gamble opposed) $2000 to support a coordinator position for CCLEP.  The City of Grand Marais previously approved $2000 in support of a coordinator.

Highway Department
The Board authorized the purchase of a 2015 GMC Sierra 4WD Crew Cab Pick-up to replace the 2005 pickup that was totaled in a rollover accident last summer.  This $36,476.81 purchase (less $16,313.75 insurance payout) will be paid from the Highway Department Equipment Reserve account.

With regrets, the board accepted the resignation of William Kloster and authorized the Highway Department to advertise and begin the process of filling the Maintenance Worker 2 position vacated by Kloster.

Miscellaneous Actions
-  The Board approved (2) liquor licenses:  1)  Gail Thompson for Clearview General Store, and 2) Lisa Mesenbring for Chicago Bay Marketplace.
-  The Board delegated by motion the authority to approve depositories of county funds to the Couty Auditor-Treasurer's Office.
-  Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers notified the Board that local banking institutions have been evaluated for services and fees;  Grand Marais State Bank was selected as the local depository as of June 1, 2014.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month!
At the urging of Joni Kristenson (County Public Health), Jodi Yuhasey (Violence Prevention Center), Grace Bushard (County Social Services), and Beth Farone (County Social Worker for Child Protection) the County Board proclaimed April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.  Child abuse is an issue that affects all members of our community and finding solutions depends on involvement among people throughout our community!

County Administrator, Jay Kieft
County Administrator Jay Kieft noted a 3rd Work Session of the County Board will be held to improve its effectiveness, discuss the role of the County Administrator and identify core values.

Meeting Minutes 
A complete copy of meeting minutes from today's meeting may be found on the Cook County webpage or by calling the County Administrator's office at 218/387-3602.  Alternatively, a video of this meeting may be viewed in its entirety by going to Boreal.TV.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Human Services Board and County Board Meetings for March 18, 2014: TEXT4LIFE, PHHS Planning,

Human Services Board Meeting
Human Services Board Chair, Sue Hakes, along with Board members, Heidi Doo-Kirk, Garry Gamble, Jan Hall, Carla LaPointe, and Jerry Lilja were all present for today's meeting.  Bruce Martinson was absent.  Also present were Sue Futterer, Grace Bushard and Andrea DeBoer.

Early Childhood Community Collaboration Program Results
Patty Nordahl came before the HS Board to share the work being done on the Early Childhood Community Collaboration Program.  Nordahl currently serves on the Governor's Early Childhood Task Force.

Nordahl began by sharing the agreed upon values at the State level.  (I will do my best to repeat them accurately.)  The first is, "Supporting our youngest is a public good."  Others include, "With 70% of children under 5 years of age in day care outside of their homes, we need to do child care right."  And, "Child care IS early learning".  Nordahl also explained that most important of all in a child's birth to age 5 development is the formation of healthy relationships; in fact is has an impact on how brains are formed and has lifelong impact.

Just this month, ISD166, Gwen Carmen, Nordahl and others sponsored "Early Childhood Community Conversations".  These conversations were well attended and illuminated many of the Cook County assets, challenges, and needs unique to rural Minnesota communities regarding early childhood learning.  As part of those conversations, a video promoting early childhood and its impact on our future, entitled, "The Raising of America" was shown.

Nordahl's experience, leadership, and passion for her work has been a significant benefit to Cook County--and the State of Minnesota--for many years.  Her work is respected and appreciated.

Director's Report, Sue Futterer
Public Health and Human Services Director, Sue Futterer, gave an overview of the PHHS Department planning and staffing updates.  Futterer and staff are working to do cross training so that more than one PHHS staff can support the multitude of programs on-going.  This work is being done to provide better client services and outcomes, reduce stress on the staff, reduce turnover, and improve job satisfaction.

Futterer reported that Cook County will be piloting the use of ITV on line services for a child support hearing this spring.  She also reported that the TXT4LIFE program that originated in NE Minnesota has received national recognition.  TXT4LIFE is a growing suicide prevention program that originated in Carlton County to address the historically high suicide rates in Carlton County and the Arrowhead Region.

Board Actions
1.  The Board approved a Purchase of Service Agreement between Cook County and Linda Waterhouse for Developmental Disability Case Work Training.
2.  The Board approved hiring a Child Mental Health Case Management Social Worker to fill a recently vacated position.

