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Board chair discusses a collection of topics facing the county

Jan Sivertson discusses the county's communication policy
Jan Sivertson discusses the county's communication policy

There was a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Oct. 10. The following discussion and action items occurred during Tuesday’s meeting.
Public Comment
There were a total of three local residents who spoke during the public comment period of Tuesday’s meeting. Two people spoke specifically about their concerns regarding recent and historical issues of racism in the community and local schools. Cook County residents Bob Nicholson and Denny Fitzpatrick said racism is something the community needs to address and take seriously.

Nicholson also read a statement from Cook County Sheriff Pat Eliasen about hate speech and racist bullying that he found compelling. Nicholson suggested that perhaps the county board could adopt a resolution supporting the sheriff’s statement. Later in the meeting, Commissioner Myron Bursheim said he would like to see the commissioners support the sheriff’s statement and take official action to do so.

In more public comment from Tuesday’s meeting, local resident Arvis Thompson questioned various aspects of the county’s spending and non-mandated funding requests. Thompson also said the commissioners need to do a better job of responding to concerns from local citizens.
Judy Hill
Moving to the action items and other discussion from Tuesday’s meeting, Judy Hill from the Human Resources Department requested the board look to hire someone internally, or who is already employed by the county, for the financial assistance supervisor position in the Public Health and Human Services Department. The financial supervisor job opened when Alison McIntyre left the post to become the director of the Public Health and Human Services Department.

Commissioner Ginny Storlie noted that if someone is hired for the financial supervisor job who already works for the county, it could create another opening in county staff. Hill agreed this would likely occur, and that she would return in several weeks looking to fill another position. However, Hill pointed out, neither the financial supervisor nor the other forthcoming job opening would be new jobs created at the county level.
Hill also brought a request to the commissioners that the county hopes to bring a voluntary and free exercise program for county staff that will be offered once a week. The basic theme for the program would be free yoga classes for county staff as a means of promoting healthy living and embracing the benefits of exercise.

“We benefit from this as the employer,” Commissioner Myron Bursheim said, noting that many studies showcase the value of exercise for a better workplace environment.
Grand Portage Lands
In other county news, Cook County Auditor-Treasurer Braidy Powers spoke about a request from the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to obtain land the county owns by means of a tax forfeiture near the reservation. The county will sell the tax-forfeited land, which is less than two acres, to the band for $1.

Commissioner Bobby Deschampe said the land is unbuildable, but more importantly that this is an ongoing effort of the band to reacquire land it has lost over the years.

Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk noted that the EDA recently purchased an undevelopable piece of land and paid full price for the acquisition. She said it seemed fair that all parties or organizations that buy land pay a fair and equal price for the property.
County Administrator Jeff Cadwell said the two land sales are different in how they will be used, and that comparing the two pieces of property is challenging in this particular scenario.

The commissioners unanimously approved the land sale to the Grand Portage Band.
Banadad Trail
A request came before the county board on Tuesday from the Banadad Trail Association for a loan of $4,500 for snowmobile grooming equipment. The Banadad Trail Association was given a similar low-interest loan seven years ago, Powers said, and that loan is now paid off.  The Revolving Loan Committee previously approved the request from the trail association, which is located in the Mid-Gunflint Trail area, and the county board followed suit on Tuesday for the full loan amount of $4,500.
County Administrator
County Administrator Jeff Cadwell and the commissioners provided a brief update on various projects the county could seek bond funding for. The topic of bonding will come up at the next committee of the whole meeting scheduled for Oct. 17. There will be a number of projects funded through bonding coming up at the county level, including several large projects in the highway department.

Cadwell also presented the commissioners options for the county’s health care plan for employees. Cadwell said it is time to renew what health insurance benefits the county will offer its employees, and presented various scenarios and goals regarding health care.

After discussion on the topic, the board agreed that the county will renew with Blue Cross-Blue Shield for 2018 and continue to have discussions with the employee union about health benefits it offers staff moving forward.

And finally, Cadwell provided an update on the county’s analysis for a new jail, law enforcement center and courthouse. At least five proposals will be reviewed by the county’s public safety and transportation committee in the coming weeks. Cadwell said he and Sheriff Pat Eliasen recently reviewed the five bids. At this point, the proposals are about the study design, Cadwell noted, not to necessarily move forward with building a new jail or justice center in the community. 
Below is a conversation between WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs and Cook County Board Chair Jan Sivertson following Tuesday’s meeting of the commissioners.