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Crow Wing County: Family seeks apology over SWCD comments

Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District supervisors and staff met with Bob Albrecht's family Tuesday to discuss a March 21 Brainerd Dispatch story on comments made about their loved one, who died in January. Jennifer Stockinger / Brainerd Dispatch1 / 2
Chuck Albrecht (left) spoke Tuesday at a Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District special meeting to ask for an apology regarding comments made at a March 20 Crow Wing County committee of the whole meeting about his brother, who died in January, while Beth Hippert, JoAnn Weaver and Roger Waytashek listened. Jennifer Stockinger / Brainerd Dispatch2 / 2

The family of the late Bob Albrecht—who served many years on the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District board—asked for a formal apology Tuesday from district supervisors for comments made at a recent Crow Wing County committee of the whole meeting.

The comments, spoken at a March 20 public meeting and reported by the Brainerd Dispatch, were made by SWCD district supervisors and staff, who attended the meeting to express their desire to have a closer relationship with the Crow Wing County Board and for more funding from the county. Commissioners Paul Koering, Rosemary Franzen and Rachel Reabe Nystrom attended the meeting.

However, the comments didn't accurately portray the years of service and dedication Bob Albrecht and Bob Becker gave to the district, family members said.

The comments made at the committee of the whole meeting included:

• SWCD District Manager Melissa Barrick said, " ... I think there was a lot of conflict between the Bobs and the county board, and I think that might have caused some of that (liaison relationship) to go away."

• "They were pretty strong-minded guys who knew what they wanted," SWCD Supervisor JoAnn Weaver said. "We could use lots more money—and even 'some more' money—but first of all, we'd like to have a new and different relationship with the county commissioners."

• "Having worked in the office back in 2008, and Melissa and I having gone to, with Commissioner Franzen, to some of those water taskforce meetings with the Bobs," said Chris Pence, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources conservationist and former manager of Crow Wing County Environmental Services. "It wasn't fun, it was very combative ... and so we didn't continue those because they weren't productive."

Discussion ensues at special meeting

SWCD Board Chair Diane Jacobson called the special meeting Tuesday to order. In attendance from the SWCD were Barrick, Beth Hippert, Sheila Boldt and Tasha Lauer and SWCD supervisors Weaver, Leonard Koering and Roger Waytashek; Bob Albrecht's wife Cindy Albrecht; his sister and brother-in-law Coralie and Vern Cronin; his brother Chuck Albrecht; and his son Matthew Albrecht.

Jacobson said she called the meeting to hear from the family.

"I know you all know how much my Bob and Bob Becker believed in and enjoyed the hard work they put into soil and water," Cindy Albrecht said. "They were compassionate in their love for our area and the need to protect our waters. I find it impossible to believe that I should be here today needing to defend them against the thing they loved, the soil and water board. My heart is breaking. On my behalf of Bob Becker and my Bobby, I'll tell you what I want and what I need.

"I need those who spoke at that meeting to take personal responsibility for their words and not some political apology letter like the one you've given us. A real apology for what you've done to them and their memory.

"I also want the Brainerd Dispatch to take responsibility for the lack of journalistic integrity and printing a story with no value, only hurt. Personal responsibility needs to be given and I'm sure you have all heard Bobby say, 'Do the right thing,' because it's the right thing to do and now it is your turn."

"I was disappointed in that laughter" by SWCD personnel, said Chuck Albrecht of an audio recording of the committee of the whole meeting he listened to Monday at the Dispatch office. " ... With these people passing away so recently and the years they put into it, there was either poor judgment or simply no judgment. It was even embarrassing to hear one of the county commissioners laughing in it and you put them in the situation, too, like it's all funny. It is not funny. We need a really good apology coming out of here. Bob made a motion to appoint (Weaver) to this board and that's the level of respect you gave him.

"They were passionate about what they did, because they took it serious. It's not always fun, but the last thing you do is throw a dead person under the bus. There is no excuse for it, absolutely none.

"... You two (Barrick and Weaver) are responsible for the negativity that was in the article," Chuck Albrecht continued. "They reported it and according to what we heard yesterday by verbatim what you said so there is no argument of what you said. It was just not appropriate. There are other ways to go about it."

"I feel like a lot of your anger is directed at me," Weaver said. "First of all, I feel I need to say I'm sorry you feel the way you do about the people in this room, me in particular. Nothing was done with the intent of hurting anyone. We had been encouraged for quite some time by Bob to talk to the county commissioners about creating a new relationship. ... We went to this meeting feeling we had the support by Bob Albrecht. ... It's what he advocated that we do. From a personal standpoint, I think it's very inappropriate for anyone to think that they can make themselves look better by making somebody else look bad. I'm sorry that this is your interpretation of what you are reading in the paper."

A few family members at the table disagreed and said, "This is everyone's interpretation" of the story, "otherwise, we wouldn't be here."

Weaver said the opening statement of the March 21 meeting was the SWCD has had different relationships over time with the county board, but it is at a new place because two of the longtime supervisors died in the last year. Bob Becker died Dec. 15, 2017, and Bob Albrecht died Jan. 29, 2018.

Family members again disagreed with Weaver's statement, as Chuck Albrecht said he feels it is blaming Bob Albrecht and Bob Becker.

"You're poisoning the well right off the bat," Matthew Albrecht said. He said his father always gathered the facts and had the evidence on an issue before he supported it. He said his father would "hold his ground 100 percent" when he believed in it and that may have come off as combative, but it is the supervisors' job—fighting for what they believe is right.

