Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Greenwood to vote on hired, versus elected, clerk and treasurer

Jodi Summit
Posted 10/17/19

GREENWOOD TWP- Greenwood voters will soon be deciding whether or not to keep both an elected clerk and an elected treasurer. The township has been considering switching these positions from elected …

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Greenwood to vote on hired, versus elected, clerk and treasurer

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GREENWOOD TWP- Greenwood voters will soon be deciding whether or not to keep both an elected clerk and an elected treasurer. The township has been considering switching these positions from elected roles to hired ones. The cost of such a move was not discussed at their Oct. 8 meeting, where the town board took the first step toward having this question placed on the ballot for the annual election in March.

Supervisor Mike Ralston told the board, “There is set language you need to use.”

According to Ralston, he received the necessary wording from township attorney Mike Couri, though Clerk Sue Drobac found the wording confusing and asked to have it clarified. The township now needs to notify the county auditor to have the question placed on the official township ballot. The cost of this move was not discussed.

When this topic was discussed at last month’s meeting, it appeared the consensus was to leave the positions as they are, since there were still residents interested in running for the offices.

At Tuesday’s meeting, it seemed public opinion was still against the option to switch. Residents Lee Peterson and John Bassing both spoke in favor of having elected clerks and treasurers.

“In Greenwood Township four years ago,” Bassing said, “the clerk had the support of four supervisors, who voted on a contract for her…but she lost by a 2-1 margin in that election. You are taking away the rights of the people to choose. Tower is a good example. They would have had an easier time if the people were able to choose.”

State law sets the process for townships switching from an elected clerk and/or treasurer to a hired one. Although the town board would have authority over the employees, there would be duties that both would have to perform. The township is also considering combining the positions and hiring one individual as the clerk/treasurer, which would require an external audit each year. Township clerks and treasurers serve two-year terms.

Broadband and public computer

The town board set a public meeting for Tuesday, Oct. 29 at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the issues of broadband internet and the lack of reliable phone service. The township plans to invite St. Louis County Commissioner Paul McDonald, State Rep. Rob Ecklund, and representatives from Frontier, AT&T, Verizon, CTC, and Paul Bunyan Communications to the meeting. This will be an opportunity for the public to discuss their current issues with phone and internet service, as well as their wishes and needs for the future. Input collected at this meeting will help with planning for broadband expansion in the near future.

Ralston asked the clerk and treasurer about the status of a computer in the township office that was being used by the public.

“It came to my attention that we now have a public computer in the office,” he said, “but the board never approved of that. We should have board approval.”

Treasurer Pam Rodgers said the computer in question was an old office computer that had outdated operating system software and was barely usable. She also said the computer was on the office network and was not secure. When asked about the cost of updating this computer, Rodgers said it would be comparable to purchasing a new machine.

“It’s not worth it,” Rodgers stated.

The town board approved spending up to $2,500 to purchase a new computer and software and to have it installed so it could safely be used by the public. The computer would not be on the office network and would not allow anyone to save data to it. The township settled on this amount by looking at an existing quote they had received from Mark Wilcox when they were considering a Blandin broadband grant.

Insurance

According to a recent insurance audit, there are a few gaps in the township’s coverage. There are also new assets and equipment, such as picnic tables and tennis court fencing, that were not previously covered. The previous policy, through the Minnesota Association of Townships’ Insurance Trust, or MATIT, cost the township $11,605 and will now see an increase of $736. MATIT will also be covering 25 percent of the township’s errors and omissions policy this year, which will hopefully increase to full coverage over the next four years. In the meantime, the township will maintain their coverage through Western World, though they intend to see if they qualify for a reduced rate.

OSHA visit

Fire Department Training Officer Rick Worringer told the board he had spent two days on site with inspectors from OSHA, who were responding to an anonymously-filed list of 17 complaints.

“There are some things we are going to have to buy,” he noted, “like no-spark fuel cans.”

Worringer also mentioned that hoses must be inspected annually and self-contained breathing apparatuses, or SCBA, and fire extinguishers must be inspected monthly. There are also rules for climbing on the fire trucks without safety harnesses. A lack of paperwork also appeared to be an issue in the department.