Committee Reports
The following committee reports were given.  For further detail, feel free to contact the representatives listed.
Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency--Sue Hakes
Arrowhead Health Alliance--Sue Hakes
Arrowhead Regional Corrections--Jan Hall
Community Health Board--Jan Hall
Public Health and Human Services Advisory Committee--Carla LaPointe or Jerry Lilja
Health Care Planning Committee--Bruce Martinson
North Shore Collaborative--Sue Hakes

Cook County Board of Commissioners Meeting
County Board Chair, Jan Hall, and Commissioners Heidi Doo-Kirk, Garry Gamble, and Sue Hakes were all present for today's Board Meeting.  Commissioner Bruce Martinson and County Administrator Jay Kieft were absent.  Also present were Assistant County Attorney Molly Hicken, County Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers, and Administrative Support Bev Wolke.

Public Comment Period
Several members of the Public came before the County Board to express their strong support for constructing a sidewalk along County Road 7 from the intersection with the Gunflint Trail, past the Clinic/Hospital, Care Center, Sawtooth Ridges, and Birchwood Apartments.  Persons who spoke included:  Jay Arrowsmith-DeCoux, Peter James, Gwen Carmen, Danny Garcia, Jennifer Schulz, Kristine Bottorff, Deb Benedict, Kristin DeArruda Wharton, others.  Several letters of support were also received including one from the Sawtooth Clinic Board, Birchwood Apartment residents, Sawtooth Ridges residents, others.

Highway Department
The Board approved the Ulland Brothers low bid of $1,930,420 for the CSAH 12 Rehabilitation Project as recommended by Highway Engineer David Betts.

The Board approved the Northland Constructors low bid of $114,552.70 for the CSAH 7 Sidewalk Project.  This bid was significantly higher than the Engineer's Estimate of $77,600; Highway Engineer David Betts recommended rejecting all bids and cancelling the project.  The Board voted 3-1 (Gamble opposed) in favor of the project.  Board Chair Jan Hall and Commissioners Heidi Doo-Kirk and Sue Hakes argued in favor of the project which was identified in 2010 as a priority sidewalk by the Safe Routes To School committee. (Note this is the project that so many residents supported during the Public Comment Period.)

Law Enforcement
The Board approved using 9-1-1 funds to purchase (2) dispatch chairs and upgrade personal computers at (3) CAD stations for $3063 and $3403 respectively as requested/recommended by Sheriff Mark Falk.

County Road Vacation, Assistant County Attorney Molly Hicken
At the request and recommendation of Molly Hicken and Highway Engineer, the County Board set a Public Hearing on Road Vacation for CR62, 62E, 62W, 62N, and 62S.  The Public Hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday, May 13, 2014 at 10:00 am in the Commissioner's Room.

EDA Bonding for Superior National
Bond Attorney for the County, Bob Toftey, came before the County Board to answer questions about possible bonding options for Superior National Golf Course.  Scott Harrison was also available to answer questions on behalf of the EDA and the Superior National Golf project.

(This is complicated stuff, but here is how I understand it:)

As part of the $6.1 million golf course improvement project, the EDA originally  intended to issue revenue bonds for ~$2.3M.  Of 13 traders and banks solicited to sell these revenue bonds, only (2) responses were received.  Both of the financial institutions bidding are proposing best efforts to market the new issue, but will not underwrite the full amount, in large part due to the high risk of the project.  In addition, the proposed interest rates of 6.24% and 5.5% were higher than the estimates.

An alternative to the EDA issuing revenue bonds is a G.O. Tax Abatement Bond issued by the County.  The advantage of this is over $1M reduction in interest costs.  The disadvantage to this is that the bonds would be secured by the full faith and credit of the county taxpayers.  In other words, if Superior National is unable to make the bond payment using revenue from the golf course, the County would be responsible for the payment.

Commissioner Hakes asked the EDA to consider the following:  1) What would the Superior National project look like if it was reduced from $6M to $4M?  and, 2)  What "collateral" is available to pledge to remove the risk from tax payers?

