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Beltrami County Board delays Park and Trail Advisory Council appointments

Four at-large members of the County Park and Trail Advisory Council will need to wait two weeks to find out if they keep their jobs.

The Beltrami County Board, in a 4-1 vote, put off the appointments Tuesday until its Feb. 2 meeting, even though the four incumbents had been recommended to a second term. The interim will be spent finding more interested people to the posts.

The delay comes after commissioners sparred over the county's timber harvesting policy in county parks, and County Board Chairman Jack Frost admonished the 25 people who attended the meeting not to seek council members with a "special agenda."

The council, created four years ago to help advise the County Board on timber management and other issues pertaining to county parks and trails, consists of nine at-large voting members and three non-voting members.

County Natural Resource Management Director Greg Snyder had recommended reappointments for current members Paul Swenson, general representative; Charlie Parsons, parks/recreation; Jim Gubbels, forestry; and, Gayle Quistgaard, tourism.

"My recommendation to reappoint the four is that they are very involved, very vocal and very productive," Snyder said.

Commissioner Jim Heltzer noted that the council's bylaws have no term limit provisions. "Appointments are made at the discretion of the County Board, so there is no need for term limits," Snyder said. "You can advertise for applicants."

Commissioner Quentin Fairbanks tried to table the appointments to an unspecified future date, to not only allow time to accept applications for the four posts but also to work through the county's proposed merger with the Beltrami Soil and Water Conservation District, a move that could take six months.

"It would give us some time to solicit other people who might be interested," said Fairbanks, who latter amended his motion to allow the current four members to extend their posts three months.

While Frost at first refused to consider Fairbank's motion to table, saying he thought it would be too disruptive to the Park and Trail Advisory Council, he later called for a second. The motion died for the lack of one.

Commissioner Jim Lucachick offered a motion to allow applications to be taken and presented to the next board meeting, Feb. 2, for commissioners to select four members. That motion passed, 4-1, with Fairbanks opposing.

"We can open this up to folks who are interested, with a simple application to the Department of Natural Resource Management," Lucachick said. "The selection should be based on a wider field of folks to choose from,"

Those now serving may have done an excellent job, he said, but perhaps more people with may be interested who have even better skill sets.

Commissioner Joe Vene noted that the board has letters from all four current members asking that they be reappointed. "Are we building a pool for when they no longer want to serve? I hate to think that with diligence and good balance, we'd just dismiss those strong-serving members."

Lucachick said it was important to have fresh and diverse views as well.

"How do we make this more public knowledge?" Lucachick asked. "Can we put up a bulletin board in the County Administration Building? I wish we had more of a public forum."

"We got away from advertising (in the newspaper) because of the cost," County Administrator Tony Murphy said of advertising for volunteer positions on county committees." A new county e-mail newsletter goes to about 1,000 taxpayers, however, he added.

Members "need to be open to balance of what's best for parks and trails," Frost said. "We need no special agenda. An open mind, not members brining an activist agenda.

"That's my charge to any applicant," Frost directed to the audience. "Let's be blunt here, no stacking the deck. I hope and pray that people be open minded and do what's best for parks and trails in Beltrami County."

Heltzer said the real issue is the county's timber harvesting policy, that although the County Board has specified a lighter harvest in county recreational areas, to some harvesting has been too heavy.

"We need to discuss openly timber harvesting policy in parks," he said.

Fairbanks called the question on Lucachick's motion, but Frost again ignored him to talk about timber harvesting.

""We need more input for recreational areas, and we did have one bad cut," Frost said. "We've made some gains, but we're not done yet. We need to find balance and leave buffer zones. One sale was bad; we're in a fish bowl and under scrutiny. We do bad, and we get the e-mails.

"We also get some phone calls that are nasty," he added. "We need oversight to make sure it (clear cut harvest in a park)doesn't happen again."