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October 22, 2018

10/4/2018 4:13:00 PM
Sheriff, commissioners and other candidates field questions

The public attending last week’s MN House candidate forum were clearly disappointed that neither of the incumbent Republican state Representatives participated.  

According to Moderator Brett Carlson;  Brian Johnson did not respond to his invitation and Anne Neu said she would be unable to attend.  Challengers Renae Berg and Jeff Peterson--  went ahead with the session anyway, taking questions submitted through the Minnesota League of Women Voters local chapter.

Berg, from Rush City, opposes Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge to represent Dist. 32A.  She is a licensed drug and alcohol counselor and ran a beauty shop previously.  Peterson, of Wyoming,  is a carpenter and serves on the Forest Lake School District Board.  He seeks the seat held by Neu, for Dist. 32B.

Peterson told forum attendees he has insight into school funding he’d like to pursue.  Berg said she brings experience from working in the mental health-addiction area,  that would be valuable in addressing the myriad of law enforcement and social services issues related to mental illness.  

Candidates thanked the organizers for the opportunity to connect with some 40 to 50 audience members attending the forum, at the North Branch Education Center, Tuesday Sept 25.  

The event was co-sponsored by North Branch Community Education-- which has sound and video from the forum on  the high school’s  Internet channel   www.you tube.com/user/TheVibeNBAHS.  You can access this until the November election, Carlson said.

County sheriff candidates, two candidates vying for an emptying county board seat, and the incumbent county attorney and county auditor-treasurer also participated.

The last two office-holders mentioned are running unopposed.

There had been a Q and A forum with municipal candidates seeking office in North Branch, the night before  (Monday.) This is viewable on the North Branch High School’s YouTube site TheVibeNBAHS.  In this videotape you can watch Mayoral candidates Robert Canada and Jim Swenson answer questions. City council candidates answer the same questions posed to the mayor candidates and include:  incumbent Kathy Blomquist, Rob Kloer, Peter Schaps and Brian Voss.  
Thank you to Darren Marcussen for technology services, Jeanne Walz with the League,  and Charlie Kloepp for timekeeping.

Highlights from the Tuesday forum we attended:
Jill Behnke and Chris DuBose seek to fill the seat that District 1 Commissioner Lora Walker chose not to file again for.

Behnke, Center City,  stressed her understanding of county government, having been employed for 40 years in the sheriff’s communications center, and how her knowledge of the county workings gives her a leg up.  As a lifelong county resident she said her role on the Board will be to protect the qualities of life here we all appreciate.

DuBose, rural North Branch, stressed his various years of public service on countywide committees etc, such as the planning commission. He promises to find middle ground on difficult issues and be a collaborator.  Both have been city mayors, Behnke in Center City and DuBose, when he lived in Chisago City.

On being a steward of the taxpayer dollar-- Behnke plans to make contact with department heads and said as former mayor of a very small town she knows how to work with a thin budget.

DuBose said county budgeting works best with the right people in the right positions to advise the Board, and that he will also investigate ways to boost revenue aside from raising the property tax levy.

For more questions, see the YouTube segment.

Sheriff candidates Ron Rollins (now with the North Branch P.D.)and incumbent Brandon Thyen sat side by side, and each spoke highly of existing sheriff department staff. The department is doing a good job cooperating with other county law enforcement agencies, they agreed.  

Thyen, appointed following the previous sheriff’s abrupt retirement in the wake of unacceptable behavior with a female crime analyst, was asked to describe his plans to correct what has been alleged to be a hostile work environment.  (Criminal charges against the former sheriff have been investigated independently and three weeks ago the official word was the case is at the Anoka County Attorney’s office for review.  

The county also has until the end of October  to respond to a civil lawsuit filed by the aggrieved employee.)  

Thyen said the gender related harassment allegations “hit the department very hard.”  His administration, he said,  will send a clear message that misbehavior will not be condoned.

Rollins responded that his management style would make clear to his employees they are supported and they can “say something.” They will know exactly what’s expected in performing their duties.   

On budgeting issues and county spending-- Thyen spoke of his experience as an administrator in the sheriff’s department and said he has deep knowledge of operations needs from being involved in early planning stages of the county communications center and the new jail, the main facilities the sheriff has. (There are also branch office spaces for city contract patrol deputies and a district office in Harris.)   

Rollins talked about his ability to introduce outside ideas to tackle spending and budgeting.

Janet Reiter, county attorney and Dennis Freed, the auditor-treasurer, talked about their responsibilities and office achievements.  
Of the question related to the former sheriff, Reiter said that the county is clarifying harassment policy addressing disrespectful actions and final wording will be the basis for future retentive staff training.

Freed said it’s unfortunate that people want to use an incident of bad behavior to describe the county as a whole;  when the vast majority of county employees work hard and do their jobs consistently and well.

Reiter also explained the county attorney acts as the criminal prosecutor for all the cities under special state law just for Chisago County.  She said this saves the cities from costs for having their own prosecutors, and it creates consistency and efficiencies.  It means though, that staff in her office have a broader slate of cases than usual county attorney staff.

Freed, who has been with the county for decades and normally is unopposed-- explained that the Treasurer job was rolled into the Auditor job description when Chisago County’s last treasurer retired.  He said his terrific staff allowed for that department to be assimilated seamlessly.

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