Moody's Investors Service Credit Rating for Cook County
Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers was pleased to report an improvement to Cook County's rating to Aa3 from A1.  The rationale provided for this included:
-  History of conservative budgeting that has led to presence of healthy reserves in all operating funds.
-  High levels of property wealth as exhibited in very strong full value per capita
-  Strong and conservative management team
Moody's also noted challenges faced in Cook County:
-  Below average income indices
-  Older population with reliance on economically sensitive tourism industry.

Veteran's Services
Commissioner Hakes, Cook County Veteran's Services Officer (VSO) Pat Strand, and Grand Portage VSO Clarence Everson will be attending a meeting in Carlton County on April 7 regarding Veteran's access to medical facilities in Minneapolis.  Hakes, Strand and Everson are encouraged by the State Veteran Affairs interest and committment to solving this problem.

Meeting Minutes
A copy of the meeting minutes will be made available on the Cook County website after they are approved by the County Board.  Alternatively, a hard copy of these minutes will be made available upon request by calling the County Administrator's Office at 218/387-3602 and requesting it.  A video of this meeting in its entirety can be viewed at Boreal.TV.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

March 11 County Board Meeting: One Watershed, Property Classification, Forest Service Roads

Board Chair Jan Hall and Commissioners Heidi Doo-Kirk, Garry Gamble, Sue Hakes and Bruce Martinson were all present for today's County Board meeting.  Also present were County Administrator Jay Kieft, Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers, Assistant County Attorney Molly Hicken, and Administrative Support Bev Wolke.

Public Comment
No member of the public came before the County Board.

Office of Planning & Zoning (OPZ)
The Board addressed several issues presented by OPZ Director, Tim Nelson:
1.  The Board adopted the Cook County Septic Ordinance Number 58, acknowledging the successful process between local government, the MPCA, and concerned/involved citizens.
2.  The Board authorized (4-1 Hakes opposed) to move forward with the consulting team of John Powers, Robert Bruce and Tony Kroska to develop a work plan and budget for updating the County's Comprehensive Land Use Guide Plan.
3.  The Recycling Center will extend its hours on Tuesdays by opening at 9:00 am.  This is in response to the public's request for earlier drop off times.
4.  The Board accepted the Solid Waste Committee recommendation to change vendors for waste electronics collection based on lower costs to the public.  The County will contract with The Retrofit Company and pay the administrative collection fees; the public will NOT pay a fee for dropping off electronic devices.
5.  The Board supported attendance by the Planning Commision, Board of Adjustment, County Attorney and (2) Commissioners at the MCIT Land Use Legal Work Shop in St. Cloud and authorized payment of travel expenses.  Commissioners Doo-Kirk and Gamble will respresent the County Board.
6.  The Board approved the annual renewals for the solid waste hauler licenses.

Law Enforcement
The County Board authorized (4-1 Martinson opposed) Sheriff Falk to purchase (2) new squads and the necessary equipment to outfit them at a cost of ~$97,000.  Funds for this purchase have been allocated and previously approved in the 2014 budget and vendor quoted state contract pricing.

One Watershed, One Plan
Water Plan Coordinator, Ilena Berg, provided the Board with information about the One Watershed, One Plan pilot project.  The Board passed a resolution to support Lake and Cook County SWCDS in their pursuit of their proposed joint One Watershed, One Plan pilot project.

Vehicle Needs
The Board authorized Maintenance Director Brian Silence to obtain vehicle quotes for a car needed by the Assessor's Office.

Resort Property Classifications (MN Statute 273.13 Subdivision 25)
At the request of the County Board, Assessor Betty Schulz provided information regarding Class 4c Seasonal Recreation property and how it is determined.

Jim Boyd, Cook County Chamber of Commerce Director, along with Dennis Rysdahl (Owner AmericInn) and Bill Hubbard (Owner Cliff Dweller) came before the Board requesting support for changing the statutory language defining Class 4c Seasonal Recreational properties in Minnesota.  Boyd identified (7) Cook County lodging properties that have been inadvertently receiving the tax benefits from being classified in error as Class 4c (Best Western, Aspen Lodge, Spruceglen, Shoreline, Aspen Inn, Cliff Dweller, AmericInn, Mountain Inn).  Correction of this error has resulted in significant tax increases for these (7) properties.  (Auditor Braidy Powers cautioned it is difficult to determine the exact increase, but roughly estimated it to be $162,000 in total.)

