By Randy Neumann, Todd County Commissioner

It was a full house, standing room only and out the door, at the Sauk River Watershed District meeting on Oct. 15. It was there the managers told the crowd they would have their next meeting in Osakis at the Community Center. Again, it was a full house.

I was thankful that Commissioner Rod Erickson from Todd County attended. I can also say that four out of the five Douglas County Commissioners were in attendance, along with Rep. Mary Franson, who stood up and voiced her concerns.

Yes, the Managers of the Sauk River Watershed have woken up the taxpayers of the watershed with the spending of $4 million in 2018 to 2019 of their hard earned money, and then sending them the unexpected bill in the mail. I have not seen a group of people against a government agency grow this fast since the early 2000s when the state was going to use eminent domain to take land for a state park in Todd County. The Drumlin Hills Coalition grew fast to well over 900 members.

I have received many calls and people stopping me and asking what my thoughts are. Well, back in July of 2014, all the counties within the Sauk River Watershed met at the Melrose City Center. Commissioners present from Douglas County were Bev Bales, Jerry Johnson; from Meeker County was Mike Huberty; from Pope County was Paul Gerde; from Stearns County were Mark Bromenschenkel, DeWayne Mareck, Leigh Lenzmeir, Steve Notch, Jeff Mergen; and from Todd County; were Barb Becker, Randy Neumann, Rod Erickson, David Kircher. The purpose of this meeting was to assess and discuss the general knowledge of the various representative commissioners regarding the purpose of the watershed district, the structure of the watershed district and the expectations for the appointments to the watershed district.

We were asked these questions. What do you believe is the role of the watershed district? What do you see the watershed doing in your county? What is the role of the Sauk River Watershed Board of Managers? How do you determine/decide how to appoint the “best person” to the board? When you appoint, is the appointment about work priorities or your priorities? What are the ramifications for appointing and reappointing a board member that does not understand their role? How should managers be appointed? What are the ramifications of good appointments? What are the ramifications of poor appointments?

We also talked about the board of managers; governance and representation – issues currently; and given what we know, what would you keep, change, let go and/or create to make the Sauk River Watershed District strong, effective, relevant and sustainable?

Others present at this meeting were Sauk River Watershed Administrator Scott Henderson and Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources Jason Weinerman.

Here are a few of the answers in the order they were asked: protect water, water quality, damage control and habitat, financing – taxes, setting policy, Todd County – advertises when an opening occurs and seldom has more than one or two interested individuals, no interviews, select individuals that have no personal agenda, understands their role, how do commissioners know if their appointments are good or poor members, no reporting of results for the money spent, best practices on educational function, have board of manager rep(s) report to the county board monthly, create a better communication system, legal firm.

Takeaways from this meeting: The appointment of managers makes a difference in how the district functions. Each county should review their practices for appointments to determine if changes need to be made. Term limits should be considered. I am forwarding a copy of the six-page report to the Osakis Review. (Watch for a follow-up.)

I think the commissioners should meet again and have a roundtable discussion pertaining to the watershed district and also include our state representatives.

In Todd County news, the commissioners passed the salaries for the non-union and appointed officials at 2.5% effective in January 2020 and a 3% step increase effective in July, and anyone that is at the maximum will get 1.25% effective January 2020. Commissioners salaries were set at 2.5% to $31,941 with supplemental pay for board chair of $1,800 and vice chair $1,200, which I voted against. Other salaries for 2020 – county attorney, a 6.44% increase to $118,151; county recorder, a 6.44% increase to $69,186; county sheriff, a 6.44% increase to $94,180; auditor/treasurer requested a 15% salary increase to $95,915 and a vote was taken that resulted in a 2-2 tie because Commissioner Kircher was not present. Auditor/treasurer Denise Gaida oversees the $32 million budget of Todd County and she is really the chief financial officer of the county. In the past four years, she has headed the Financial Committee, which has saved taxpayers a lot of money. She has also been employed with Todd County for 30-plus years. This increase would have put her about average to the surrounding Counties.

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Osakis Voices is a rotating column written by community leaders who share their thoughts in their field of expertise.