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Houge elected chairman, board changes meeting hour

The Crow Wing County Board Tuesday elected Doug Houge as board chairman during its first meeting of the new year.

At the board’s annual reorganization meeting, the board also elected Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom as vice chair.

Commissioner Paul Thiede was the board chairman in 2011. The move follows the board’s traditional rotation with commissioners in the vice chair’s seat taking over as chair with the new year.

In one of his first decisions as chairman, Houge proposed making a change in meeting times. Rather than meet as a committee on the third week of the month in addition to the two regular board meetings, Houge suggested starting early and meeting at 8 a.m. before the regular board sessions for the committee discussions. At the committee meetings, the board talks more casually about the issues, hears presentations or has question and answer sessions with staff, but commissioners do not take official action or vote on agenda items.

Both Houge and Commissioner Phil Trusty, who balance their board roles with full-time jobs, said they favored starting earlier. The committee meetings have averaged about three hours. The idea was to split that time by meeting at 8 a.m. before the regular board session, twice a month.

Trusty said he believed in the committee meeting’s value. Commissioner Rosemary Franzen said she didn’t want to give that committee meeting up, saying it is a way for the board to be better informed and do a good job for constituents.

“I usually have my answers before I come to the meeting so that’s why I say very little,” Franzen said.

But Franzen questioned whether one hour before the 9 a.m. regular board start time was enough. She was not in favor of putting the meeting at night, noting that would involve changing staff work hours and potentially adding overtime.

Commissioner Paul Thiede said while the schedule accommodated Trusty and Houge, it was inconvenient for him to meet before 9 a.m. Putting the committee meeting as a session on the board day, circumvented the whole idea of having time for a more casual talk, Thiede said. He noted it could make for a longer board meeting day and said other commissioners wanted to be done at noon. Thiede suggested meeting after the regular board meeting instead of earlier and he said he didn’t believe a time limit would work. Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom said having more commissioners present for the sessions was most valuable, no matter what time they picked. Trusty said they could meet after the regular sessions and when Houge had to leave, he could.

Thiede asked what was different, Houge not attending the committee meetings for the past year or his leaving early. Houge said while he wasn’t present, it didn’t mean he wasn’t looking at the information. Houge said he wanted to give the earlier sessions a try and move the regular board meeting back to 9:30 a.m. at least for a few months.

Thiede said he wouldn’t be there for an 8 a.m. meeting and that’s unfortunate but that is where Houge was leaving him. Thiede said, like Houge and Trusty, he also has an outside life that impinges on the meeting time,

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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