Cook County logo. WTIP file photo
WTIP file photo

Expletives fly during tense meeting of the Cook County commissioners

Requiring masks in public and the future of a public beach near Grand Marais were the centerpieces of lively and occasionally heated discussion during a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, July 14.

To start the lengthy meeting, Interim County Administrator Rena Rogers read approximately 45 letters that were submitted to the county in the form of public comments. Most of these comments were made in support of wearing a mask due to the ongoing pandemic brought on by the new coronavirus. Some of the comments called for the county to institute a local policy on wearing masks in public, while others asked the county to contact Gov. Tim Walz and encourage him to implement a statewide requirement for citizens to wear masks. Ultimately, the board voted 4-1 to submit a letter to the governor urging him to set a statewide policy on wearing masks.

The letter, in part, reads: “We write to respectfully request that you use your emergency powers to impose a uniform, state-wide mask requirement in all public buildings and all private buildings that provide such public accommodations as lodging, dining, retail sales, professional and personal services, etc. We further request that you extend this requirement to all outdoor spaces where crowding makes social distancing not feasible.”

Commissioner Bobby Deschampe was the lone vote against sending the letter to Walz. Deschampe said business owners in the community have a right to decide what customers should be required to wear to enter their stores.

Soon after the discussion on wearing masks in Cook County concluded, another ongoing issue brought a surge of emotion to the board meeting. There has been a great deal of discussion in recent weeks regarding public access to a beach off of Old Shore Road in Grand Marais. The beach has been known as ‘Passion Pit’ to many community members for decades, and has been the site of family gatherings–and sometimes late night celebrations.

Recently, longtime visitors to the beach grilled the property owner who had begun telling people they do not have the right to park in the area near the beach.

The property owner, Dave Homyak, appeared before the Cook County Board of Commissioners during the public comment period on June 23, speaking for nearly 10 minutes while asking for clarification of use of the beach. He also asked the county to manage the approximately 30 feet of beach area under its ownership. He expressed concern about littering, all-terrain vehicle (ATV) use and late night gatherings. Homyak asked the county to consider placing porta-potties and trash receptacles at the site and to create barriers so ATVs could not get to the waterfront.

Since the June meeting, the county has started the process of gathering information from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which also owns land near the public beach, about the cost to purchase the MnDOT property. The mere consideration of purchasing this property from the state agency led Commissioner Heidi Doo-Kirk to go on a profanity-laced tirade during the public meeting. Ultimatley, however, the board voted to send a letter to MnDOT to at least begin the process of obtaining the land near the ‘Passion Pit.’

WTIP’s Joe Friedrichs spoke with Interim County Administrator Rena Rogers about the busy meeting from July 14. The audio to their conversation can be found below.