Short Changed by the County?

By KBJR News 1

October 30, 2012 Updated Oct 30, 2012 at 6:10 AM CDT

Duluth, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) - One of the most highly contested St. Louis county board seats is in the 5th District. 16 year veteran Peg Sweeney is being challenged by Duluth Police Lt. Pete Stauber.

"I have a passion to serve as a county commissioner," said Lt. Stauber.

One of the things that makes this race so interesting is that Lt. Stauber intends to keep his full time job as a cop and the full time job on the county board.

"I can be a full service county commissioner with 100 % commitment," he said.

Peg Sweeney says you can't hold two full time jobs and do them justice. She feels county taxpayers will be shortchanged.

"I don't know that the people are going to appreciate him collecting two government salaries and treating one of those government jobs as a part time job," Sweeney said.

Retired County Commissioner Bill Kron spent 32 years on the board. He agrees with Sweeney.

"To have another job, especially another full time job, I would consider my heart to be divided in-between those two jobs and it would be hard to serve both without short changing one or both, The retied commissioner said.

But Stauber's plan isn't new. Current County Board chair Keith Nelson works three jobs including his position on the board. His day begins with taking care of his farm where he raises cows and crops. He also owns and manages a convenience store and gas station in Eveleth. Despite spending from 25 to 30 hours a week on those endeavors he feels he gives taxpayers in his district more than full time.

"Every commissioner has their own method of accomplishing what they feel is necessary for their constituency," said Nelson. "Myself, I still continue to spend 60-80 hours a week at this job."

And other commissioners moonlight outside the job as well. Mike Forsman worked during his entire 17 years on the county board, as a full time miner. He just retired from Inland Steel this year.

Chris Dahlberg is a full lawyer.

Deputy County Administrator Gary Eckenberg says there are no rules against outside employment and no one on the county staff oversees commissioners.

"The performance of county commissioners is continually and only judged by an every four year election," said Eckenberg.

But retired commissioner Kron says he doesn't think voters have any idea what their commissioners are doing on any given day.

"They're voting in faith that the person is going to be there to represent them as a full time commissioner," said Kron.

St. Louis County commissioners are paid as $55,575 a year, plus medical, dental, life insurance and government retirement benefits. Of 87 counties in Minnesota only six consider their commissioners full time.

There are people with serious concerns about this and they are starting to ask questions.
We'll continue our special investigation Tuesday night at 10.

Barbara Reyelts
breyelts@kbjr.com