Driving County Roads

An on line journal sharing my views. The content reflects my background as a rural person employed in agriculture and as a retired elected official of local government.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Nicollet County weed inspector, Tom Kennedy has discovered wild parsnips in the road right of way along county road 15 west of St. Peter. Wild parsnip causes "phyto-photo-dermatitis". This happens when the sap of the plant, from broken stem or leaves touches the skin and is exposed to ultraviolet light. Within 24-48 hours, the affected area will redden and in most cases blister. These blisters can be painful for a couple of days.
In many cases the blisters will lead to brownish pigmentation that can last for years. Unlike Poison Ivy, the reaction caused by contact with this noxious weed is not an allergic reaction. Toxin in the sap is absorved by the skin and energized by ultraviolet light. NO ONE IS EXEMPT.
Identifying characteristics: A flower appears during the second year. The flower resembles garden dill. The stalk stands from 2-5 feet high and holds clusters of yellow flowers and later dozens of flat, oval seeds. Plants need to be sprayed and also cut down. end

Friday, June 26, 2009


Just stay with me on this. At first blush, the reader’s thoughts might be “what planet is she living on?” The quick answer is, I live in Minnesota, a state where on election day last November, a good majority of the voters decided it was a good idea to increase the sales tax we pay by 3/8ths of 1%. This was the constitutional amendment we passed with proceeds going to preserve land, promote clean water, create more trails, and to promote culture and history.

What does this have to do with more government? The amendment put in place the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, which is established to make recommendations to the legislature for funding of the natural resource projects. The other pots of money were to be distributed through already existing state agencies. But, we all know how these things evolve.

Now, the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council needs a director and candidates for the position are being solicited. So there you have it. Because of the passage of this amendment, we are starting to create more government, more layers, and more bureaucracy. The Lessard Council is 12 people, and guess what? They don’t donate their time. Now they have to have a staff person. Soon the other three pots of money will require similar councils, staff people etc.

This could have all been avoided if, we the citizens, would have urged our elected representatives to do their job and fund these important programs through the agencies that are already in place i.e. Board of Water and Soil Resources, Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and others. The people we elected debated these funding issues for years and could never make a decision. So they threw up their hands and said, “let the people decide with a constitutional amendment.” This is poor policy. Constitutionally dedicated funding does not allow for debate or discussion and the ultimate scrutiny that is needed for good stewardship of our tax dollars. The passage of this amendment has sent Minnesota down a slippery slope. Already the idea is being bandied about to put the issue of medicinal marijuana on the ballot in the same manner. This action by our elected leaders is dereliction of duty.

However, the citizens have spoken and in the state where “no new taxes” seems to be the mantra of our leaders, the citizens have decided otherwise. end

Friday, June 19, 2009


It is a sad day in Nicollet County because we are all grieving for our former Environmental Services Director, Tina Rosenstein. We lost her yesterday to ALS. We lost her to this world, but she lives on in our county, state, and our hearts. She left a huge part of herself with everyone she touched. Her understanding, perception, knowledge, mentoring, influence, and outlook on life is not lost, it will live on in everyone who knew her.

Tina was unique. She often talked about being a California Hippie and finding her niche in life dealing with manure, air quality, water protection, and other environmental concerns. When she came to Nicollet County she did not know much about agriculture. One of the examples she shared was that she asked a farmer what a “farrow” was. She learned quickly, Oh –did she learn quickly. She was extremely bright. She taught classes at MSU dealing with planning and zoning and was often called on to share with her peers policies and procedures that were working well for Nicollet County. This is no secret. The policies and procedures worked well because of Tina and her method of training staff to deal with citizens. She was extremely good at dealing with people. One of our county officials made the statement, “Tina has the ability to tell people, ‘to go to (you know where), and they will thank her for it’”. This is not meant to imply that she ever said such a thing. On the contrary, Tina was always mannerly and respectful in dealing with Nicollet County citizens. People loved her for that.

Anna Lee Garlitz, staff person in environment area for AMC said that this love affair when far beyond Nicollet County. “The legislators love her,” she said in 2007. In the 1990’s, Tina served on the committee set up to prepare a Generic Environmental Impact Statement on livestock agriculture for the state legislature. As a result of that exposure, she became a “go to person” in regard to zoning and livestock. Over the years, she was frequently asked to testify at various committees of the legislature and present at economic development and agriculture conferences and meetings. She knew her stuff.

In regard to permits and applications, absolute neutrality by staff is a necessity. The job of the county staff is only to administer the ordinances that have been adopted. They do their best to help the applicants accomplish what they want and stay within those ordinance rules. When I was a new commissioner, Tina explained the importance of neutrality. “Even if the applicant is Adolph Hitler, if the request meets the standards of our ordinance, it must be approved,” she said. She taught me lots of other things too –like the value of Merlot Wine and Dark Chocolate.