Commissioner Bruce Martinson made a motion to change the statutory language as requested, making it quite easy to be classified as 4c seasonal recreational.    Commissioner Gamble supported the motion and it passed 4-1 with Commissioner Hakes opposed.

Discussion:  I opposed this motion because taxpayers that have been paying their fair share of taxes are being asked to subsidize the taxes of those who have not been paying the taxes intended by State Legislation.  The reduction of property taxes for these lodging establishments will result in an equivalent increase in property taxes for all business and property owners in Cook County, a burden that has already been carried for several years. According to Auditor Braidy Powers, the City of Grand Marais taxpayers will bear the brunt of this shift.  I also opposed this motion because nearly all of the businesses being asked to carry this burden are seasonal, not just the (7) requesting the tax relief.

Cook County Local Energy Project
The County Board denied (4-1 Hakes opposed) a request from CCLEP for $4000 to support a part-time CCLEP Coordinator.  The County Board contributed $4000 to CCLEP last year.

Superior National Forest Road Maintenance Funding
District Ranger Nancy Larson and District Ranger Kurt Steele supported Civil Engineer John Olson in his presentation on Forest Service Maintenance and funding.  Forest Services roads and bridges are being lost.  The County Board passed a motion to support Federal funding for maintaining these roads.

NE Minnesota Transportation Planning
Todd Campbell, MnDOT District One, and Jon Mason, ARDC Transportation Planner, presented an overview of MnDOT District One projects for 2014-2018.  Mason also overviews the Transportation Alternatives Program for community based projects that enhance cultural, historic and environmental aspects of our transportation infrastructure.

Cook County Community YMCA
Duluth YMCA CEO, Chris Francis, and Cook County Branch Executive Director, Emily Marshall, came before the County Board with an overview of the 2013 Budget and 2014 Year-To-Date budget. Individual memberships are currently at 1361, which has resulted in a significant increase in projected revenues.  However, due to the increase in membership, increase in propane costs, and start up costs, expenses have also gone up.  Overall, Francis and Marshall are extremely pleased with the start up financial results, but reminded the Board that it is too early to make any year-end projections.  The County Board acknowledged their good work.

Francis also said the Y is exploring the feasibility of providing Licensed Day Care and will likely come to the Board with ideas later this year.

Public Health and Human Services (PHHS)
The Board accepted  a staff resignation as presented by PHHS Director Sue Futterer, and authorized Futterer to begin the process of filling this position.

Auditor-Treasurer, Braidy Powers
Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers brought several items of business before the Board.
1.  The Board approved the Claims.
2.  The Board approved the 2013 audit engagement letter and authorized the chair and county auditor to sign it.
3.  Powers provided a chart showing County investment earnings since the year 2000.  Some years showed earnings in excess of the budget estimate, while other years showed earnings below the budget estimates.  Accurately anticipating the financial markets is difficult.  Powers noted that the County invests conservatively.
4.  The Planning and Zoning Department has set a PUBLIC HEARING for April 22, 2014 at 10:00 am to consider changes to fees charged by the Office of Planning and Zoning.
5.  The Board approved hiring Karen Blackburn for the Financial Coordinator position being vacated by John Peterson in April.

Meeting Minutes
A copy of the approved minutes for this meeting will be made available on the Cook County Website or by contacting the County Adminsitrator's Office at 218/387-3602.  A video of today's meeting will be made available at Boreal.TV

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

2014 Bush Foundation Fellowship

The people of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and 23 Tribal Nations are blessed by the continued commitment of the Bush Foundation to making our region a better place by living its mission to "act as a catalyst for the courageous leadership necessary to create sustainable solutions to tough public problems and ensure community vitality".  

Established in 1953 by 3M executive Archibald Bush and his artist wife, Edyth, the Bush Foundation has granted over $1 billion in grants and fellowships to over 3000 people.  Through its Fellowship Program, the Bush Foundation is committed to supporting and developing more leaders who are better equipped and better networked to effectively lead change.

I am honored, humbled, and thrilled beyond belief to have been selected as a 2014 Bush Foundation Fellow and will use this amazing opportunity to pursue graduate work at the University of Minnesota and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.  I look forward to working with others to apply what I learn to making my rural Minnesota community the best that it can be!

