By Taylor Risse
The Bennett County Board of Commissioners set in for another long meeting with a room full of public attendance at the August 7 board meeting. Big issues were discussed with the biggest being the ongoing county/city jail issue. The issue being whether or not the City Police Department should have access to the holding cells for their inmates.
Present to discuss the issue were Sara Frankenstein, City of Martin Attorney; Sarah Harris, Bennett County State’s Attorney, Shirley McCue and Gregg Claussen, City Council members; Gary Rayhill, Mayor of Martin; Sheriff Paul Williams, Police Chief Brandon Petersen, and Roger Tellinguison, Sheriff Williams Attorney via conference call.
Frankenstein brought the board a copy of various grants and funding options for them to look through at a later date.
Sheriff Williams began by presenting the idea of the City using three blocked off cells that the County doesn’t use due to insurance issues. The three cells can be accessed by using an outside door. Some renovation would need to be done to make the cells usable, the door dividing the blocked off cells would need to be made usable and there is currently no working plumbing in those cells.
Frankenstein asked Williams to elaborate on why the cells were blocked off due to insurance.
Williams responded, “There was a blind corner, so we just put a door across there and use it for storage.”
Frankenstein clarified the proposal as the City could use three blocked off cells, accessed from an outside door and separate from the county’s cells. Frankenstein asked, “What’s the reason to not just allow all officers, whether it’s Highway Patrol, DCI, Bennett County Sheriff’s Department or the City PD to have access to all cells?”
Williams answered, “Security purposes, we have items in our areas that are strictly county, not to be shared with anyone. I visited with every Sheriff during the State Sheriff’s Association Conventions and no Sheriff with a jail allows anyone into their cell system or into their areas unless they have a county employee there to watch. And I have never denied the City access to any cells as a long as I have someone there to watch the prisoners.”
Williams informed Frankenstein that there is no full time jail staff right now.
Frankenstein posed the question about cross deputizing so other law enforcement officers have the authority under the county to use the jail.
Williams responded, “They’re still not county employees, they’re not paid by the county.”
Williams’ Attorney, Roger Tellinguison responded, “The supervision of the jail falls on Paul’s shoulders.”
Frankenstein went on to say that she is aware of the county’s financial situation but that she doesn’t see it as a feasible reason to say that since the jail isn’t staffed, no other law enforcement can use the jail. It puts the Martin City Police Department and the general public at risk and in harms way.
Sheriff Williams again stated that if the City could use those three available cells, it could solve a lot of problems.
Frankenstein addressed Williams, “You know the state statute requires the Sheriff to supervise the prisoners in the county jail, so you’re proposing to contract with the city to get around the statute to say we understand the statue but we’re shifting...”
Williams interrupted, “This is not a county jail, the county jail is in Winner. This is a holding facility, short term holding facility, this is not a jail.”
Commissioner Judd Schomp asked, “What if we asked the city to provide staff for jailers?”
The city would have to provide funding so the county could pay them as an employee.
Frankenstein asked if the county had looked into funding for employees or building a jail.
Schomp reported that the county’s grant writer, Stephen Parkes, had looked into and found a grant that could hire a deputy and pay the wages for three years. Williams told the board he had conversed with Parkes and didn’t tell him to not look into but didn’t tell him to look into it.
Commissioner Rolf Kraft expressed that Bennett County is not required to hold the City’s inmates but does it as a “convenience.” Kraft went on to say that, “We met our requirement by having the jail in Winner so there is no requirement for us to take your [City of Martin] prisoners here to hold temporarily. It’s a convenience item.”
Frankenstein answered, “There is no requirement for any city to have a police department. Counties are required to have law enforcement but we’re not. So we’re subsidizing, you could say, the county by providing you law enforcement to enforce your state laws and bring you your prisoners at the tax payers expense.”
Commissioner Rod Kirk said before the county looks into putting more money into the jail, look at maybe the City providing a grant for an employee.
Commissioner Judd Schomp and Kirk both said they would like to see the city take over the jail; staff it, run it, take in the county prisoners and if they can build it up and make money on it, super.
Frankenstein said those are things the county should explore, but right now a band-aid is needed to fix the issue. Frankenstein requested the details of what is wanted for the three holding cells.
Commissioner Kraft requested more information on the county being required to provide a jail and holding for prisoners, wondering if the county has broken the law with not providing what they’re supposed to.
Tellinguison responded, “In my opinion you’ve not broken the law, you have an agreement with Tripp County to use their jail. I believe that satisfies the requirement under the statute. I don’t think you have to accept the position that the county has to have a jail that it staffs. I do think there is an opportunity between the city and the county to combine resources to enter into a joint powers agreement where by the city can provide some funding or some staffing to help staff the jail facility.”
Frankenstein said she agrees with Tellinguison but Bennett County does have a jail. Frankenstein went on to read the statute declaring what a jail is.
