Charges fly on eve of Human Rights Commission hearing
The chair and secretary of the Crow Wing County Human Rights Commission Sunday said a vote to disband the panel would be in the best interests of all citizens.
Chair Joshua Heintzeman also said he and his wife, Secretary Keri Heintzeman, reported to Brainerd Police last week comments they said were made Sept. 13 by Commissioner Taylor Stevenson that they thought could be threats aimed at Crow Wing County commissioners.
Stevenson said he didn’t recall making any such statement in a discussion that followed county board action on a 3-2 to vote to consider abolishing the Human Rights Commission at Tuesday’s hearing.
Joshua Heintzeman, a Nisswa resident, said Monday that in discussing the hearing Stevenson said on Sept. 13 “I have people that could phone in some death threats.”
Stevenson said that night Heintzeman called him expressing concern about his comments.
“I took him at his word that I might have made an emotional comment,” Stevenson said. “He indicated to me he was much more relieved ... He understood whatever I said I had no intention to pursue action beyond that.”
Brainerd Deputy Chief Mike Bestul said Monday he received information at 4:45 p.m. Thursday regarding threatening comments. He said the incident was under investigation and that when the report is complete it would be forwarded to Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan. Bestul said he could not confirm who the comments were directed at. Ryan, contacted Monday, said he had not received any report on the matter.
Heintzeman said Stevenson was not fuming mad or out of control when he made the comments.
“At the time I was incredulous,” the chair said. “I had been working on the commission for a number of months. I thought I knew him.”
He said he and his wife, Keri, felt it was their responsibility to report what they had discovered upon hearing Stevenson’s comments. Joshua Heintzeman said that when his wife talked with Brainerd Police on Friday the officer referred to Stevenson as Tay, instead of Taylor. Heintzeman said this perceived familiarity indicated to them the matter might not be pursued. The couple decided to air the charges about Stevenson’s comments on a Brainerd call-in radio show on Friday.
The controversy regarding what Stevenson said surfaced just days before the Crow Wing County Board’s scheduled public hearing Tuesday to consider whether the body should be abolished.
Stevenson was an unsuccessful DFL candidate for the Senate District 12 seat in 2010. He was defeated by a candidate Joshua Heintzeman worked for — Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd.
The Heintzemans, in an email sent Sunday to the Crow Wing County Board and copied to many other parties, complained the commission was a “political serpent in the grass” whose membership had consistently leaned to the DFL side.
“The Human Rights Commission,” they wrote in their email to the county board “is essentially a political action committee receiving kickbacks from the state for any cases brought ...”
Heintzeman explained Monday he didn’t contend the kickbacks were illegal. He was referring to his understanding that if a judgment is rendered by the state that discrimination has occurred and a company pays a fine, a portion of that returns back to the Human Rights Commission.
Asked why he waited weeks to contact the police about Stevenson’s comments, Heintzeman said he was concerned for his own safety.
He said he did contact Commissioner Rosemary Franzen about the comments the day they were made and encouraged her to share them with other commissioners.
Stevenson questioned why Heintzeman’s report to police was delayed.
“It seems to me if the shoe was on the other foot, if I was truly convinced, I would not have waited 3 1/2 weeks,” he said. “It does seem to me that’s a bit long to wait.”
Heintzeman was asked if he felt Stevenson meant to harm any of the commissioners.
“That’s a question for the police to ask,” he responded. “That’s very difficult for me. I don’t know him well enough.”
Heintzeman said he and his wife joined the commission in May or June of this year. Both terms end Dec. 31, 2012. Stevenson’s term ends Dec. 31.
The Heintzemans criticized the commission in online comments responding to Sunday’s guest column by former commission member Lindy Grell in the Brainerd Dispatch.
“We have found it to be ineffective, duplicative, and worst of all, a political tool under the guise of human rights,” they wrote in an online comment. In a separate online comment Joshua Heintzeman confirmed that he described the commission as a government organized version of ACORN.
The Heintzemans’ online comments were removed from the Dispatch’s website last weekend because the allegations about Stevenson’s comments were deemed to be serious ones and had not yet been investigated by Dispatch reporters.
Stevenson said he had a casual conversation with Deputy Chief Bestul and told the officer that if he made the comment it was a stupid comment.
Stevenson said he spoke to three board members, Franzen, Paul Thiede and Phil Trusty. Those board members, he said, told him they had received no threats and did not feel threatened.
“I can’t rationally explain why I would make a comment like that,” Stevenson said. “It’s not something I would normally say. I received death threats when I was in high school. I take the notion of death threats very seriously.”
Stevenson said while the police were doing their job, the public nature of the allegations against him were “kind of out of left field” and were political.
“It really seems like this is a distraction from focusing on the merits of the Human Rights Commission,” he said.
MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5860.