County updating large assembly ordinance

by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer

The Morrison County Board is considering amendments to the County’s large assembly ordinance. This ordinance was used for two events in 2013: Mud Fest in Hillman and Freedom Fest in Pierz and Genola.

The first question brought before the Board at a recent planning session involved the $10,000 bond required by the ordinance.

“Why do we have a bond in the ordinance,” asked Mud Fest organizer and former County Commissioner Ron Rinkel.

“We have bond requirements in several areas to prevent the general taxpayers from having to fund the liability from a specific event,” said County Administrator Deb Gruber.

Another question presented to the Board concerned security requirements listed in the ordinance.

“We crafted the ordinance for a particular reason,” said Sheriff Michel Wetzel. “Part of it is that I have to approve a safety plan. I don’t understand what we’re doing here — unless you’re (the board) uncomfortable making that decision, and it looks like you’re not since you decided not to listen to my opinion this past year.”

“What the Board has to decide is what role you want the sheriff to play in making security decisions for all these (large assembly) events,” said County Attorney Brian Middendorf.

“I don’t understand why you would make changes in the ordinance if you’re willing to issue variances on the ordinance,” Wetzel said. “Picking and plucking pieces out of the ordinance based on the complaints of one event is dangerous business,” said Wetzel.

Speaking on behalf of the Hillman Legion, one of the sponsors of Mud Fest, Lloyd Rinkel suggested the county get rid of the word “sheriff” from the ordinance.

“You five (county commissioners) are the county authority,” he said.

“I am not in the position of saying how to run the legalities of the county for the county attorney or telling the treasurer how to run the county’s checkbook or telling Social Services how to operate their programs,” said County Commissioner Jeff Jelinski. “It not me in authority on security issues — it’s the sheriff.”

Randy Behler of Security Specialists, which provides security for Mud Fest, recommended decreasing the current staff ratio of one per 100 patrons to one per 300 patrons.

Since Freedom Fest is held on a state highway, security recommendations were made by the State Patrol, said Pierz Police Chief Eric Hanneken.

“The state wants us to have one security person for 100 – 150 people,”  he said.

Commissioner Randy Winscher mentioned taking a closer look at how Halfway Jam in Royalton operates.

“People at Halfway Jam are drinking and listening to music,” Jelinski pointed out. “At Mud Fest, some people are drinking but they are operating gigantic machines …”

“… and they allow four-wheelers in there,” Winscher added.

Gruber is researching neighboring counties for similar ordinances.

“I’ll see what other information is out there with public entities who have adopted a large assembly ordinance,” she said.

The discussion will resume at future County Board planning sessions.

For more information, call County Administration at (320) 632-0295 or contact your county commissioners.