County employees air concerns
About 15 county employees, some with decades of experience with county functions, supported Rich Bryant from the Building Maintenance Department as he addressed the Carlton County Board on October 9, 8:30 a.m. at the Transportation Building with all commissioners present. "I have worked for the county for 29 years and am putting my job on the line," Bryant commented.
"The problems started about a year ago and center around the supervisor's son," Bryant continued. "I have been the recipient of allegations that I abuse alcohol, have been verbally abused, and criticized for discipline problems. I don't know what to do. Coming to the board after meeting with County Coordinator Dennis Generreau, the sheriff, and the county attorney has had zero results and so now I am here."
Chairman Ted Pihlman responded, "Usually you go through channels first with these types of issues — the union and then personnel."
"I have," Bryant insisted, "but nothing appears to be happening this last year. Maintenance workers come and go as they please. It comes down to time stealing — sign in and sign out practices do not coincide with the actual hours worked. Criticism of my work performance started when I made an issue of the time stealing." It was also noted that no Building Maintenance Department meeting had been held for 16 years until September 16.
"I am aware of time stealing," Barb Bassa, union steward and longtime Highway Department clerical, reinforced Bryant's comments. "In the past I have investigated on my personal time and documented time stealing. The result was that an employee was transferred to another building."
Genereau, whose duties include personnel director, explained, "There are three investigations going on at this time. It may seem slow to some but addressing these complaints takes time. My training is as an attorney, and I need to find out what is not just the perception but in fact what is the truth. Unfortunately, I had to create a policy to investigate these types of issues so that the county does not get into trouble. Up to this point, no written system was in place and in fact an approved complaint form to make a written complaint did not exist."
"My door is always open for input," Genereau continued. "No system was in place when I started these new responsibilities to address these issues. For that matter, other policies needed for tasks I am assigned do not exist. It takes time to thoughtfully create these procedures and to fairly implement them. This has been a critical component for addressing these allegations since my appointment."
"Time stealing is theft," explained County Attorney Thomas Pertler. "An investigation continues. An Itasca County deputy, an outside source, has come to find the facts and an outside county attorney will give a legal opinion if there are grounds to prosecute. This takes time."
Chairman Pihlman directed, "Let's set up a meeting with concerned employees, Personnel Director Generreau, and the board to discuss the problems and find solutions." No date has been set at press time.
The county board approved a request by Mark and Heather Johnson of 3355 Bent Trout Lake Road in Barnum to receive a conditional use permit for a motorcycle track on their property. The maximum number of participants shall be limited to 100 with the number of participants on the track at any one time shall be 20. The course will be open from April 1 to October 31 each year and shall be reviewed by the county periodically.
A request came from Cloquet business SpecSys, who has just acquired a building next to the new Human Services Building, to get a tax abatement from the county. The city of Cloquet and the Cloquet School District have already given their permission for a tax abatement. It was suggested that the county may be willing to participate by "streaming abated tax dollars from the building to fund adjacent parking lot improvements to benefit county workers nearby in the Community Services Building." The county board refused to consider tax abatement for SpecSys with a vote of 3-2 with Pihlman, Marv Bodie, and Robert Olean voting not to consider and Dick Brenner and Thomas Proulx voting to consider.
The assessor asked the board for direction on the purchase of a replacement car for her office. She had asked for a program car with 30,000 miles and at no more than $15,000 from the only dealership in the county, Cloquet Ford. Several of the board members said that they would rather do business within the county but concern for the cost to the taxpayer was also a consideration. The board went on record to authorize the assessor to shop around from any source in the region to get a car and not spend more than $15,000. Proulx voted no.
In other business, approval was given for Bruce Hasbargen of 414 South Avenue, Carlton, to fill in 4,200 square feet for a building site for his trucking business about 300 feet from Otter Creek Watershed, and the wetland will be replaced. Approval was given for the purchase of gravel from Arne and Judy Isaacson at property located at 2909 Hermanson Road. There is no conflict with the purchase since Court Administrator Isaacson is a state employee. Cromwell Mayor Sam Clark will be the new Economic Development Commissioner replacing Scott Warner. Terry Anderson was reappointed to the Arrowhead Library Board.