Beltrami commissioners vote down resolution asking Walz to reopen rural MN 3-2
BEMIDJI -- The Beltrami County Board of Commissioners voted down a proposed resolution Tuesday which would have made a formal request to Gov. Tim Walz to reopen some of the state's economy.
Walz's executive orders began in March, when he opted to close schools and several types of businesses, such as bars, restaurants and other places of accommodation. Walz also enacted an order directing Minnesotans to stay at home except to go out for essential needs, all to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Initially, the order was set to expire on April 10, but Walz later pushed the date back to May 4. Concerned over how the order could impact the local economy, District 1 Commissioner Craig Gaasvig introduced the resolution to the board, which would have advised and encouraged Walz to begin reopening parts of the state, at least in more rural areas.
"The resolution is to encourage our governor to look at rural Minnesota differently than the metro," Gaasvig said. "Start opening up things up here, to at least give reprieve to businesses that have been shut down for over a month, and to hopefully get some business and bookings for resorts that are critical around fishing."
The resolution was defeated, though, with Districts 2, 3 and 4 Commissioners Reed Olson, Richard Anderson and Tim Sumner voting against. Gaasvig was joined by District 5 Commissioner Jim Lucachick in supporting the resolution.
"At some point, we have to take a logical approach to this thing," Lucachick said. "There are guidelines. There are opening procedures. Allow the systems to go back online with social distancing. We can't just continue what we're doing. We can't just over-prepare and over-shoot this thing. We're not asking to open the floodgates. We'll open up wisely. We need to offer that to the small businesses."
However, similar resolutions did pass in other counties, such as Becker, Clearwater and Hubbard. The approval of these resolutions earned praise from District 2A Rep. Matt Grossell, R-Clearbrook.
"We can get our economy going again and still protect the health and safety of our citizens," Grossell said in a statement. "A growing number of our county boards understand this and are asking the governor to back off. It is great to see counties in our region taking matters into their own hands."
In his comments on the resolution, Sumner said Beltrami County is a unique county, even regionally.
"We're not the same as the metro counties. But at the same time, we're not the same as surrounding counties either, such as Clearwater or Hubbard," Sumner explained. "They don't have the population we do. They're not considered a regional center like Beltrami is. I feel this proposed resolution is rushed and should allow public input."
Olson, who also co-owns the Wild Hare Bistro, was opposed to the resolution, and to ending the stay-at-home order.
"I own a restaurant and we've been closed for about a month now," Olson said. "This is something that really affects me, affects my employees, my business partner. It's very painful. But I think we're doing the right thing. If we do open up, we're a tourist community. We open up and we're asking people to come here from the Twin Cities, Fargo or Duluth. I think we need to continue staying with this stay at home order and safeguard our community."
In preparation for Tuesday's meeting, Anderson said he contacted officials from 14 townships and the cities of Solway and Wilton.
"I asked them the question, 'would you like us to send this to the governor asking him to open it up, or stay the course?'" Anderson said. "It was about a 60-40 split, with 60% asking to not open and that the governor is doing a good job, and 40% said they were ready to start opening up."
Anderson added, though, that he was also contacted by a restaurant owner, who also said they didn't want to begin opening up.
Tuesday's web meeting started in the afternoon with the commissioners handling business in its work session agenda. However, the session was interrupted as a result of an apparent hacking incident. The meeting resumed, but only county officials were allowed to enter the call. The rest of the meeting was then livestreamed for the public by Olson on Facebook.