The 2015 Bush Fellowship Program will open for applications in September 2014. Think about it!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

January 28 County Board Meeting: Bill Bally's Blacksmith Shop, Zip Line Project, Biomass Project Q&A, YMCA Budget

Board Chair Jan Hall and Commissioners Heidi Doo-Kirk, Garry Gamble, Sue Hakes and Bruce Martinson were all present for today's County Board Meeting.  Also present were County Administrator Jay Kieft, Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers, Assistant County Attorney Molly Hicken, and Administrative Support Bev Wolke.

Public Comment 
No member of the public opted to come before the County Board.

Centerline of County Road No. 97
Molly Hicken, supported by Highway Engineer David Betts, requested County Board consent to the Pouliot and Bazzett Trust Joint Petition for Examiner's Directive. With a 33 foot easement reserved on the Pouliot and Bazzett Trust properties for the County, the County Board approved the request.

Move MN Project
The Board approved a resolution (4-1 Hall opposed) supporting the Move MN Campaign, a state-wide comprehensive transportation funding package to address Minnesota's $50 billion transportation deficit.

AEOA Lease Agreement for 2014
At the request of Diane Booth, Community Center/Extension Director, the Board approved the AEOA Lease Agreement for 2014.  AEOA has leased space in the Community Center since April 2013; their office is currently open 4 days a week.

Gypsy Moth Public Hearing
The MN Department of Agriculture asked the County to reschedule the Gypsy Moth Public Hearing to February 25, 2014 at 10 a.m. in the Commissioner's Room.  This request was approved.  The State will publish notice of the hearing.

John Peterson, Financial Coordinator
With regret, the County Board accepted the resignation of Financial Coordinator, John Peterson.  After 11 years of County service, Peterson will retire as of April 4, 2014.  He will be missed.  The Board also approved the hiring process to fill the position vacated by Peterson.

Budget Review
The Board accepted the Fourth Quarter 2013 budget review for the General Fund as presented by Braidy Powers.  Powers noted that revenues exceeded expenses by $168,997 for 2013.  This amount is subject to year end audit adjustments.  It is anticipated that ~$168,997 will be added to the general fund.

Bally Blacksmith Shop
Cook County Historical Society (CCHS) Director, Carrie McHugh, reported that the Historical Society has received two grants and many donations for the Bally Blacksmith Shop project.  The first is a Legacy Grant from the MN Historical Society to hire staff to sort and catalog the contents of property.  The second is a $20,000 IRRRB grant to do stabilization work on the 1911 original Bally Blacksmith building.  The CCHS will match this grant with donations funds.

Board and Committee Assignments
-  Stan Tull was appointed to the Water Planning Committee as recommended by Water Plan Coordinator, Ilena Berg
-  Commissioner Doo-Kirk was appointed as the primary Board liaison to the Moving Matters Committee.  Commissioner Gamble was appointed alternate.

At the request of the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority, the County approved the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Authority (AEOA) to administer the DEED Small Cities Grant should Cook County be successful in receiving it.

The Board authorized Paul Harvey, Chair of the Cook County Broadband Commission, to attend the Blandin Conference "Border to Border: A Call to Action" on February 4-5 in St. Paul.  The County will reimburse fees and travel expenses at the County per diem level.  The Broadband Commission is working to fill some of the gap left by Danna MacKenzie when she accepted a job as Executive Director of the Governor's newly created State Office of Broadband Development.  The County is currently interviewing to replace MacKenzie as IT Director for the County.

On behalf of the County Board, Jay Kieft will ask Rowan Watkins to attend the Grand Marais Planning Commission public hearing regarding the County's request for a variance to erect a 130' tall communication tower at the Law Enforcement Center.

The County Board approved a motion requesting the MN Legislature appropriate $1.7 million in the bonding bill during the coming legislative session for the construction of the Gitch-Gami Trail from the Cutface wayside rest to Grand Marais.

Commissioner Hakes reported that the Cook County Community YMCA has over 1000 individual members and will be providing 5 full-time positions with benefits (plus several part-time positions).  January revenues have exceeded the projections, but expenses are not tallied yet.  Hakes said the YMCA Board is very optimistic about the financial projections, but cautioned against making early projections.  Hakes also reported that the the building is functioning extremely well, and that the County and YMCA continue working to resolve a few building issues that remain, including locker room floor drainage and the sauna controls.

