County Commissioners wrestle with Mud Fest variance request

By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
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After lengthy discussion, the Morrison County Commissioners tabled the variance request made by Ron and Ralph Rinkel for Mud Fest 2012. The discussion included comments by several bystanders who did not wait to be recognized by the chair and did not identify themselves.

Mud Fest, which began in 1996 and is held over Memorial Day weekend, is an annual fundraiser for the Hillman American Legion. The license application states that all proceeds will go to the Legion.

The variance request is for security, which Rinkel has hired out to Security Specialists Inc. of Stillwater.

The variance has not been approved by the Morrison County Sheriff’s Office, since it does not comply with the requirements as stated in the sheriff’s report issued in June 2011. The report stated that triple the number of officers used in 2011 would be needed to respond to calls from the private security firm on the grounds.

Commissioner Don Meyer said, “We’ve given you guys every fancy thing you’ve asked for and you still can’t cover this event. People are mad.”

“The sheriff’s department cannot cover this event with the limited number of people who are available to work on Memorial Day weekend,” said Morrison County Sheriff Michel Wetzel.

“Way back last June we let you know that this wasn’t going to work again without tripling the number of staff we had on site. We cannot do that over Memorial Day weekend. You have been given a long time to find another way to make it work,” Wetzel said.

Chief Deputy Tom Ploof said, “We have tried other agencies and we just can’t get other people to have enough for rotation.”

Morrison County Attorney Brian Middendorf said, “Under Minnesota law, an off-duty officer from another jurisdiction cannot come into Morrison County and make an arrest. That officer could make a citizen’s arrest — anyone can — but the officer cannot write citations or make an arrest and transport the arrestee.”

Wetzel said, “An off-duty officer has authority to arrest only if deadly force is involved.”

Janell Kroske, representative from Security Specialists, said, “When we’re at WE Fest in Becker County, the local law enforcement has staging areas outside the boundary. We take detained people to the staging areas.”

“The staging area plan still exceeds the number of staff we can provide on a holiday weekend,” said Wetzel.

County Administrator Deb Gruber said, “An effort has been made to add additional staff for that weekend, but that is a busy weekend for those agencies too. We’ve been unable to add more staff.”

Meyer said, according to the 2011 report there were pages of bad stuff listed, but only 12 tickets issued. “Why weren’t more tickets written?” he asked.

“We were not staffed heavily enough to do the DUI enforcement at the level we wanted,” said Wetzel.

“We need to be doing the right thing for Morrison County,” Commissioner Rich Collins said. “If something should happen, Morrison County is the responsible party if we issue a permit.”

“With all the security that we hear is going to be out there, that isn’t going to take the county off the hook if some accident occurs,” said Commissioner Tom Wenzel.

“There are incontrovertible facts here,” said Wetzel. “Unless the attendance numbers are dramatically reduced, this is still a large gathering, and it is still on Memorial Day weekend, and we cannot just come up with extra bodies to work it.”

Wetzel said, “This is not an indictment against the security company; I get good feedback from deputies about their work. And the law no longer allows for temporary deputies.”

“The comparison with WE Fest is not valid since that event is gated with a very well-controlled boundary,” he said. “And there are no ATVs and mud trucks driving throughout the area.”

“We know it brings in a lot of money and is a good thing for the Legion,” said Wetzel. “But I don’t know how to compromise on not having enough staff.”

“It’s a tough decision,” said Gruber, “to weigh the health, safety and security of the entire county during a holiday weekend versus the popularity and positive impact of a specific community event.”

Morrison County Commissioners Briefs

Other business that came before the Morrison County Commissioners Tuesday included:

• Learning that Health and Human Services commended the staff of Morrison County Social Services for perfect performance providing Department of Human Services quarterly reports for calendar year 2011;

• Hearing that Social Services is part of the planning process for a new detoxification facility with Aitkin, Crow Wing, Mille Lacs and Pine Counties, the Mille Lacs Band and law enforcement agencies. Currently, most clients are being transported to St. Cloud;

• Approving a new tobacco license for the Deer Haven Store;

• Authorizing the annual natural resources block grant agreement with the Board of Water and Soil Resources;

• Approving the appointment of Susan Doran to fill the District 5 Public Health Advisory Committee vacancy;

• Amending the 2012 Planning and Zoning fee schedule, raising the fee for new 911 address services from $80 to $110, to cover the entire cost, effective immediately;

• Approving request for two bingo events by Scandia Valley First Response Team;

• Giving approval for the bid from RJ Mechanical for $47,450 to replace the air conditioning unit for the first floor of the county administration building;

• Receiving a report from Cheryal Hills, executive director of Region 5 Development Commission honoring Deb Gruber for her mentorship of the other administrators in the region and expressing gratitude to the Initiative Foundation for their investment in the Morrison County area by providing grants;

• Passing a resolution to consolidate two revolving loan fund pools. Rich Collins said, “Region 5 needs to be commended for the terrific turnaround they have made since Cheryal came on board;”

• Approving a speed zone engineering study for County Road 231 between Blanchard Dam and Highway 10; and

• Authorizing final payment to JAAK Inc. for road sign upgrade installation.

The Commissioners will meet in special session Tuesday, at 9 a.m. in the county board room to address the variance request made by Ron and Ralph Rinkel.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Morrison County Commissioners will be Tuesday, March 27 at 9 a.m. in the county board room. Following regular business, the meeting will recess until 1 p.m., giving time for construction bids to be reviewed and awarded.