In 2013, the Houston County Board voted that anyone who serves three consecutive 3-year term on the planning and zoning board must sit out for one term at the end of that service.
In short: term limits.
Now the move by three Houston County board members to ignore those limits in re-appointing a board member to his fourth consecutive term is receiving sharp criticism in the largely rural county in Minnesota's southeastern corner.
Many critics believe the action illustrates a pro-frac sand mining bias on a county board that flouts its own rules.
Last week, the Caledonia Argus, the local paper, reported the news in Two appointed to Planning and Zoning Board: Now the rest of the story.
But the Argus editor didn't stop with reportage. On the op-ed page, Daniel McGonigle wrote in It’s beyond time for us to be represented by someone who governs fairly and doesn’t bend the rules for their own agendas. It's worth posting the entire thing:
For too long, (three of) our county commissioners have operated to serve what appears to be “the good ‘ol boy” network of friends, family and special interests.
They have used their positions seemingly to govern for the few and not for the best interest of their constituents, the many.
As 92 percent of you came before them regarding your opposition to the Frac Sand mining, they listened to the outcry, but then did an about face and came down on the side of their own interest, and refused to ban frac sand mining in the county.
They continue to do all they can to protect this decision, this time by circumventing their own rule and allowing Glenn Kruse to remain on the planning commission even though in 2013 they voted that anyone who serves three consecutive 3-year terms, as Kruse has; must get off of the planning and zoning board for one term.
That rule was put in to place, of course, given the possibility that it might be a struggle to find someone to serve.
Commissioners Judy Storlie, Steve Schuldt and Teresa Walter, however, used the loop hole to ensure that the planning and zoning board not have to be represented by a diverse board of voices.
Seven individuals brought their names forward to serve on the P&Z board. There was no struggle to find someone to serve. Several highly qualified individuals were among the pool of applicants. Not all, however, agree with the latest recommendations being made to the county board by the planning commission. Therefore, not all agreed with the position of commissioners Walter, Schuldt and Storlie.
Unbeknownst to Dana Kjome who is the county board’s representative on the P&Z board, interviews were held by Storlie, Schuldt and county attorney Sam Jandt.
The commissioners then voted to reappoint a member who had served three consecutive three year terms and by their own 2013 motion should have had to remain off the P&Z board for one term.
For too often the three commissioners have taken the view point that they only want to listen to one side of an issue and not allow the other side to be heard.
They have scaled the public comment portion of their regular meetings to once per month because a frustrated constituency had come to them week after week after week after week hoping that the commissioners might actually hear them and at the very least acknowledge their concerns.
Instead the public comment period is now one meeting per month. What had been eight whole minutes (said facetiously) to have their voices heard was changed to three minutes once-per month so that the commissioners don’t need to be bothered with the trivial concerns of the voters they are supposed to represent.
And now the planning and zoning board were afforded the same luxuries.
The rules were bent so that the board members would not have to be bothered with a varied opinion.
The same narrative will continue to come from the planning and zoning board. Diverse and varied opinions will not be heard and therefore the commissioners can continue to pass, by a 3-2 margin, the planning and zoning rules that are brought forward by the board month after month.
They can continue to only have to “listen” (again I’m being facetious) to an opinion that differs from theirs just once per month, for three minutes each speaker.
When our democracy works, it works best when two sides of an issue come together to find common ground and all voices are heard and considered.
These commissioners continue to use the seats upon which they sit to forward their own narratives and agendas.
When a constituent, and coincidently someone who threw his name into the ring to be considered for the planning commission seat, asked Steve Schuldt “what do you want us to do just bend over and “take it?”
His reply was: “I guess you’ll just have to take it.”
That’s a fairly unprofessional response from a commissioner whose role should be to represent the best interests of the entire county.
It is my job to report on our leaders activities and decisions as accurately and balanced as possible. That in turn allows county residents to determine if the decisions they are making and the actions they approve are in those citizens’ best interests.
If they are not, then the constituents can decide if our current leaders should be removed so someone who will govern for the people, of the people and by the people can be put in their place.
Week after week, decision after decision it is apparent that the three commissioners are only governing for the few and not for the best interest of the citizens of this county.
We should all do everything within our power to see that this trend is stopped in November, 2016.
I guess, if voters agree, commissioner Schuldt and Storlie– you’ll just have to take it
That's fairly strong stuff. Readers and citizens are echoing the sentiments in the letters section with commentary sporting headlines like No matter how bad you think it is, it is worse:
. . .Just two years ago the County Board voted unanimously to have term limits for the Planning Commission. Three terms of three years each was to be the limit and then a person would have to sit out an entire term before being able to serve again. At the Dec. 22nd meeting these three commissioners voted to reinstall Glenn Kruse for a 6th term.
Why did this happen when there were five other highly qualified candidates to choose from, one of them an attorney. There are two reasons. 1. Glenn Kruse is in favor of frac sand mining. 2. Glenn Kruse has a long history of enabling and covering up the lack of enforcement of the Ordinances in this County. . .
Pro-sand bias echoes the curious case of Bob Scanlan
This isn't the first time the county government has been perceived as working against citizens concerned about silica sand mining. In an April post, Open veins of Houston Co revealed by new complaints against mine-loving county employee, we looked at the case of planning and zoning administrator Bob Scanlan, Scanlan who was (as the Post Bulletin reported):
suspended for five days last year (two days were dropped if he completed some actions) because a long investigation found he had retaliated against frac-sand opponents by trying to use zoning rules against them, shared confidential information with others and gave special treatment by advocating in behalf of others.
The Post Bulletin wasn't the only big-city paper checking it out, as we noted in Star Tribune digs into Houston Co tensions, employee harassment of mining opponents.
Scanlan left his position this summer, as we posted in Frac sand mining foes cheer: Houston County planning & zoning administrator Scanlan resigns.
Discontent with the depredations of the frac sand industry isn't confined to Houston County. The Winona Daily News' op-ed section also includes anti-mining letters like Frank Bures' We can find much better use for land than frac sand, Richard Dahl's Frac sand ban makes sense for county and Steve Schild's Frac sand can be banned in county.
And in the Post Bulletin? Letters from the other papers make an appearance: Any benefits from frac-sand mines are temporary, but impact lasts and Overriding Houston County term limits sends the wrong message.
Photo: In a pit and digging deeper; or a mine in Wisconsin.
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