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Crow Wing County Board District 4: Scheffler says County Board needs fresh eyes, more transparency

Protecting people's constitutional rights and fighting for the public interest would guide Troy Scheffler if he were to serve as a county commissioner, he says.

Troy Scheffler sitting at a table
Crow Wing County Board candidate Troy Scheffler discusses his plans Oct. 6, 2022, should he be elected as the District 4 county commissioner.
Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Unorthodox, a breath of fresh air, a provocateur — these are all ways people might describe Crow Wing County commissioner candidate Troy Scheffler, according to the man himself.

While tactics like addressing the County Board in various costumes or filing frequent civil lawsuits to spur changes to policies or practices might seem unusual to some, Scheffler said they are effective means to ends he cares deeply about: protecting people’s constitutional rights and fighting for the public interest.

“I respect the Constitution, and I feel other people should respect the Constitution, too,” Scheffler said during an Oct. 6 interview at the Brainerd Dispatch. “And more so, just like any muscle, if you don’t work it out, you kind of lose it. So in a situation, I’m not going to sacrifice my constitutional rights, because if you start doing that, you lose them.”

These principles guide him as he campaigns for public office and would be the driving force behind the self-described populist candidate’s approach to serving as a county commissioner, he said, should he successfully unseat Commissioner Rosemary Franzen, the four-term District 4 incumbent he’s challenging.

“I’m certainly not going to let anyone walk all over me. As a commissioner, I certainly am not going to let other people get walked over that shouldn’t be getting walked over,” Scheffler said. “It’s really a simple, simple equation.”

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Scheffler said he moved to Crow Wing County from Coon Rapids after he fell in love with the area five years ago. He and his German shepherd Madigan live on a lake near Merrifield.

In 2020, Scheffler began expressing his opinions at local government meetings, including those of the Nisswa City Council and the County Board. He said county commissioners didn’t seem to want to hear him when he described the lack of responses to a data request by the sheriff’s office and other concerns, despite paying lip service to listening to the people. He began making more data requests about various subjects and said he felt like county officials were evasive and the data he received raised more questions than answers.

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This perceived lack of transparency is a major sticking point for Scheffler, and something he said he would address immediately if elected to the board. He said a decision made in emails earlier this year by commissioners — including Franzen — to move the budget and personnel committee meetings back to the county administrator’s conference room and to cease live streaming or recording them was highly problematic. The meetings were conducted in this fashion before the pandemic, although they were moved to the County Boardroom and streamed when county facilities were closed.

He said he would seek to reverse this decision upon taking office or would record and post the meetings himself if necessary. He said it’s important for constituents to hear the decision-making process behind items passed on the consent agenda with little to no discussion at regular board meetings. He’d also seek to stagger meetings between morning and night, so more residents could attend.

His opponent and her approach to being a commissioner, Scheffler said, exemplifies the opaqueness Crow Wing County’s residents don’t deserve. Franzen is dishonest in how she portrays actions she considers accomplishments, he said, such as touting the average tax increase over her 16-year tenure when the last four years resulted in much larger hikes. He also pointed to the county’s elimination of its debt obligations. Franzen cites this as a positive move, but fails to acknowledge none of that money was used for tax relief, he said.

Scheffler recently filed a civil lawsuit against Franzen accusing her of defamation, and he also filed a complaint alleging Franzen committed election law violations. An administrative law judge found probable cause existed Oct. 21 for two of the four original claims.

“If people on the board lived more on principles than politics and always being worried about maybe losing one vote, or doing the right thing and they were actually motivated by doing the right thing — and granted, my right things probably not gonna be the same as your right thing — but that’s all about being genuine,” Scheffler said. “That’s my whole point is that I don’t see many people on that board being genuine in how they’re conducting themselves.”

Scheffler said his concerns about law enforcement issues led him to become good friends with about half of the police chiefs in the county, who expressed a lack of collaboration between the sheriff’s office and local departments. He said he received encouragement to run for the County Board position.

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If elected to the board, Scheffler said he intends to figure out what’s going on in the sheriff’s office, which he said needs new ideas to repair neglected priorities like morale among employees. While county commissioners don’t directly oversee the office, Scheffler said control over the budget allows the board to change the focus of resources. He said commissioners should also consider going on ride-alongs with deputies or taking the time to establish relationships and pay better attention to the needs of staff.

Disengagement on the part of commissioners in general is a concern, Scheffler said. He said his own door-knocking experience provided insight into the true needs of county residents, many of whom expressed similar feelings of being unheard. Crow Wing County developed too quickly over the past 15 years, he said, and led to disingenuous justifications for increasing the property tax levy and pricing retirees out of their long-desired lake homes.

“A lot of people see what’s going on, but even more, people feel what’s going on. They feel something’s not right. They see the taxes going up. They’re wondering why. They’re seeing changes that they’re not liking,” Scheffler said. “And it doesn’t seem like the board really gives a damn.

“ … Running for a position like this, and when you’re actually trying to figure out all the problems and listen to people, and there’s a plethora of problems — it’s very humbling, very humbling. The different amounts of struggles that are going on out there and how do we, you know, build an artery that everyone can kind of get fed off of, is a difficult process.”

When it comes to the budget, Scheffler said the biggest issue is whether the county is efficiently using all the money it collects from taxpayers and through grants. He said some resources might be better spent in more effective programs, particularly in the social services arena. This is why fresh eyes — free of pet projects and the influence of special interests — to shake things up would be a good thing, Scheffler said.

“There’s just certain things that you just need to fund and there are certain things that just aren't working that you don't need to fund. And either you cut the funding or you find a different source or a different way to allocate the funding to something that does work,” he said. “Sometimes people get really complacent. A lot of politicians get really complacent, rather than being forward-thinking or just really getting off their butts and changing it before it becomes a huge problem.”

Scheffler said commissioners aren’t paying attention to the financial impact some social services grants may ultimately have on the county budget, while at the same time, people with mental health challenges or addiction issues are still falling through the cracks. He lost his own mother to a prescription drug addiction, which is why the substance abuse crisis is near and dear to him, he said.

“I take a pragmatic approach rather than just a regular sympathetic approach to it, because if we’re just gonna express sympathy for everything, it usually doesn’t work out unless you see results,” Scheffler said. “ … I don’t think they (commissioners) really realize how dire the situation is. And the compounding consequences that, as a community, we end up having to deal with after the fact.”

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Scheffler said he’s excited to dig into the many issues he believes need work and to continue effecting positive changes for the community.

“There’s so many things that the commissioners should be doing that don't cost money, and they should feel obligated to, even without a salary,” he said.

CHELSEY PERKINS, community editor, may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey .

Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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