Local view: Through their actions, County Board incumbents prove they're not worthy
The We Are Watching Campaign started three years ago after four St. Louis County Board members -- Dennis Fink, Keith Nelson, Mike Forsman and Steve Raukar, all of whom are currently up for voter reconsideration -- were found to have committed sex...
The We Are Watching Campaign started three years ago after four St. Louis County Board members -- Dennis Fink, Keith Nelson, Mike Forsman and Steve Raukar, all of whom are currently up for voter reconsideration -- were found to have committed sexually inappropriate behavior or condoned such by voting not to hold offenders accountable.
A lawsuit against the county has been ruled upon and the ruling is simply that the Family and Medical Leave Act does not apply. The ruling made no judgment regarding the alleged harassment. Defending these commissioners has cost taxpayers more than $82,000 this year. Two women lost their jobs. Professionals who sought to make certain that the concerns of these employees were addressed were themselves belittled by members of the County Board.
The message from the four commissioners was and remains clear: If you try to hold us accountable we will punish you. Had our commissioners acted in a more responsible manner, a great deal of pain and expense could have been avoided.
We Are Watching has documented the actions of board members. Following are some of our concerns:
Commissioners Fink, Forsman and Nelson voted themselves, but not other county employees, a mileage reimbursement raise that exceeded the federal rate by nearly 50 percent. They opposed, and then finally approved, a code of conduct that lacks external accountability. They raised the contentiousness of county operations by hiring former St. Louis County Attorney Alan Mitchell as interim county administrator. They opposed and delayed selling tax-
forfeited land within the Fond du Lac Reservation to the band as required by federal policy. They privatized Chris Jensen Nursing Home, resulting in lower wages and benefits for employees and the sending of profits to the Twin Cities. And they intimidate citizens who appear before the board to share concerns.
Fink, at taxpayer expense, took numerous trips and attended and promoted meetings with groups whose agendas include attacks on American Indian tribes and the environment through the undermining of federal land policy. He was found by an outside investigation to have engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior. He voted to keep a county contract with a friend's business when all other commissioners and administration opposed it. He lobbied, using misinformation and without board consultation, to create the Fish Lake walleye fiasco, which resulted in a Senate ethics reprimand for Sen. Satveer Chaudhary and a veto of the entire bill. He pushed for unorthodox and illegal shoreland zoning densities for a proposed U.S. Steel development on Lake Vermilion and stormed out of a planning meeting before a vote when his position was not supported.
Fink alone took an inflated mileage raise of 72 cents per mile, and he lobbied extensively at both the state and federal levels on issues both personal and partisan and not vetted by the St. Louis County Board.
Forsman belittled the seriousness of sexual harassment, including haranguing the victims and wearing dark glasses to board meetings. He walked out of meetings to avoid casting votes on controversial issues. And he boasted that the public would forget the self-serving and disrespectful behavior of the past by the time it came time for re-
Nelson regularly attacked and bullied the public, county employees and fellow elected officials. He brought national attention and shame to St. Louis County by stating his willingness to support slavery if he thought his constituents would. He sought to deny the public access to public County Board meetings, including seeking a ban on electronic recording. He lobbied with little transparency regarding issues and outcomes. He resigned from the county Planning Commission after planning members refused to adhere to his wishes. And he engaged in hostile and aggressive behavior, mislabeling it as passion.
After more than three years of watching, speaking out and providing documentation of county commissioners' actions, We Are Watching is clear that we as citizens of St. Louis County can do far better than re-electing these incumbents.
We urge the constituents of Districts 1, 4 and 6 to remember what has occurred in the past several years and to go to the polls to support alternative candidates who truly represent the goodness of the citizens.
As Commissioner Fink has stated, and these men have made painfully clear, the only accountability for commissioners is at the voting booth.
Kathy Heltzer and Kevin Skwira-Brown, both of Duluth, wrote this on behalf of the We Are Watching Campaign, on the Web at northernmnnews.com. The group has posted at its site links to documents and film footage to substantiate the information in this commentary.