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Beltrami County Board: City, county letter to object to cross-burning

BEMIDJI -- The city of Bemidji and Beltrami County have agreed to a joint letter, objecting to the Northern Township cross-burning.

"We want to keep it out there until the Sheriff's Department is able to prosecute or find these individuals," Audrey Thayer, coordinator of the Greater Minnesota Racial Justice Project, said at the Beltrami County Board meeting Tuesday afternoon. "But it is also very important for our community. This is unacceptable behavior that happened in Beltrami County."

Thayer and Bemidji City Manager John Chattin approached the commissioners asking for a letter that would be signed by Chairman Quentin Fairbanks and Mayor Dave Larson, objecting to the cross-burning. Chattin said the mayor, Fairbanks and the rest of the board agreed.

"I support the joint letter," Commissioner Jack Frost said. "I am saddened and disappointed, but I still think we are a great community and I still think we are on the right track."

In addition to the joint letter, Thayer said Shared Visions, which works with race relations, is hoping to plan a gathering of some sort where government officials can speak about the sobering event and keep it fresh in the community's mind.

"It is a horrible event for the community, but at the same time it has created an opportunity, because we are getting state and nationwide support for us to react in a positive way to what has happened," Chattin said.

Beltrami County Jail

Beltrami County Jail Administrator Cindy Borowski spoke to the commissioners, during their work meeting prior to the regular meeting, to discuss Turn Key Corrections adding visitor communications to the jail.

Turn Key Corrections provides canteen services like vending, debit cards, Internet portals, messaging and accounting to prisoners at the jail. The proposal was to expand the services to include video visitation, which would allow prisoners to talk with their family or friends via webcam at a cost of 35 cents a minute.

Borowski said the new system would allow prisoners to schedule visits more freely, except during lockdown hours, and it would make things easier for prison staff because the video sessions could be done right from the cell block.

The webcam visitation will not cost the county anything because the cost of installation would be recouped by Turn Key Corrections through the charge to the prisoners.

Borowski said the new system would essentially eliminate through-the-window visitations, because if people came to the prison to visit, they would still communicate through a webcam kiosk, except in special circumstances.

"It seems good for a parent who has kids," Beltrami County Auditor Kay Mack said. "They want the kids to visit the parent but not necessarily go to the jail. It might be better for their dignity."

Borowski also approached the commissioners at the regular meeting to propose temporary health-care services to the jail for when the contract with Beltrami County Public Health expires June 15.

The board agreed to sign MEnD Correctional Healthcare to a four-week contract, at a cost of $1,700 a week, while the county goes through the request for proposal to select a long-term healthcare provider for the prison.