Tellinguison responded he has read the statute and can read the statute. “The facility in Bennett County is not safe. It is not suitable for use as a regular jail facility. They in turn have contracted with Tripp County to provide those safe jail facilities. They’ve satisfied their obligation under the statute in my opinion. I would encourage the parties to at least try to sit down and figure out if there’s a temporary solution that could be used that works for both sides and then explore the ideas of grants.”
Frankenstein agreed to call it a “holding facility” for the meeting’s purpose and asked Sheriff Williams if the county uses it for holding while booking their prisoners.
Williams responded that no, the inmates are booked in Winner, it is used for the 24/7 program. If someone blows hot they are held in one of the cells until a transport can be arranged, and then they go to Winner.
Frankenstein asked, “So why can’t the City PD can’t utilize it for the same reason?”
Sheriff Williams answered, “They don’t have a 24/7 program.”
Frankenstein discussed that it benefits everyone to have the inmates detained while officers finish their jobs before transporting.
Commissioner Kirk asked if the city would be willing to furnish an employee.
Frankenstein answered, “When we would use the facility we would have an employee coming with them, so that’s what I don’t understand.” Kirk agreed that if it isn’t a jail and it’s just a holding facility and the city is looking after their prisoner it shouldn’t fall under the Sheriff’s jurisdiction because it isn’t a jail like the statute says. Kirk believes any law enforcement, as long as they’re looking after the prisoner, should be able to use it.
Tellinguison responded, “I think it’s possible to enter into a joint powers agreement between the city and the county to allow for that to occur. I’m not troubled by any concern that you’re somehow going to be liable for something that would happen in the jail provided there is an adequate joint powers agreement entered into that accounts for the staffing.”
Kraft asked Tellinguison if it’s workable to enter into a joint powers agreement and have a city officer use the facility and watch their own prisoners.
Tellinguison said he thought it could be worked out, maybe cross deputizing would be a positive way to go.
Commissioner Schomp asked Judge Bobbi Rank’s opinion on the matter. Judge Rank responded that she does not have a reason to weigh in on the issue.
Mayor Gary Rayhill gave background on things the city has done to deal with no holding facility. Mayor Rayhill thought the three cells was a good idea. To use all the jail cells there is still a man power issue.
State’s Attorney Harris clarified that if the City Police Department brings someone in, some sort of officer will be with the inmate at all times and the inmate will never be left alone.
Kirk asked Sheriff Williams if there was anyone employed as a jailer and there is not.
Commissioner Schomp said he likes the idea of cross deputizing because it takes three county officers and three city officers to a total of six that can work together.
Police Chief Brandon Petersen gave his opinion and statement on how not having a place to put his inmates creates bad situations for the officers and inmates. He stated, “All I’ve ever wanted is something to keep the public, officers and inmates safe.”
Sara Frankenstein and State’s Attorney Harris will work together on drafting a joint powers agreement for both the County and City to look at.
Commissioner Kirk asked Judge Rank about getting a magistrate again so bonds can be set and not as many inmates will need to be transported.
It was discussed that if the 23 hour hold was used to its full extent, not as many transports would be needed because Judge Rank sets bonds every morning via e-mail.
Judge Bobbi Rank met with the board to discuss the county looking into changing the conceal carry policy in the courthouse to employees being allowed to carry. Judge Rank expressed concern about the safety of the other employees and serious concern about anyone carrying on court day, even non-lethal weapons.
One of the concerns is everyone is on the same floor so if an employee was to take a shot at someone, there is the chance they may miss and hit another employee.
Judge Rank brought up the board looking into non-lethal weapons. She expressed her concern on using them on court day, saying she still would not like any weapons on court day because they could be used to facilitate an escape. Judge Rank expressed she didn’t feel any employees would do this but it’s something that could happen.
Commissioner Schomp brought up that wanting to change the policy stemmed from an incident with inmates in the hallways of the courthouse, not behind bars, that made the courthouse feel unsafe.
Judge Rank was under the impression that the metal detector was being used on every court day. It was brought to her attention by State’s Attorney Harris that the last time the metal detector was used was when the Ceplecha’s were sentenced in November. Sheriff Williams said he would use the metal detector if he had the manpower.
Judge Rank told the board that she would like to have a meeting with Sheriff Williams and State’s Attorney Harris to discuss security measurers in the courthouse.
State’s Attorney Harris informed the board that she is looking into cameras for the courthouse but hasn’t received a quote yet.
Judge Rank asked the board to look into other options, maybe non-lethal weapons and allow her to have her meeting before making any decisions. Judge Rank stated she would like to see training for non-lethal weapons if that were to pass.
Paul Schueth, Chief of Police in Winner, addressed the board on behalf of his officers that come to Martin on court days. Chief Schueth expressed that when his officers are in the courthouse they don’t necessarily know who are employees and who are residents, so if they see someone come out with a gun they are unsure if they’re a threat, which leads to problems.
The board agreed to table the issue until Sheriff Williams, Judge Rank and State’s Attorney Harris can have their meeting and more information on non-lethal weapons can be found.