“We probably are going to get nailed for something,” he said.

Worringer said the department will receive a DNR 50/50 grant for new turnout gear, life jackets, and SCBA masks. The department asked for town board support to apply for a grant to purchase a special washing machine system, which removes dangerous smoke and other particles from fire fighter clothing.

“Smoke particles are proven to be carcinogenic,” said Worringer. “This is a very important system.”

The township’s only cost for this system would be for installation and any needed electrical and plumbing work. The board noted that they will not need to install a ventilation system in the fire hall. The town board approved the request.

Worringer also reported that the fire department pension account is currently funded at 199 percent. Right now, the department pension is $1,900 per year. When the department moved their pension to PERA, there was a five-year freeze on pension changes. He said that Chief Dave Fazio, who was not at the meeting, will be requesting the pension amount be increased to $2,500 per year once the freeze period ends in 2021.

A motion by Chairman Carmen DeLuca to raise the pension amount to $2,500 was not acted on. DeLuca noted that the board “used to try to give a raise every year.” Ralston said he would like to see more data on the issue before the board takes any action.

Other business

In other business, the board:

 Signed a three-year contract with Vermilion Snow Management, which has worked for the township the past few years. Costs for snow removal depend on the size of the needed equipment and range from $100/hour for the one-ton truck with a front plow to $200/hour for the one-ton truck with a front and rear pull plow. Cost for snow blowing with a skid-steer is $125/hour. The plowing rates will go up $25/hour in years two and three of the contract.

The township received two quotes for plowing, but the second business did not yet have insurance, which was a required part of the quote.

 Appointed Janelle Swenson as deputy treasurer, replacing Belinda Fazio. Rodgers said that Fazio’s schedule was not flexible enough to allow her to be trained in. Rodgers will be out of town soon and Swenson is being trained to take her place as needed. Both the elected treasurer and clerk are allowed to select and train their own deputies, who take over when they are out of the area.

 Took no action on approving the new rates for the Tower Area Ambulance Service subsidy.

“There are some questions that have to be answered first,” said Supervisor Larry Tahija, who sits on the TAAS board.

 Ralston clarified a statement made at a prior meeting that had been refuted by fire department member Jeff Maus.

“Our attorneys refer to treating the cases as litigation,” Ralston said, “so as far as I’m concerned, we will use the word litigation until it is settled.”

 The town board took no action on the question of having residents vote on requiring residents of the single township road, Birch Point Extension, to pay for brushing/maintenance costs.

Comments

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Pam Rodgers

huh... Never once did I hear that we were considering combining the clerk and treasurer positions. When John Bassing said that Breitung had looked into switching to appointed and it was too expensive, I mentioned that they were looking into a combined position which required an audit. Jodi - were we at the same meeting?

Friday, October 18
Deplorable

This is an absolutely ridiculous proposal. The board isn’t happy because the duly elected ( by a landslide) clerk refuses to be a secretary for some of them. The clerk and the treasurer have very specific duties and responsibilities as per state law. I remember a former clerk who did everything for the board members. She used to walk behind them at board meetings and whisper in their ears. There are valid reasons for separations in government. Look what Tower is still going through because only 1 person was responsible. No one was watching, they depended on her (appointed/hired) to do the right thing. Lawsuits are still being filed. It is the public’s choice to choose who represents them, this includes the board. If the clerk isn’t doing her job, the voters should decide, not this current, partisan board!

Sunday, October 20
Jodi Summit

Pam, you are correct. This was a bad headline which did not go into the paper edition. But the web story went up before all the final editing was done!

Monday, October 21
John bassing

Greenwood Township has had an elected Clerk since it was created over forty years ago. There are 1783 Townships in the State of Mn with less than 10% having appointed Clerks. None of the Townships in our area have appointed Clerks or Treasurers and for good reason. We don’t need new employees, we need a Clerk who is accountable to the people, and we can’t give up our right and responsibility to vote only to enhance the power of the Board.

Tuesday, October 22