Superior Zip Line Revolving Loan
Assistant County Attorney Molly Hicken notified Matt Geretschlaeger and his attorney, Baiers Heeren, that Mr. Geretschlaeger did not meet the requirements necessary for the County to authorize a draw down of the $250,000 loan that was approved by the County Board (4-1 Hakes opposed) on July 23, 2013. As a result, the Cook County Revolving Loan granted to Geretschlaeger for his Superior Zipline project is voided.

Biomass Project Q&A
Mark Spurr, FVB Energy, supported by George Wilkes and Paul Nelson of Cook County Local Energy Project (CCLEP) answered County Board questions and discussed the Biomass Project for approximately 90 minutes.  The Biomass project has been supported in part with One Percent Local Sales Tax funds.  The Grand Marais PUC is exploring the possibility of owning and operating a Biomass Facility in Grand Marais.

Meeting Minutes
Meeting minutes for the January 28 and the January 21, 2014 County Board Meetings will be made available on the Cook County website after they are approved.  A copy may also be obtained by contacting the County Administrator's Office at 387-3602.  A video of these meetings in their entirety may be viewed at Boreal.TV.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

January 14 County Board Meeting: One Water Shed One Plan Proposal, EDA Loan Repayment Plan and Budget, OPZ Permits

Board Chair Jan Hall and Commissioners Heidi Doo-Kirk, Garry Gamble, Sue Hakes and Bruce Martinson were all present for today's Board Meeting.  Also present were County Administrator Jay Kieft, Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers, and acting County Attorney Molly Hicken.

Public Comment Period
No member of the public opted to address the County Board.

One Watershed One Plan Proposal, Water Plan Coordinator Ilena Berg
Ilena Berg and Dan Schutte (Conservation Outreach Coordinator for Lake County Soil & Water Conservation District), with support from Jim Hall and Joan Farnum of the Cook County Soil & Water Conservation District, came before the Board to present information on One Watershed, One Plan and how Lake and Cook County are working together.  One Watershed, One Plan is a vision to build local water plan strategies around Minnesota's major watersheds.  The Board passed a motion of support for One Watershed, One Plan and the collaboration between Lake and Cook Counties.

The County Board approved Neil Hansen and Chuck Futterer to the Water Plan Committee as recommended by Ilena Berg.

Community Center/Extension, Director Diane Booth
The County Board appointed Bill Parish and Bryan Carpenter to the Community Center Board of Trustees as recommended by Diane Booth.

The County Board appointed Debbie Benedict and Bill Huggins to the U of M Extension Committee as recommended by Diane Booth.

As requested by Booth, the Board authorized carry over of ~$2000 from 2013 to 2014 to fund the Back Pack Program.

Personnel Committee Recommendations
Jay Kieft reported that the Personnel Committee reviewed the principles and purpose of the Decision-Band Method of job classification and will be doing some training to maximize and test the potential of this method.  Kieft also reported on the Personnel Committee recommendations for job classifications on (2) new job descriptions in PHHS, and (1) job reclassification due to significant changes and increased responsibilities in a PHHS Case Aide position.  The Board approved all.

2014 Unorganized Fire Levies
The Board approved 2014 fire levies for Colvill, Grand Marais Extension, Gunflint Trail, Hovland, Lutsen Extension and Maple Hill.  Fire Levies will be approved annually.

Economic Development Authority (EDA) Loan Repayment Plan, Scott Harrison
Scott Harrison, EDA Board Member, presented the EDA Budget and Loan Repayment Plan to the County Board.

Harrison reported that the EDA has taken aggressive measures to address cash flow, debt and budget issues.  Such measures include laying off the Superior National Golf Course manager, laying off (2) SN employees, cuts to capital expenditures and not renewing the Community Funding Solutions (CFS) contract for housing administration.  In spite of these cost cutting measures, Harrison reported that the EDA will not be able to repay the County Loan of $175,000 for at least 2 years, possibly longer.

Harrison also reported on the $6,050,000 Superior National (SN) Golf Course Renovation project, approximately half of which will be funded through the One Percent Local Option Sales Tax.  The balance of this project will be paid through IRRRB funding and the sale of revenue bonds.  Commissioner Hakes expressed concern that not enough funding has been set aside for change orders, pricing index and contingency funding;  Harrison agreed.

