BEMIDJI – Two candidates seeking the District 4 seat on the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners stated their positions in a public forum Tuesday evening at Bemidji City Hall.
Incumbent Quentin Fairbanks is seeking a fourth term on the county board. Challenging him for the seat is Tim Sumner, a private contractor from Redby.
They took part in a 35-minute forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Moderating the event was Roy Blackwood, professor emeritus of journalism at Bemidji State University.
Fairbanks, a retired Minnesota state trooper who lives in Hines, said Beltrami County will have to work to properly serve its elderly population in the next 10 years.
The county has many retired residents who need access to quality services, Fairbanks said, noting that the county has long been working toward establishing a local veterans nursing home.
“The main thing is to get services to the people,” he said.
Sumner said he believes there are many frustrated, young families who struggle to make ends meet in District 4.
“Jobs is basically the No. 1 priority,” he said. “Without jobs and a good education, how can we compete in the world?”
He pledged to represent constituents fairly and to work with other commissioners to develop common goals and a plan for the future.
The county’s relationship with the Red Lake Reservation was frequently discussed. Both men are from Red Lake. Fairbanks said he grew up on the reservation when American Indians were not accepted in the greater community and not served in restaurants.
“I think we’ve come a long ways, but we still have a long ways to go yet,” he said.
Likewise, Sumner said times have changed, but more work needs to be done. He said he is encouraged by community groups working to bridge those cultural divides, such as Shared Vision’s efforts to have Ojibwe/English bilingual signs installed in area businesses.
“I believe that’s a stepping stone to breaking those barriers,” Sumner said.
Due to Red Lake’s sovereignty, the Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office’s authority is limited on the reservation. Sumner said he has reached out to Sheriff Phil Hodapp, extending a willingness to work together.
“I’m open to working together collaboratively and providing better services, to get the tribe and county working together again,” he said.
Fairbanks said there were a couple of situations involving law enforcement agencies separate from Beltrami County that caused a conflict.
“This happened about three years ago,” he said. “It is a real tough situation because of the sovereignty. We have to recognize the sovereignty.”
Both candidates said the sheriff’s office provides adequate law enforcement coverage in the district, though Sumner noted that he has heard from some complaints from residents indicating that there may be gaps in coverage. He pledged to work toward closing any gaps that may exist.
Fairbanks noted that the sheriff’s office budget is the second-largest part of the county budget.
“I think we’ve really done a good job with the sheriff’s office,” he said, listing several technological advances. “We have some really well-trained people.”
The job is more difficult for officers now than when he was a trooper, Fairbanks said, because of the prevalence of drugs.
“This is something that is really hurting our whole society,” he said.