Mille Lacs Messenger
By: Vivian LaMoore
During a closed session of the Mille Lacs County Board regular meeting Tuesday, Nov. 21, the board made the decision to hire Randy Thompson to represent the county in the lawsuit filed by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. The board then agreed to seek outside counsel to represent Mille Lacs County Attorney Joe Walsh and Mille Lacs County Sheriff Brent Lindgren as they are also named separately in the original complaint.
The closed session was placed as an add-on agenda item. That criteria met the rules and guidelines of the Open Meeting Law in that it was a regularly scheduled meeting and a lawsuit has been filed in court which made it eligible as pending litigation.
When the board returned to the regular session in open forum, the board agreed unanimously in favor of going ahead with outside counsel. They then also voted unanimously without any discussion to attend the Governor recommended mediation with the Band and pay their own way. That was an item tabled from the previous board meeting. The mediation was scheduled for Monday, Nov. 27 after the deadline for this issue. See an upcoming issue for information on the outcome of the mediation.
When the regular meeting was adjourned, a Band member from the audience stood and thanked the board for moving ahead with the mediation process. Commissioner Dave Oslin smiled and gave a thumbs up.
Late on Wednesday, Nov. 22, the Mille Lacs County Administrator Pat Oman issued a press release that stated the lawsuit filed by the Band “is without legal merit. Facts alleged in the lawsuit are inaccurate, and Mille Lacs County looks forward to setting the record straight in court.”
In the press release the county alleges underlying this lawsuit is the Band “using law enforcement in Mille Lacs County for political purposes – specifically as a vehicle to reestablish the 1855 Reservation. The Band’s claim that there is no legal basis to dispute the existence of the Reservation will be challenged in Federal Court.”
The county press release also stated the county “stands behind and supports the law enforcement efforts of both the sheriff and the county attorney who have done a remarkable job in very difficult circumstances created by the dispute over the existence of the 1855 Reservation.”
One of the sticking points of the lawsuit is the Band’s claim Tribal police do not have authority to exercise state law within the reservation boundary or on trust lands. According to the press release from the county, “at a bare minimum, Band officers have the authority to stop and detain anyone violating state law on the Band’s trust lands to turn them over to state law enforcement. Mille Lacs County has encouraged the Band to exercise this authority within the bounds of Minnesota law.”
The statement alleges Tribal officers may detain a person for violating the law. It does not give Tribal officers the power to make an arrest.
The county claims the county attorney “has prosecuted many offenders who have been detained and investigated by the Band Police Department, even after the revocation of the cooperative agreement. These cases have included drug cases, obstruction of a peace officer and fleeing from a peace officer.” The county believes those instances indicate the county attorney’s office views Band police officers as peace officers “in appropriate circumstances.”
As of press time, there had not been a court date set.
- There will be a special meeting on Thursday, Nov. 30, at 12:30 p.m. The purpose of the special meeting will be to review preliminary budget and review the Truth in Taxation presentation. “Commissioners will get a chance to see it ahead of time,” Oman said.
- The regular board meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 5, at 9 a.m. has been canceled due to the Truth in Taxation meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. that evening.
- Oman discussed brief information regrading the preliminary budget capital improvement plan wherein the sheriff’s office plans to spend $220,000 every year for the next five years on new cars. For 2018 the plan is to take the $220,000 split at $110,000 each between the sheriff fund budget and capital fund budget. From 2019 going forward, the county plans to take the $220,000 from county levy, sheriff fund and capital fund budgets.
- Oman said the county received a last minute invitation by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to meet with selected county officials. Oman said, “we found it very informative. He seemed like a very honorable man.”
- The Malone Island bridge project in Isle has been “held up” due to encounters with the long-eared bat, according to county engineer Bruce Cochran. The bats live under the bridge.
- Snacks on Mille Lacs was approved for a $5,000 tourism grant in accordance with the Mille Lacs Lake Economic Relief Program.
- Hawthorne Outdoors guide service was a approved for a loan up to $50,000 depending on availability of funds remaining in the Mille Lacs Lake Economic Relief Loan Program.