"I'm not sure we are going to agree on everything here," Weaver said. "I can remember long ago when I first went into politics ... the chief of police would say no matter what it is there are always two sides of the story and there are. As I said in the middle of the meeting if you listen to the tape ... I gave them compliments and they had their own styles, particularly Bob Albrecht. He's the one I observed. I don't know if you could go to any meeting, he had his style and he was there. He was there fighting for what he believed in. Those were not said as negatives. It is what it is and you can't say he was a soft-spoken person because he wasn't."

The family again asked for a formal apology.

"I wish you guys were in the room and I'm not just sticking up (for the supervisors)," Jacobson said of how the March 21 meeting started. "We are a family. We didn't start that. ... I said Bob and Bob are passionate for (soil and water) and I praise God they are in heaven."

Getting on the agenda

Jacobson said Bob Albrecht and Bob Becker advocated for the SWCD to attend the county's committee of the whole meetings for five years, but they were "turned down because we don't get much money from the county."

Crow Wing County Administrator Tim Houle said in a telephone interview that in his 10 years with the county, he cannot recall anytime when the SWCD was denied a spot on the agenda for a Crow Wing County Board or committee of the whole meeting. Houle said the SWCD has been on the agenda several times over the years regarding projects pertaining to both entities, such as a drainage project and the Big Pine Lake rock dam project.

Houle said the county's policy is if a county commissioner wants to add an issue to the agenda, they make a request. Houle said as long as the request has a connection to county business, it is placed on the agenda.

The county funds the SWCD with an in-kind donation of providing the district with free rental space at the county land services building and telephone and information technology services at no charge.

"I loved both Bobs," Barrick said. "They were some of the greatest people to be involved in. They were compassionate, they cared and they went above and beyond. The one thing that sticks out of my mind with them both is they were all about the truth. Especially, Bob Albrecht, he would say, 'You call a spade a spade.' I would be lying if I said today, we have had no conflict with the county. Looking back on it, I probably could have said it in a nicer way that wouldn't have been disgraceful to you guys. But I cannot say there hasn't been any conflict and it's nobody's fault. It's always two-sided. ... I'm sorry that it got portrayed the way it did. I am sorry that you guys are hurt."

In regard to questions to the portrayal of the comments as reported by the Dispatch from the committee of the whole meeting, Dispatch Editor Matt Erickson said: "We stand by our story of what happened at the committee of the whole meeting. We accurately covered and reported on the nature of the topic as presented and what was said at the meeting."

SWCD statement

A statement dropped off at the Brainerd Dispatch by Jacobson and Barrick following Tuesday's meeting stated: "The Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District Board members Bob Albrecht and Bob Becker left a legacy of conservation. Both worked incredibly hard for soil and water locally and statewide.

"For over five years, Bob Albrecht and Bob Becker have been advocating the SWCD to attend the CWC committee of the whole meeting to discuss SWCD funding and liaison from the county board.

"Locally, Bob Becker initiated and supported (a) stormwater project on one of Crow Wing County's premier lake(s), Big Trout. The project will stop pollutants and more than 50 tons of sediment from entering the lake. It was started last fall and will be completed this spring. However, it took years of planning and meetings to determine a cost-effective solution, gain support and find the money to pay for it. Thank you Bob for your leadership and now the lake will be healthier.

"Bob Albrecht was passionate about the environment and worked at the local, regional and state level to advocate for SWCDs and a no-nonsense approach to tackling soil and water policy, education and other important projects. He was a strong supporter of the Serpent Lake Watershed Stormwater Reduction project. The city of Deerwood and the city of Crosby adopted stormwater ordinances and polluted runoff from three major sources around the lake has been stopped. In 2017, Serpent Lake had over 17 feet of clarity (hasn't been this clear since 2012).

"We are sorry that previous article hurt their families and friends."

At the end of the discussion at the SWCD meeting, the board asked the family if there was anything else they could do.

"I don't know what you can do to take it back," Cindy Albrecht replied.

Family statement

Cindy Albrecht said after high school graduation Bob Albrecht decided to follow in his father and grandfather's footsteps and enlisted in the Air Force. He served two tours in Vietnam, earning the rank of sergeant.

"He worked his whole career selling insurance," Cindy Albrecht noted in a written statement. "He raised two sons, a foster daughter, and loved my daughters as his own. I met numerous people throughout the 10 years we have been together who couldn't thank him enough for standing up for them when no one else would, not just giving them lip service, from both his days on planning and zoning and soil and water.

"Bob would stand up for what he believed in even when it didn't make him very popular. His motto always was, 'Do the right thing because it's the right thing to do.'"

Jennifer Kraus

A big part of my day is chasing down tips on a variety of breaking news stories, relating to vehicle crashes, fires, police incidents and court cases. I’m always thankful when people call in tips to alert me on an incident so I can follow up and see if the tip is actually something that occurred or is a rumor. It’s a big scope to keep track of as we not only cover Brainerd and Crow Wing County incidents, but we also cover the surrounding counties and cities. I also gather information on the entertainment scene, so if you are hosting a band or choir concert, an art exhibit, a play or other theater production -- I want to hear about it. If you know of a story on any of these beats, give me a shout! To help support local journalism, click here to sign up to receive a Dispatch digital subscription to our e-edition or to receive the printed paper at your door, or to get both.

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