During the highway department portion of the meeting Todd Schmidt informed the board that LaCreek Wildlife Refuge put in for grant money and was granted the funding to work on and gravel the road from 297th Street south to the Trout Ponds road.
Commissioner Kirk asked Schmidt if they had a water pump the county could possibly use for road work. Schmidt said they do and the county could come look at it.
Schmidt also updated the board on their weed spraying, they sprayed 1,500 acres with a helicopter and 1,000 acres with ATV’s and UTV’s.
Schmidt also informed the board that there is a pretty big outbreak of leafy spurge in southeastern Bennett County.
Jay Yohner and Dennis Gregg met with the board regarding the fixing of old highway 18. Yohner requested another load of cold mix to be placed on the road for him to spread out into the holes.
Commissioner Schomp brought up using some of the $2.7 million dollars in the cash account to grind up the old highway, lay some gravel with it and chip seal the top. Highway Superintendent Terry Smokov estimated the price to be $177,000 to grind up the entire length of the old highway.
The local residents at the meeting were reluctant to the idea of grinding the road, saying after it’s been done the roads don’t usually stay good and easy to travel.
Dennis Gregg brought up the fact that if the county furnishes the material and the residents who live along the road lay it down, it’s a cheap way for the county to fix the road.
Yohner asked the county to try it for one year and see what progress they can make and how good it is.
Commissioner Schomp brought up grinding the portion of the road that goes by Dead Man’s Lake and see how well the grinding works and lasts.
A motion was made and approved for Smokov to order two loads of cold mix and coordinate with Yohner on where to drop it. Smokov requested that Yohner try to use some of the gravel out there and see how it works on a few holes.
Smokov also will talk to the residents who live on the east half of the old highway about grinding it up.
Discussion was held with Adam Johnson about the new road going to be built in the south eastern part of Bennett County. A historical walk will need to be done before construction of the road can begin. Smokov informed the board that there was a contractor interested in the job and they were going to look at it Wednesday afternoon.
Johnson told the board, he didn’t buy the sills for the auto gates like discussed at the meeting a few months ago.
A motion was made and approved to let for bids for the building of a new road.
Chase Strand met with the board to discuss work needing done on 290th street. Strand informed the board the road has a big pot hole in it that is full of water and soon he will need to haul hay and silage into his place. Right now, the road is barely passable with a pickup. Strand told the board he is willing to help in anyway he can but he doesn’t have the equipment to work on roads.
It was discussed that there are three main bad spots that will need culverts and the road built up. The culverts will be leveling culverts and not run off culverts.
Smokov told the board he would go look at the road and get ideas for fixing it.
The board approved gravel requests for Bob Ceplecha and Dennis Bakley.
Bob Ceplecha is going to begin putting culverts in south of Tuthill at $120 an hour.
Smokov reported that Leo Maciejweski’s river crossing is filled in and he’s been getting good feedback from disking the shoulders of the roads. The mowers are getting worked on and the tractors from Kennedy’s will be ready on Monday.
Smokov supplied a surplus list that was approved minus a 1970 CAT 120.
The board tabled Highway Superintendent Terry Smokov’s three month review until the next meeting.
Buddy Bolzer with the Bennett County Conservation District asked the board if they would have a tractor at the county shop to lift the disc back up after it settles. Commissioner Kirk told him the disc shouldn’t settle and it probably needs a new seal kit. There won’t be a tractor around at the shed to lift it back up when needed.
A tax deed property of three lots, Original Town blocks 3, 4, and 5 will be auctioned off at a meeting after it’s been advertised for.
Working on the Community Action Building was discussed, as the roof needs fixed before winter. Commissioner Schomp told the board he looked into holding over money like the $2.7 million, and the county is only supposed to hold it for one year then the next year it goes back into the budget as cash. Schomp feels the money should go back into the community and the Community Action building is a good place to use it. There are two bids out for working on the building. A motion was made and approved to accept Drobny Construction’s bid. The highway crew will run a blade behind the building and lay a load of gravel so water doesn’t run into the back of the building and their trucks can get in and out better.
It was approved to appoint James Awuah as a deputy coroner.
The new hire of Donelle Bucholz as a 24/7 clerk at $9.25 an hour was approved effective July 29, 2019.
Putting together a weed board was tabled until winter time for 2020 planning. It was decided to let the public use the county’s spraying equipment.
Resolution #3-2019 Hazard Mitigation Plan was approved.
Commissioner Schomp brought it to the attention of the board that two items discussed in executive session at the last meeting had been made public. It’s unsure who disclosed the information but Schomp told the board, “I’m not going to vote for executive session ever again, because it doesn’t do a bit of good.”
The Commissioners received a letter from the City of Winner stating there will be a price increase beginning January 1, 2020. The price per inmate will go from $55 per day to $60 per day.
A special meeting will be held Tuesday, August 13, at 9 a.m. to discuss the provisional budget. The next regular meeting will be August 21, at 9:30 a.m.