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Hubbard board rejects changing meeting dates to accommodate employees

The Hubbard County commission's meeting times and the way the board conducts business were dissected Wednesday as board members sent a clear message they won't change the meeting dates or conduct business via e-mail.

For the third time, a move by county coordinator Jack Paul, auditor Pam Heeren and engineer Dave Olsonawski to change the bi-weekly meetings to Tuesdays failed.

Heeren and Olsonawski maintain they periodically have to miss board meetings or training meetings because the two conflict. They said the issue recently was discussed at a department heads meeting, but didn't indicate if other managers were requesting a change.

And the message the board sent back is to stop bringing it to their attention: send your subordinates to board meetings if you can't make it.

But it was an e-mail Olsonawski sent board members last week, urging quick action on a bid for a snowplow, that riled all five board members.

In part, the Jan. 26 e-mail stated: "In order to get this dollar value he has to order the truck on or before January 31, 2010 for us to save over $12,000. I told him to order and save us the money if you disagree with me please get back to me asap and I will let him know your concerns. I told him he's low bid so it should not be an issue, but if he waited until after the board meeting then it would cost extra dollars."

It was that rush to approve the bid that perturbed the board.

"We need to open the bids at board meetings so this isn't pushed on us," board member Cal Johannsen complained. "If these people can't bid knowing when we meet" the bidding process needs further review, he said.

"This is violating the open meeting law," board chair Lyle Robinson chided Olsonawski. "If it requires an action, we're taking action outside of the board meeting."

Olsonawski suggested moving up bid dates.

"What does that accomplish?" Johannsen asked. "Bidders need to know we're not going to make a decision until the meeting."

Olsonawski said he only urged the quick decision to take advantage of the better price.

"It is good business," Robinson agreed. "It isn't just the truck. We can't have 17 different departments doing things by e-mail."

"I think that's a message that needs to go to all department heads," Olsonawski said. "That's the first time I've heard that."

Robinson said any communication addressed to all five board members should be copied to the news media.

"Otherwise don't send it to us," he cautioned. While less than a quorum of board members - two - can sit in closed meetings, any more than that meeting together or discussing county business falls under the state's open meetings and records laws.

After the board meeting, Robinson and Johannsen said they were troubled about conducting business behind closed doors and wanted to immediately squelch any employee's impulse to ask the board to act outside the scope of its meetings - or the law.

County coordinator Jack Paul has been scolded in the past for sending out mass e-mails to all five board members that didn't go to the media as well.

With the latest e-mail, commissioner Greg Larson, the former county attorney, said he did not respond to it or read it, fearing it was a violation of the law. Don Carlson didn't respond to it, he said.

Board members also seemed troubled about the requested change in meeting dates when they thought the issue had been dismissed last month without discussion.

Tuesday meetings might present problems with numerous Monday holidays, Robinson pointed out.

"It would be awfully hard on the newspapers," said Don Carlson. "They would have to hire extra people."

Both the Northwoods Press and Enterprise go to press Tuesdays; staffers spend much of the day laying out both papers.

"The newspapers?" Heeren asked.

She said the board frequently requests auditor's warrants to pay bills quickly, and by the time those warrants are requested Wednesdays, she must carry the business over into the following week because it takes a day or two to get those warrants out, and get vendors paid.

"Why is the tail wagging the dog all the time?" Robinson questioned. "We're just causing a whole lot of unnecessary work. The general public has gotten educated on the fact that the board meets the first and third Wednesdays and that's who we work for, is the public."

The board ultimately approved the $140,192 snow plow truck purchase with two trade-ins and approved the purchases of two pickup trucks, one for $22,292 from Park Rapids Ford and one for $27,695 from Thielen Motors.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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