Should refugees be allowed to live in Douglas County?

Douglas County resident Ken Howell asked Douglas County commissioners at the Tuesday, Jan. 7 county board meeting to discuss the issue. He wants them to vote on the executive order enhancing state and local involvement in refugee resettlements, which was signed months ago by President Donald Trump.

The order says the federal government “should resettle refugees only in those jurisdictions in which both the State and local governments have consented to receive refugees.”

In nearby Otter Tail County, officials have agreed to allow the placement of refugees in their communities, bumping up the number of Minnesota counties willing to take in more people displaced by war, persecution or natural disasters to 17.

On Tuesday, Jan. 7, Beltrami County became the first local government unit in Minnesota to refuse refugee resettlements.

Howell asked the commissioners to open it up for discussion and to make a decision to accept or not accept refugees in this area.

Douglas County Coordinator Heather Schlangen said after attending a training on the issue in December, she learned that the board doesn’t necessarily have to make a decision on it because other counties in the state have already approved accepting refugees.

She said if refugees moved to a county where the refugee resettlement order was approved and then those refugees wanted to move to another county in the state they have every right to do so.

Howell understood that but asked the commissioners to still decide what they wanted to do because it would make a statement of what the county wants. Even though the deadline has passed, Howell told the commissioners they can still make a decision.

The board decided it will be included in the next agenda and it will make a determination then. The next board meeting is set for Tuesday, January 21.

New year, new chairman

Commissioner Keith Englund was voted in as this year’s chairman during Tuesday’s organizational meeting, taking over for Charlie Meyer.

Keith Englund
Keith Englund

Commissioner Jerry Rapp, who represents the Osakis area, was voted in as vice chairman, taking over for Englund.

As Tuesday was the first meeting of the year, the commissioners took action on several items that are always approved on a yearly basis.

The items included:

  • Approving meeting dates and times for the 2020 calendar year. This includes a joint meeting with the City of Alexandria on Monday, Feb. 24, at 5 p.m.

  • Approving more than 70 committee assignments and other boards, task forces, organizations or meetings commissioners serve on or attend.

  • Approving a bid from the Echo Press to serve as the official newspaper of the county for publication of all its required legal notices.

  • Approving 12 financial institutions as depositories and/or investment brokers of funds for Douglas County during the upcoming year.

  • Approving a bid from Shutter’s Tire and Auto for the vehicle maintenance of Douglas County vehicles.

  • Approving paying yearly dues of $720 to the National Association of Counties and $17,460 to the Association of Minnesota Counties.

After the organizational meeting was adjourned, the commissioners went into a special meeting where the following actions were approved:

  • Filling child support officer and office support specialist vacancies and all other subsequent vacancies.

  • Contracts with the Developmental Achievement Center and Thrive.

  • Purchase of a 2020 tandem snowplow truck and truck equipment in the amount of $208,544.75.

  • Purchase of a 2020 motor grader in the amount of $247,730.

  • Leasing nine new vehicles for Douglas County Public Works and disposing of eight older vehicles.

  • Contract for professional mapping services for County Road 8 from County Road 7 to County Road 40.

  • Purchase of office furniture for the new collections area in the amount of $9,599.44.

Schlagen also presented an award at the meeting. The Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust Certificate of Excellence was presented to Douglas County in recognition of an “Outstanding Experience in Workers’ Compensation.”