She cared about people and was a very giving person. The day my daughter took her first driver’s test and failed – she came back to the courthouse where I was waiting and broke down. Tina happened to pass by and we all talked. Tina shared with my daughter about taking the driver’s test in L.A. and quickly the tears disappeared. That is just the way she was. I am sure she is drying tears and making people feel better now in Heaven. But I wonder if God is making her go outside the buildings so she can roll her own and light up.end


Pawlenty’s job cuts

The presss reported today that the Governor’s aides have indicated the Governor’s spending cuts and deferrals will mean the loss of 3,155 jobs. The onus is now on the protected groups who (in the words of Governor Pawelenty) “won’t be creating new jobs if we raise their taxes.” I am anxious to see these protected groups who are now enjoying “no new taxes” make new investments and expand their businesses and create at least 3,155 new jobs.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Out of Home Placements

These words are unwelcome by parents and by the community. County officials are charged with the duty of protecting children and making decisions regarding their best care. County Commissioners do not like to hear about out of home placements for many reasons. It is soul wrenching to come to the realization that many children and families are hurting so much that some kind of lawful intervention is warranted. Also, the cost of caring for children outside of their own homes is horrendous.

Recently, Nicollet County Social Service personnell updated the county board on these issues. There are many reasons as to why children are not getting the proper care and are required to be placed outside the home. These include: mental health issues, safety concerns, neglect of the child, physical abuse, parental alcohol or drug use, delinquency, abandonment, and others. These placements are not treated lightly. Every effort is made to place the child in a setting where he/she can thrive. Sometimes the setting is with foster parents, other times the setting is in a residential facility.

The update from Social Service staff gave us a snapshot of current out of home placements of children in Nicollet County on a chosen day this spring. The snapshot indicated a total of 31 placed. The 31 children were in the following categories: 10 placed because of mental health issues; seven placed in long term foster care; five placed because of juvenile delinquency issues; five were in the adoption process; and four were in child protective services. County staff must make face to face visits with these children at least once a month, whether they are placed in facilities near by or whether they are placed in facilities hundreds of miles away.

County staff shared that about 75% of these placements are due to chemical dependency issues on the part of the client and/or the parent. The costs for the county for out of home placements from Jan. 1, 2009 through April 30, 2009 was $379,650. This is all county tax levy dollars. end

Sunday, June 07, 2009


In this year's contentious legislative session, our elected state officials assured local units of government (LGU's) that they were aware of our plight in these hard economic times. We were requested to submit suggestions for ways to relieve local expenses stemming from state mandates. The biggest elephant in the room regarding mandates is the Truth In Taxation notices and hearing that are required to be held every year.

The idea behind this 20 plus year old mandate is valid and noble i.e. citizens should have the opportunity to provide input in the budgeting processes of local units of government. The birth of the idea then led to the death of common sense and meaningful process. The law demands that LGU's hold truth in taxation meetings during the first week of December. Since LGU's must set their levies before the end of the year, this time frame leaves little opportunity for meaningful citizen input (if provided) to be included in the budgets. Yes, small changes in the following year's budget can be made; but any idea of doing innovative, outside the box, macro economic changes that might provide significant reforms in budgeting or delivering programs are about as useless as last summer's day lilies.

Being frustrated with this mandate, but also being determined to make this lemon into lemonade, several years ago the Nicollet County Board of Commissioners adopted a process which meets the intent of the law and also reluctantly follows the mandate. (I say reluctantly, because sending the notices and holding the final meeting are costly - over $30,000. When only five or six people come to the meeting, it comes to about $5,000 each - good grief- Minnesota Legislators! What were you thinking?) At that time, we suggested to our legislative representatives that they modify the mandate and follow the process we use every year. WE WANT PUBLIC INPUT and we solicit it by holding open meetings to prepare our budget for the next year. At least five public meetings (this year many more) are held from June to December. We accomplish the same thing that is mandated by the Truth In Taxation law, but it costs the taxpayers NOTHING, ZILCH, NADA. Do we ever get any citizens to come and visit with us about budgets? Rarely. So the result is the same, but our method saves valuable taxpayer dollars.

This year, some changes to the Truth in Taxation law were made in the guise of "mandate relief".This relief includes waiving the requirement of holding a public hearing and noticing same in our official publication. However, the most costly part of the whole deal, the mailing of notices to every parcel owner is still required. These notices will indicate the time and place of the regularly scheduled meeting when the final levy will be set. And, the meeting must be held after 6 pm. How do YOU spell relief? Counties would certainly not spell it like this. end