Aitkin Independent Age
By: Vivian LaMoore
Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners voted to table the request from the Governor to enter mediation with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe regarding the law enforcement agreement. The reason was based on a “lack of respect.”
During the Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners regular meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 7, commissioner Dave Oslin referenced an editorial published in the Star Tribune on Monday, Nov. 6, regarding the law enforcement situation in Mille Lacs County. Oslin felt due to the editorial there was a general “lack of respect” toward the county board and “it is getting old,” he said.
The editorial to which he is referring was published Monday, Nov. 6, titled: “A reality check for Mille Lacs County” which states, “the boards actions are out-of-touch in an era of socially-conscious consumers.” ( Link to the editorial in question is http://tinyurl.com/ycro76ed.)
The discussion began with the add-on agenda item requesting the board’s approval to authorize payment of $5,000 to pay for half of mediation. The Governor’s office had arranged mediation with retired Judge Arthur J. Boylan. According to Mille Lacs Band chief executive staff member Emily Johnson, the total cost of the mediation should not exceed $10,000 as she was told by the Governor’s office. The starting price is estimated at $3,000 - $3,500 per side.
An anonymous donor requesting full anonymity and non-disclosure donated $5,000 to cover a partial payment. The Initiative Foundation of Little Falls matched that donation with another $5,000. However, according to county commissioner Pat Oman, the county cannot accept an anonymous donation. “Naturally, you would want to know where the money is coming from,” Oman said.
According to Johnson, the fees would be covered directly through the Governor’s office via the donations. “We were assured by the Governor’s office neither party would ever receive a bill or an invoice.”
Oman stated Minn. Statute 471.895 and the county’s policy on accepting gifts prohibited the acceptance of the donation. Therefore, Oman submitted the request to authorize a $5,000 payment for mediation that, according to the agenda item, was “tentatively set for Monday, Nov. 27.” The same negotiation team would be present at the mediation, according to Oman. The original negotiation team consists of Oslin, Oman, county attorney Joe Walsh, sheriff Brent Lindgren and Randy Thompson as outside council.
By tabling the authorization for payment, the board consequently did not approve participation in the mediation. According to Oman, the board will consider mediation at the next county board meeting scheduled for Nov. 21 at 9 a.m.
Oslin said he is concerned about the Star Tribune editorial “and their mis-information. We are defending the law every day, and it is getting old. The county has spent resources in the past. And just because we don’t have an agreement doesn’t mean we are not following the rule of law.”
Oslin continued, “I recommend we table this for lack of respect the county is getting. We need to get the correct message out there. I think our state officials are misunderstanding.”
Commissioner Phil Peterson asked Oslin how long Oslin intended to wait.
“I don’t know,” Oslin said.
Oslin said he did not recommend any mediation at this point “under this particular climate.”
The board took a roll call vote at that point which resulted in an unanimous decision to table the issue entirely.
All in a word
The agenda item stated the purpose of this second round of mediation was due to the first round ending “when representatives of the Mille Lacs Band chose to no longer participate.”
The Mille Lacs Band took exception to that statement. In a letter from Mille Lacs Band Solicitor General Todd Matha to Randy Thompson, outside council for the county, Matha wrote: “your further assertion that the Band alone ended the mediation by leaving is at odds with what actually happened: Your own statements during mediation and the fact that the county had a prepared statement announcing the mediation had ended.”
On June 9, the county sent a press release noting both parties mutually agreed to conclude the mediation. The press release was sent as a joint statement from Mille Lacs County and Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe concerning the mediation conducted with the Bureau of Mediation Services. That statement read: “After four meetings mediated by the Bureau of Mediation Services, the parties were not able to reach a cooperative law enforcement agreement. The parties have no further negotiations scheduled. This problem solving process has now concluded.”
Prior to concluding mediation, the mediators prepared a document for both parties reflecting the mediators suggestions for changes to the 2008 agreement. The parties were to provide their comments on the document and return it to the mediators without proposing a new document.
The Band followed the directions of the mediators and provided their comments back to the mediators as they requested. The County took a different approach. Instead of providing comments to the mediators suggestions, the county submitted a new proposed agreement that was in almost all respects identical to the proposal it had submitted before the mediation began, according to the Band.
The mediators had informed the Band the county had requested the Band consider agreeing to handle all criminal prosecutions of Band members for certain misdemeanors offenses because handling such cases “was a burden to the county attorney, the sheriff and their staff.” The Band informed the mediators if the county wanted the Band to consider that request, the county should make that request in writing, which they never did.
The Mille Lacs Band also took exception to the agenda item statement, “The first mediation date is ‘tentatively’ set for Monday, Nov. 27.”
According to Johnson, that date was “set in stone.” Johnson confirmed with the Governor’s office both parties had confirmed the date.
A request was made to the county for a copy of the confirmation email/letter. The county has provided no comment as of press time.