Harrison gave the Board an update on its hiring of a Small Business Development Consultant and presented the job description that was advertised.  Commissioner Hakes expressed concern that the job description went far beyond the position that was actually to be filled.  Commissioner Doo-Kirk said that each applicant would be contacted to explain the change from hiring an EDA Director to a Small Business Development Consultant.

Office of Planning and Zoning, Administrator Bill Lane
The Board approved 3-2 (Hakes and Martinson opposed) a Conditional Use Permit to establish a hostel/bunkhouse in the FAR-3 zone district on property adjacent to County Road 14.  Hakes and Martinson had concerns about the hostel/bunkhouse conforming to State Lodging requirements, State Fire Code, lack of information about occupancy, and no plan for water, showers, and septic system.

The Board approved an Interim Use Permit to allow the continued use of a mobile home in the FAR-1 zone district on property adjacent to the Sugarloaf Road in Schroeder Township.

The Board approved (11) permits for gravel mining.  The Snow Creek/Waverly Pit (KGM Contractors, Inc.) permit will be renewed pending restorative measures for moving stockpiles and active vegetation restoration.  A permit for the Stan Bautch Gravel Mine is subject to a Planning Commission site review.

HOME Consortium
Because the EDA did not renew its contract with Nancy Grabko of Community Funding Solutions the Board voted to replace Grabko as one of its two representatives on the HOME Consortium. The County Board will make a new appointment.

Donation Received
The Board voted to accept a $2500 donation from the Mid-Gunflint Trail Association for a traffic sign on the Gunflint Trail.  This donation is greatly appreciated.

Association of Minnesota Counties District One Meeting
Cook County is hosting the AMC District Meeting on June 13-14.  Sue Hakes and Jay Kieft were assigned to propose to the Board some agenda options for this meeting.

One Percent Updates
Commissioner Hakes reported that the YMCA memberships are approaching 900 and Y programming is in full swing.  The building is performing well, and the few problems so far are being addressed.  In particular, Hakes reported that the water problem in the locker rooms is being addressed by ORB and JLG Architects.  She also said additional lockers are being moved from the City Pool to the Y to accommodate the significantly higher than anticipated membership.  Hakes represents the County Board on the Cook County Community YMCA Board.

The County Board also passed a motion to dissolve the Community Center Steering Committee recognizing their hard work and significant accomplishments.

Non-Mandated Levy Requests
The Board appointed Commissioners Gamble and Martinson to a committee to study requiring audits for non-mandated levies over $50,000.  There was also discussion about asking non-profits and other organizations receiving non-mandated funding to provide the Board with cuts they would have to make should there be a 5% reduction in funding.  Commissioner Hakes opposed this request stating that the non-profits receiving levy funds are a critical component to Cook County's economic development, health and wellness, education, arts, the environment and our quality of life.  She described these organizations as "providing the bloom on the flower".

Meeting Minutes
Meeting minutes will be made available by contacting the County Administrator's Office at 218/387-3602 or by going to the Cook County website.  A video of this meeting in its entirety is available on Boreal.TV.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

2014 County Board Organizational Meeting

Board Chair Jan Hall and Commissioners Heidi Doo-Kirk, Garry Gamble, Sue Hakes and Bruce Martinson were all present for the Board's Annual Organizational Meeting on Tuesday, January 7.  Also present were County Administrator Jay Kieft, County Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers, and Acting County Attorney Molly Hicken.

Election of 2014 Board Chair and Vice Chair
Commissioners Jan Hall and Bruce Martinson were re-elected to the Chair and Vice-Chair positions respectively.

Public Comment
No member of the Public came before the County Board.

The Board approved travel and mileage reimbursements, designated the Agricultural Inspector, set 2014 Board Meeting dates and added Commissioner Hall to the WTIP interview schedule for the year.  In addition, the Board formally approved the 2014 levy and non-county levy resolutions as well as the legal newspaper resolution.

