Ready to get to work: New commissioners, officials take oath of office
BEMIDJI—One political career in county government ended Tuesday night while another is just getting warmed up.
At the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners meeting, a ceremony was held to recognize outgoing officials while also swear in newcomers (and some returners).
On the county board itself, newly elected District 1 Commissioner Craig Gaasvig took the oath of office, officially succeeding longtime official Keith Winger.
Winger, who also served as Beltrami County Sheriff for seven years, announced he wouldn't seek a second term last year. While he's leaving the position, Winger said he still understands the challenges the board will face in the future.
"If I look ahead for the county, my biggest concern is the financial situation," said Winger, referencing the county's fiscal strain because of continually increasing foster care cases. "I've talked to Craig about that and other people. That will have to be the No. 1 priority moving forward."
Winger also said he was happy to be leaving office with a few projects finished, though.
"I was very happy we were able to purchase the transfer station," Winger said,referencing the county's purchase of transfer stations in Blackduck and Bemidji from Waste Management. Additionally, the county purchased equipment and leasing rights for five remote trash sites with compactor units.
"There have been some challenges, but I think it will really save us some money once it gets going. That's one thing I personally worked on," said Winger.
Winger's successor in the office now represents an area including Bemidji Ward 5, the cities of Turtle River and Tenstrike, as well as Summit, Port Hope, Taylor, Birch, Turtle River, Sugar Bush, Moose Lake, Frohn, Ten Lake and unorganized Brook Lake townships.
"It feels great to finally be here and start working," Gaasvig said. "I've been attending all of the meetings since back in June, so I feel like I'm hitting the ground running. There are big shoes to fill there, of course. I'm very appreciative of Keith's support and I feel very lucky to be taking his position."
Also taking the oath of office Tuesday was Richard Anderson, who was re-elected to the District 3 seat in an unopposed race. Anderson was first elected in 2011 to finish the remainder of Jim Heltzer's term.
District 3 includes the cities of Solway and Wilton, along with Alaska, Bemidji, Buzzle, Durand, Grant Valley, Hagali, Jones, Lammers, Liberty, Maple Ridge, Nebish, O'Brien and Roosevelt townships. On the same night Anderson took the oath, his annual term of board chair came to an end.
"It's been a privilege to be chair of the board this past year," Anderson said. "It's been an honor to do it."
During the meeting, District 5 Commissioner Jim Lucachick was elected as board chair, while Gaasvig was selected as vice chair.
Also taking the oath of office during the ceremony was newly elected Beltrami County Sheriff Ernie Beitel, along with County Attorney David Hanson and County Auditor/Treasurer JoDee Treat, who were re-elected to their positions in November.
Before the regular meeting Tuesday, the commissioners held a work session where they discussed policies with District 2 Sen. Paul Utke, R-Park Rapids, by conference call. During the session, County Administrator Kay Mack discussed the support for the Red Lake Nation's foster care initiative, which would make the tribe fully responsible for band member foster care cases and relieve some financial stress.
"A high priority last year and this year is to support Red Lake in their initiative," Mack said. "That would be a really positive thing for Beltrami County."
"The initiative is definitely a step that we need to do," Utke said. "We have to get the conversation going with the tribe so they have buy-in. There are a lot of pieces to this big puzzle and that's one of them."