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Crow Wing County Board expands per diem description

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news Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

Crow Wing County commissioners vote to add a paragraph to its per diem regulations to include any duly noted public meeting.

Commissioner Paul Thiede suggested adding the paragraph so commissioners could attend any duly noted public meeting and have it qualify for a per diem payment without requiring a formal report before the county board.

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At Tuesday’s board meeting, Administrator Tim Houle said he had not yet heard back from an inquiry sent to the state auditor’s office.

Thiede said he sees it as redundant and noted more than one commissioner may attend a meeting but if only one provides a report the other’s attendance may be omitted in the board minutes.

“That creates confusion,” Thiede said. “I think this would resolve that. ... I think we ought to pass a resolution with that in there. I’m kind of partial to my wording, what’s the harm in my making that amendment to your resolution?”

Houle said it may create an impression in the county formal records that something is allowed when it may not be depending on what the state auditor reports.

Thiede said he agreed with Houle but stated his addition clearly defines the problems the board has experienced. Thiede said public comments since the per diem rate was set have been borderline untrue.

“I think the public perception, again, is that (with) this issue we somehow or another did something wrong and I only think the thing we are guilty of is not satisfying the requirements of the state auditor’s office. There has never been any accusation.”

Thiede said he was told by another individual a third party was accusing him of taking more than one per diem.

“Which is not true and never has been true but again how do you defend yourself on that accusation given some of the things we see that appear without attribution publicly and so that’s why I’m offering this.”

If a commissioner attends a public meeting and inadvertently doesn’t give a report at the board meeting, Thiede said he didn’t think that was worthy of an accusation of a crime.

“I’m hoping the board will support me,” Thiede said. The full board voted in favor.

Commissioners receive a base salary of $28,051 and may claim a $50 per diem, or pay, for meeting attendance, along with travel expenses.

In 2010, the state auditor issued a report after receiving complaints about the county’s per diem payments and suggested the county reconsider its per diem policy for board members. Previously, each commissioner was appointed as a committee of one in their own district for county business. As committees of one, commissioners could respond to governments, cities or townships, that requested their presence at a meeting, for example, as a board member.

The state auditor’s office suggested the county no longer designate individual board members as standing committees of one and provide more clear documentation including board approval of meeting attendance and confirm a report was received on the meeting.

In other business, the board:

Voted 3-2 to set its Committee of the Whole meeting dates on the third Tuesday of the month with commissioners Paul Koering and Rachel Reabe Nystrom opposed. Commissioner Doug Houge, who does not typically attend the committee meetings, was the deciding vote. Houge said he actually preferred to have the committee meeting early before the regular board session but knew he didn’t have support for it.

Approved Thiede moving to serve as the board’s representative with the Kitchigami Regional Library Board with Nystrom serving as alternate. Nystrom, who previously served as the library board’s main representative, said this year will include talks with the Pequot Lakes and Crosslake libraries that are in Thiede’s district. Nystrom will continue as a library board alternate and will take Thiede’s spot on the transportation committee.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz.

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