Citizen Appointments
The County Board made citizen appointments as follows:

Library Board:  Audry Stattelman
Economic Development Authority (EDA) Board:  Howard Hedstrom
Revolving Loan Fund:  Pat Campanaro, Bruce Kerfoot, Scott Harrison (pending EDA approval)
Water Plan:  Neil Hansen, Chuck Futterer
Planning Commission:  Stanley Tull, David Seaton
Board of Adjustment:  Jerry Hiniker, Stanley Tull

THANK YOU to all volunteer citizens!  You are making a difference!!

Commissioner Appointments to Boards, Committees, Commissions
The County Board negotiated and agreed on Commissioner appointments to the various boards, committees and commissions.  In general, most assignments remained intact. Once the list is finalized and retyped, it will be posted on this blog.

-  The Board formally approved the Commissioner Per Diem & Expense Policy that was approved in June 2013.
-  Commissioner Hakes reported to the Board the success of the YMCA Grand Opening noting that memberships exceeded 400 units and 800 individual members.  Doo-Kirk, Martinson and Hakes all participated in the YMCA Grand Opening.
-  The County Board will participate in a Board Retreat to discuss how best to organize and move forward in 2014.  County Administrator Kieft will lead this effort.
-  The Board authorized moving forward with customer service training for all employees.

Meeting Minutes
A complete copy of meeting minutes may be obtained by calling the County Administrator's Office at 218/387-3602 or by going to the Cook County Website.  A video of this meeting may be viewed at Boreal.TV.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Come One, Come All! The Cook County Community YMCA is OPEN; everyone is welcome!

The Cook County Community YMCA opened its doors on January 3, 2014 with
 a celebration open to the more than 800 people who became charter members.
The Cook County Community YMCA celebrated its Grand Opening with a Charter Member Celebration on Friday, Saturday morning Senior Social, and Ribbon Cutting on Saturday afternoon.  The facility was packed with kids, families, adults and seniors--all discovering and enjoying the facility for the first time. Duluth YMCA Staff was on hand to join the celebration and ensure the event was a success, and it was!

Members of the Cook County High School Band played "YMCA"
to celebrate the ribbon cutting ceremony in the new gymnasium!

Representatives from Y-USA, Duluth YMCA, Cook County
Community YMCA, ISD166, the City of Grand Marais and
 Cook County all shared in the ribbon cutting for the new facility.

With a big smile on his face, Chris Francis, Duluth YMCA CEO, reported that after being open just one day, the Cook County Community YMCA sold over 400 Membership Units which translates into 822 individual memberships, shattering the conservative estimates Francis built the business plan around.  "I anticipated selling 400 Membership Units by the end of Year One; I'm more than thrilled that we surpassed that original goal on the day we opened the doors!", said Francis.

Major amenities at the Cook County Community YMCA include a new 4-lane swimming pool with additional zero depth entry area for easy access and play, a fully renovated gymnasium, separate weight lifting and cardio rooms, exercise studio, men and women's locker rooms, family lockers rooms, teen room, child watch, party room, and lounge area with wireless internet access area.  The entire facility is accessible.

A spirited game of pick up basketball was enjoyed by adults,
high school athletes, boys and girls on the lakeside half court
in the newly renovated gymnasium of the YMCA.

Parents and tots played in the zero depth entry of the new
aquatic center while others swam laps, tried log rolling, played
water basketball or relaxed in the large hot tub.  The water slide
is nearly complete and should be ready for use this week.

The weight lifting room is on the main floor of the new YMCA;
the cardio and exercise rooms are located on the upper levels
of the facility and accessible by stairs or a lift.

I had the pleasure of spending the entire weekend at the Y.  Here are some of the remarks I overheard:

-  "That teen center is sweet!"
-  "The pool is so awesome!  And the jets in the hot tub are strong!"
-  "I didn't realize how many classes are included with the membership!"
-  "My kids are having a blast in the child watch, and I am free to work out".
-  "Wow, the new machines are really good".
-  "It's so wonderful to be in this beautiful space, especially on such a cold day".
-  "It feels like we have a whole new community!"
-  "In just two days, we've already gotten our membership fees worth!"
-  "My son couldn't sleep last night; he was so excited to get here".
-  "I can't wait until my grandkids can see this place".
-  "I'm going to LIVE here!"
-  "Everyone is so happy!  Everybody in this place is smiling!"

For more information about the Cook County Community YMCA
 go to