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Cass County Board: Commissioners, tribal council meet

WALKER -- "Other people are asking how we reached an agreement that works," Leech Lake Reservation Chair Carri Jones told the Cass County Board Friday at a meeting of the two governing bodies.

WALKER - "Other people are asking how we reached an agreement that works," Leech Lake Reservation Chair Carri Jones told the Cass County Board Friday at a meeting of the two governing bodies.

The board met at Northern Lights Event Center by Walker with the tribal council for the first time since the two bodies signed a memorandum of understanding a year ago to formalize the cooperation that has been increasing between the Leech Lake and the county.

"It shows everyone in this room cares about people," Tribal Councilor Penny DeVault said.

"The willingness to share money shows the high level of trust between the tribe and county," Board Chair Neal Gaalswyk said after hearing a series of reports from tribal and county department heads.

The formalized cooperation began about 20 years ago with a law enforcement agreement between the Cass County sheriff and tribal police department. It provides for mutual aid and support.

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Sheriff Tom Burch said updates to that agreement will be considered this year. As tribal police training has improved, they have taken on more responsibility for enforcing laws, he said.

Police Chief Ken Washington noted his department has had access to statewide databases for information such as stolen property and notices of runaway children through the sheriff, but this year an upgrade to the tribal information system will enable them to submit their reports on this through the sheriff to that statewide database.

Washington also noted both Cass deputies and tribal officers have received training on how to differentiate between criminal offenses and civil/regulatory offenses, so both can make correct referrals to the right court.

State (county) district courts hear criminal cases. Tribal courts hear civil/regulatory cases.

Cass County sergeants meet monthly to share information with Leech Lake police, Washington said.

Leech Lake Reservation recently received notice the U.S. Department of Justice looks favorably on funding a new judicial center at Cass Lake.

Tribal Judge Paul Day said Leech Lake's plan will be to include an extra courtroom for Ninth Judicial District Court to use in the tribe's new building, so fewer Cass Lake area residents will not have to travel to Cass County courtrooms in Walker for their case hearings.

Bob Sommerville, court administrator for the Ninth District Court Walker office, said the state court is open to working toward scheduling some hearings at Cass Lake whenever the new judicial center is completed.

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Probation Director Jim Schneider noted the success of Wellness Court, an intensive supervision program for DWI felony offenders. Even though the tribal and district court judges who oversee that program have changed since its inception, the program has continued and participants have succeeded in overcoming their alcohol additions.

He also noted the joint tribal-county support for a pending application for a MacArthur Foundation grant to evaluate whether more people who are charged might be released with conditions pending their trials.

Levi Brown, a Leech Lake administrator and environmental director, said dual applications for funding have helped both governments get more state and federal funding for roads and bridges. When one does not qualify to be a fiscal agent for a given grant, the other can, meaning the county and tribe qualify for more grants when they apply together.

Assistant County Engineer Kris Lyytinen said the two governments completed two joint road projects last year and are working toward a few more they hope to complete between now and 2019.

Funding for a new bridge at Federal Dam would be one such project, he said.

In human services, Leech Lake was selected as a pilot reservation a few years ago to implement its own child welfare program. Cass County human services helped train Leech Lake's staff to assume those responsibilities.

Michele Piprude, Cass human services manager, said her staff meets with tribal human services personnel twice a month to share information and plan how to better serve clients. The two staffs email daily, she said.

Leech Lake made available office space in the Leech Lake administrative building at Cass Lake to Cass County, so county human services personnel can meet clients there.

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Wanda Reed, Cass County financial assistance supervisor, reported county employees processed applications for assistance for 497 clients at Cass Lake in 2014. Service users appreciated having the service closer to home, she said.

Cass Veterans Services Officer Jeff Woodford said he has been helping Leech Lake's newer veterans officer until she can get certified in required training in June.

Lenore Barsness, Leech Lake human services director, said she would like to have a county representative on a task for she is forming to address the problem of prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol.

Brown said county officials helped him prepare a Leech Lake application for state Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage money to purchase sensitive habitat land to preserve for the reservation.

Leech Lake and the county have worked together to identify abandoned buildings. The reservation coordinated demolition and removal of those buildings, while the county pays the disposal tipping fees.

The two governments have applied for funds to install a community sewer system in the Stoney Point and Sugar Point residential area along the southeast shore of Leech Lake. They jointly referred a request to dredge Roosevelt Canal on the south shore of Leech Lake to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Brown reported the tribal GIS data mapping system will be completed this summer, so both governments now can share information about zoning permits they issue.

They have better defined different classes of tribal lands, so can better differentiate between those that are taxable and those that are not.

Auditor-Treasurer Sharon Anderson reported the absentee voting site she set up for last November's elections at the tribal administrative building worked well and was well used.

Cass County and Leech Lake Reservation plan to jointly lobby the Minnesota Legislature for the county to receive a larger share of sales taxes the reservation pays to the state.

Currently, counties receive 10 percent of revenue the state collects in sales tax from reservations which have gambling casinos.

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