County seeks to turn recorder into appointed post

Beltrami County commissioners would appoint the next county recorder, if the Minnesota Legislature gives its blessing, under a resolution approved Tuesday night.

Beltrami County commissioners would appoint the next county recorder, if the Minnesota Legislature gives its blessing, under a resolution approved Tuesday night.

The County Board voted unanimously to send a resolution to the Legislature indicating the board's desire "to have statutory authority to make the office of Beltrami County recorder appointed rather than elected," according to the resolution.

It was one of three issues resolutions commissioners considered -- and passed unanimously -- during their regular meeting Tuesday night.

The resolution changing the status of how the county recorder is chosen had very little discussion, and no one from the public attended the County Board meeting.

But commissioners signaled their intent last summer when then-County Recorder Ann Allen announced she would retire at the end of 2006. Allen was elected six times by the public, and served since 1983.


Her deputy county recorder for more than 11 years, Charlene Sturk, ran for the office and won in November. But she said on the campaign trail that she favored the position to be appointed, that it is a highly technical post.

The office handles some 12,000 documents a year, most involving property but also personal property transactions and keeping on file records about veterans. It also interacts with a host of agencies from auditor-treasurer, assessor, environmental services, geographic information systems, and with bankers, appraisers and surveyors.

It's also a money-maker for the county, through various fees and charges for filing and retrieving records, taking in about $364,000 a year compared to $190,000 in expenses.

"It just seems logical, as a highly technical position," said Commissioner Ron Otterstad, who seconded Commissioner Quentin Fairbanks' motion to send the resolution the Legislature. "You wouldn't elect the MIS director," referring to the head of the county's computer department, Management Information Services.

"This year, we are likely to see a blanket law to do this," Otterstad said.

The resolution approved by commissioners includes Beltrami County-specific language, but there are bills that would make uniform the process for any county to seek consolidation of offices or making an office appointive.

Such bills have already been introduced by Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, and Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, with Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, a House co-author.

Legislation the county seeks would allow the county to make the county recorder post appointed if a resolution is approved by at least four of the five board members, that prior notice of the action is published at least two weeks before and that public comment be allowed at a session before the vote.


To make the post appointed doesn't require a public referendum vote, but the legislation would provide for a so-called "reverse referendum" if within 30 days after the second publication of the resolution, a petition requesting a referendum is received, signed by at least 10 percent of the registered voters in the county.

Under the legislation, Sturk would be allowed to complete her elected term before the board appoints her or a successor.

"The need for a reverse referendum should be removed as it is a waste of money," said Board Chairman Jim Heltzer.

Commissioner Joe Vene said having the County Board appoint the county recorder "makes perfect sense. We could someday have someone run without the requisite qualifications."

"Heaven help us if that ever happens to a county commissioner," Heltzer quipped.

Also on the regular agenda was a resolution to Congress that it negate a new rule interpretation that takes away Medicare eligibility from people who are even arrested by the county, and not convicted, making the county 100 percent responsible for their medical costs.

The "loss of federal entitlement benefits" resolution asks Congress to amend necessary federal law "to allow federal financial participation for medical benefits to incarcerated individuals until convicted and sentenced to secure detention."

The problem stems from a strict enforcement of a little-known federal rule that cuts off federal medical benefits from anyone in jail. But it recently has been extended to people at arrest, even if they are released and not charged, or charged and later acquitted. Counties assume the full cost, and restoring federal benefits may take up to three months after their release.


"A person gets arrested and loses their Medicare eligibility immediately," Otterstad said. "We get stuck with the bill."

Even if the person isn't charged and is released, it takes two to three months for the federal paperwork to catch up and restore eligibility, he said, adding the county is still responsible for all medical bills.

Congress, Otterstad said, needs to "not enforce it until convicted and incarcerated only, or suspend eligibility (at arrest) and immediately restore it when they get out."

Making counties totally responsible "is another unfunded mandate on property taxes," he said.

Vene, noting the original rule was implemented as a "get tough" policy on criminals, "is another law with unintended consequences."

Heltzer passed out the third resolution during the board's afternoon work session, receiving little discussion. It was placed on the board's consent agenda, winning approval Tuesday night with no discussion.

The resolution states that Beltrami County supports the current Freedom to Breathe Act making its way through the Legislature, calling for a smoking ban statewide in bars, restaurants and other public places.

Passing the bill would put "in place a strong smoke-free workplaces law with no loopholes that would protect everybody's right to breathe clean air," states the resolution.


The County Board also wants to see a state law which grants "the right of local governments to strengthen local laws to further protect workers from secondhand smoke exposure."

The resolution notes that scientific evidence establishes secondhand smoke exposure as a serious health threat, that 40 percent of Minnesotans live where smoke-free ordinances are already in place, and that the U.S. surgeon general says "the debate on the dangers of secondhand smoke is over."

With bills making headway in both the House and Senate, with both controlled by the DFL, the resolution states that "the Legislature failing to adopt a strong smoke-free workplaces law this will continue to leave many workers at risk."

Commissioners, on their consent agenda, approved a fourth resolution concerning county parking policy -- establishing a two-hour parking limit for public customers in the lot in front of the County Administration Building, facing Minnesota Avenue Northwest.

It also excludes from parking there any county employee or tenant of county buildings, except authorized county-owned vehicles, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.

Commissioners talked about the need for another resolution to limit parking to one hour at the Beltrami County Lakeside Service Center on Bemidji Avenue, as it has inadvertently become a downtown employee parking lot.

What To Read Next
Get Local