At a regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday at 9 a.m. in the Commissioner's Chambers on the second floor of the Ward County Courthouse, the county commissioners discussed enough topics to fill a nearly three and a half hour session.
"This might be a record," said Commission Chairman Jack Nybakken, laughing, as the commissioners and the assembled crowd exited the room at about 12:30 p.m. County Treasurer and Auditor Devra Smestad disagreed.
"We've had meetings that went on long enough to break for an hour lunch," she said. "And then we came back."
In an ironic twist, the topic made it into the minutes, lengthening the meeting.
The last 10 minutes of the meeting consisted of an impromptu debate between commissioners Alan Walter and John Fjeldahl over an idea inspired by City Council sessions that was introduced by Walter to make future meetings proceed more efficiently.
"Mr. Chairman, I'd like for us to consider a consent agenda," Walter said, introducing the topic. "There are a number of routine items on the agenda that can be grouped together."
Walter was speaking about approving routine items which almost always ends in a unanimous "yes" vote at roll call. The consent agenda would consist of grouping these together, and approving or denying them. If a commissioner, or any member of the public, wants to discuss a particular item that is found on the consent agenda, then that item can be removed and given full discussion treatment. Walter also disagreed with having department heads come to them for approval for routine matters, another waste of time for all involved.
"I think we should have in place a policy that the commission can adopt that the department heads can spend up to so much without needing the approval of the commission," Walter said, addressing the request earlier in the meeting by the courthouse building supervisor to conduct what the commissioners unanimously agreed was a routine maintenance need but went $2,000 over the supervisor's base budget.
"He must have a tight budget," commissioner Shelly Weppler said.
Smestad said that the building supervisor is budgeted at $5,000 for special needs, but that the $7,000 for the maintenance exceeds this so he needed approval.
"Well, I better take the heat on that; I told him he better ask us," said commissioner Jerome Gruenberg, who otherwise seemed to agree that it was an unneeded request.
"This is a little bit different than city council," Fjeldahl said. "We're all department heads here, in reality. We are the bosses. We don't have a manager; if there was a manager then these guys would probably go to them."
Fjeldahl's largest argument against a consent agenda or giving too much leeway to departmental demands, though he agreed the heating system matter could have been handled independently without commission approval, is his concern that to group items up might shut out important details that may have to be sorted.
As to having the public speak up if they want to discuss a particular item on the consent agenda, Fjeldahl was concerned that the public wouldn't know that they have the option.
The general consensus, which wasn't motioned for a vote but vocally agreed to, is that Smestad should, at some point but not necessarily at the next meeting, create both a traditional agenda and an agenda with routine items grouped as a "consent agenda."
The main reason the whole thing was brought up, it seemed, is that not very much was actually decided on throughout the rest of the meeting. It was literally much ado about nothing, for the immediate time being.
-The main agenda item at the meeting was to approve the floodplain resolution that was recommended to the commissioners after nearly unanimous recommendation from the county planning commission at their Thursday meeting. The resolution, renamed an ordinance by the commission, was approved to go forward to a public hearing at a future meeting of the commissioners.
The ordinance, if finally approved at the public hearing, will raise hydraulic water levels for the purposes of new development by a minimum of one foot from their current base level, but a three-foot raise is advised by Dana Larson, Ward County Highway Engineer, and Amber Turnquest, the Planning and Zoning administrator.
- The commissioners unanimously approved Sheriff Steve Kukowski's request for an update to the security computer system at the county jail. The system is supposed to be replaced every seven years, but it is now in its eighth year, with wear and tear showing.
-The 9-1-1 fee, after voters approved raising it during November's general election to a maximum of $1.50, was temporariliy raised to $1.25, which Amanda Schooling, Ward County Emergency Management Director, should be just enough to get by on until it will have to be raised again for the 2014 budget.
- Commissioners accepted the resignation of a social worker.
- The next commission meeting naturally falls on New Year's Day, a holiday, so the meeting was rescheduled to the following Tuesday, Jan. 8, at 9 a.m. in the County Commissioner's Chambers on the second floor of the Ward County Courthouse.