The Ward County Commissioners selected Jack Nybakken as the new chairman and Jerome Gruenberg as the new vice-chairman at its meeting Tuesday.
Alan Walter, the former Minot Public Works director who rose to local fame during the Souris River Flood last year, and Shelly Weppler, the director of the non-profit St. Joseph's Community Health Foundation of Minot, were both seated as new commissioners. Walter and Weppler replaced Carroll Erickson, who did not seek re-election, and Bruce Christianson, who did not retain his seat in the election.
There was discussion regarding the approval of an updated contract with JLG Architects, the firm designing the updates and renovations to court and jail facilities as well as other buildings planned. Walter wanted to make sure that the addition for 84 more prisoners in the jail was not just a temporary fix but would be enough for the long term so that the commission would not have to revisit the issue.
The largest discussion, though, was how to interpret the wording of the 9-1-1 fee increase measure that county voters passed. Some felt that the wording was awkward and were unsure as to whether the words "be increased to a maximum (not to exceed) $1.50 per month" meant that the fee was to be increased directly to $1.50 or whether it could be increased from what it currently is, $1, to anything up to $1.50. Commissioners John Fjeldahl and Walter asked the most questions on this topic, and even invited State's Attorney Roza Larson to read the measure and offer her opinion. The commissioners concluded they did not have to directly raise it to $1.50 but that they could raise it to something lower for the time being and, if necessary, could raise it slightly higher, though not to exceed the $1.50.
Ward County Sheriff Steve Kukowski said that the data on the fee increase had already been collected and that the costs for the service and the revenue provided by a full $1.50 fee would be basically the same.
While setting future meeting dates, there seemed to be some confusion on what to do about the meeting after next, which, following the first and third Tuesdays of the month scheduling plan, would fall on New Year's Day. County auditor and Treasurer Devra Smestad said that the rules allow for scheduling for the following Wednesday.
Before bringing the problem to a vote, Gruenberg was reminded of his idea to have the meetings take place in the late afternoon instead of morning.
"You may call this a public meeting, but there's no working people here," Gruenberg said. The meetings are held at 9 a.m., when many who may wish to attend would be at work. To hold the meetings after the hours of a regular work day would allow more people to come.
There doesn't seem to be any public outcry or interest in attending, replied Nybakken. Gruenberg conceded the point and motioned to hold the meeting at the regular time but one week later, on the eighth of January. The motion was approved.
The next commissioners' meeting will be held at the County Commissioners' Chambers on the second floor of the Ward County Courthouse at 9 a.m. on Dec. 18.
In other business:
A resolution to reduce the bond interest rate on the YMCA was tabled because no representatives of the YMCA nor lawyers representing the organization had shown up for the meeting.
Ward County Highway Engineer Dana Larson asked for permission to allow employees to donate vacation time to another employee who is suffering medical problems and needs time to recover. The request was approved.
Kukowski requested permission to fund an "Emergency Fund" at the office. The fund is currently, and will continue to be, funded by sales of soft drinks in the office. Since no public money is going toward the fund and nobody is forced to buy a soft drink to pay into the fund then the commission did not see a problem with this.