Meeker County May 26, 2015 Work Session

By Ford Peterson, Dassel, MN  May 28, 2015

I welcomed the opportunity to attend the informal “Work Session” on Tuesday and ask questions with testifiers still in the room. It is a breath of fresh air to be able to see this administration taking steps to bring transparency to important issues related to county government, and provide a venue for feedback from the public. The press was missing, which is unfortunate. One disgruntled former employee narrowly escaped being escorted from the room! What drama!

The first topic of discussion was a proposal to add a Social Host Ordinance. Testimony from law enforcement was informative. My opinion, for what it is worth, is that government needs to stay out of the parenting business. Parenting is not a simple matter. A lifetime of “practice” is insufficient time to get it right. Likewise, to expect property owners to enforce laws is unreasonable. Property owners have little control over those who rent property. Tenants enjoy the “quiet use” of the property they lease. Expecting owners to hover down the street hoping to observe tenants in the act of violating “quiet use” is not appropriate. More laws on the books that charge good people with crimes will not improve our quality of life. More ordinances would create work for law enforcement, our courts, and county employees. It is questionable whether employees can be successful in rehabilitating the public’s parenting skill, or a land owner’s ability to control “quiet use” using tools like: violations, fines, criminal charges, and probation.  “Good government” should improve our quality of life.

Next on the agenda was a presentation of the Springstead Organizational Study. It appears that scope of this study was somewhat limited. An attempt to measure service delivery effectiveness was not included in the scope of study. The consultant’s assessment relied on interviews and an employee questionnaire. In my opinion, a “customer satisfaction survey” including only responses from employees falls short of a true assessment of an evaluation of effectiveness in the delivery of services by the county. Imagine how ridiculous such a study would be for a restaurant to evaluate their “customer satisfaction” using only responses from the wait and cook staff!

I welcome the study’s findings, and appreciate the opportunity to attend the meeting. Some actions have precipitated from the study and the public should applaud. Meeker County has a long-list of management issues, which I can only hope the Commissioners plan to address one-day.

Some on-going management issues between the auditor and treasurer are settled and a strategy in process for making it better.

The study addressed issues regarding how the commissioners interact with employees, each other, and the public. Reforms are needed, welcome, and applauded.

The study revealed that no county employee has been subject to a periodic review. Seriously? There has been no annual review of employees? How did this happen? Most private and public firms impose, at a minimum, an annual review of performance for every employee. Even the Board of Commissioners is negligent in this regard. Our Commissioners need to address the need for periodic review and the responsibility for this failure of good management practice placed at the feet of our County Administrator as a gross failure to impose this ubiquitous “best practice” in county administration.

The report was silent on the topic of “case banking,” a notion believed to improve efficient delivery of services. It also would improve how the employees interact with the public. Technology is the key to improvement, which takes time and thoughtful strategy.

No mention of the county’s use of unlicensed workers to manage guardianship issues involving parental and family custody rights. Parental and family rights are serious matters in need of serious reforms. Now I find these were outside the scope of study. Springstead presented no evidence that law enforcement was included in the study. I view this as a missed opportunity to start important reforms.

When asked to evaluate the work session, all I could say was it is a good start towards a very long process of reform. I welcome this as ‘step-one’ towards a new beginning in county administration. Godspeed!

Feel free to comment by clicking on the link below.

4 Responses to “Meeker County May 26, 2015 Work Session”

  1. admin says:

    From an email from Meeker County Sheriff Brian Cruze, with permission


    Friday, May 29, 2015 10:30 AM

    You are more than welcome to post this on your blog. I think that confusion comes in because we do openly say that there are times we can’t charge those responsible because we don’t have the evidence as to who provided the alcohol. We are not saying no crime was committed and we want a law just to charge someone. We know that someone provided alcohol illegally, but we don’t have enough evidence to charge that specific crime so often these cases die with the lack of info, as they should. What we are saying with this ordinance is lets take a different approach to the problem. With this ordinance we are holding the host responsible if they know it was an underage drinking party, regardless of whether or not they were the supplier of the alcohol. That is what I consider the loophole in current law. All the kids take their consumption ticket, stand silent on who the supplier is and come back next week to the next party. Like I said, we can write those tickets until we are blue in the face, they know as long as the supplier is untouched there will be another party. The charge of providing alcohol to an underage person is a gross misdemeanor, the charge of hosting an underage party is a misdemeanor (under this proposed ordinance). It is a lesser offense but I think it would address these situations. Again the goal is to give us a tool to address these underage parties and discourage these gatherings.

  2. admin says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. I would love to get your permission to post this as a comment on my blog and start the discussion with the public. If it really does solve a problem, then I would be for it too. But the impression was left that law enforcement would want to be able to cite somebody if there is no evidence to specifically charge. Again, if this solves a problem, then I would be for it.


  3. Ford says:

    Meeker County Sheriff Brian Cruze and I have been in a private dialog via email. He made some thoughtful comments and with his permission, I’m posting them here for others to see…

    Friday, May 29, 2015, 9:58AM

    Re: Social Host Ordinance

    Hi Ford,

    I am in support of this, because it is a problem. It’s not a parenting issue really and we rarely deal with the situations that Commissioner Oberg brought up. We are mainly dealing with people 18-20 years old and in those cases, because they are adults, we rarely make contact with the parents. In most instances, unless the kids tell their parents, the parents wouldn’t know about the citation. The issue that we are having is trying to curtail the parties. I know kids experiment and there isn’t anything we do that will stop that. But, we have many gatherings in remote locations, where kids are getting drunk and getting into vehicles to leave these locations. We also have repeated calls on certain locations.

    This ordinance, for me, is trying to get to the root of a problem. As the Kandiyohi County Attorney described it, we are just getting the low hanging fruit and not the people who are facilitating this. Current law makes possession and consumption of alcohol under the age of 21 illegal. It also makes providing alcohol to an underage person illegal. Almost all of our party incidents are called in, we rarely just stumble across them. So once we do get a complaint, we have to deal with it. We can write underage tickets until we are blue in the face, it’s not having any affect on the parties. No one gives up their alcohol supplier for obvious reasons so we rarely get anyone on these charges. What the social host ordinance does is identify the host of the party and if they knew or should have reasonably known alcohol was being possessed or consumed by underage individuals, they can receive a ticket. The goal is to hold someone responsible to cut down on these large gatherings of underage drinkers. Generally the host is right with everyone else drinking so it’s not hard to prove they knew. There is no law that addresses this, that is why I would like to see this.

    The common fear with this ordinance is what if the parents are out of town and the kids have a party are they responsible? The answer is no. Yes parents probably worry about what their kids do when they are gone. But, worried about what they are doing and knowing that they are having a party are two different things. These parents would not be on the hook, but their kid might be if he was the host. Along with that, landlords are also out of the loop, unless they were the actual host. Once the landlord makes the lease, he is not responsible for what the tenant does (unless of course he was a willing participant). I’ll be the first to admit we have too many laws and laws that were created because some legislators feel the need to want to control every aspect of everyone’s life. But this is one of those situations where the current laws are not addressing a particular problem. This ordinance would address that and hopefully make people think twice about hosting an underage drinking party.

  4. Lia Nistler says:

    :) Nice to see you are still around, Ford. I live in St. Cloud, Stearns County now. Life is good! Hope we cross paths soon.