It was an animated, sometimes heated discussion Friday morning at the Ramsey County Commission’s special meeting as the issues at the Lake Region Law Enforcement Center were discussed at length.

It was an animated, sometimes heated discussion Friday morning at the Ramsey County Commission’s special meeting as the issues at the Lake Region Law Enforcement Center were discussed at length.
There were as many different opinions expressed as there were commissioners and the two who sit on the LEC Board of Directors, Bill Mertens and Mark Olson were two of the most vocal.

Olson expressed his anger that the power to fire employees was returned to the present LEC administrators at the Wednesday LEC board meeting. He expressed his concern for LEC employees who might feel intimidated or find their jobs jeopardized in retaliation for speaking out about problems at the facilities or attempts to find solutions to the conflicts and the many morale problems that exist.

Mertens defended the action and the administrators pleading with the commission to “step back and let the administrators do their jobs.” He said the administrators told him  that the board had robbed them of their primary duties - to hire and fire personnel - and that they refused to be micro-managed.
He informed the commission that the majority of the LEC board stands behind the administrators in their support, “that’s why they rescinded that earlier action to remove the power to hire and fire.”

It was difficult to follow the exchange as the comments grew more and more heated with the commissioners often speaking over one another.

“Go talk to them.”
“You don’t lead by intimidation.”
“I’ve had it with all their lies.”
“If you want to know, go review the personnel files.”
“I’ve tried, no one will give me a straight answer.”
“This warrants a full investigation and maybe even termination.”
“This is the most dysfunctional board I’ve ever been on.”
“Nobody’s going to talk.”
“They’re afraid they’ll lose their jobs.”
“Don’t put words into my mouth.”
“You’re a professional at that.”
“This witch hunt is over.”
The exchange became so heated that at one point Commissioner Myrna Heisler demanded an apology from Mertens for his comments towards her personally.
Mertens never did apologize.

Commissioner Ed Brown spoke most eloquently when he suggested that perhaps the best thing for everyone to do was to step back and let the administrators do their jobs, “sink or swim.” He pointed out that Mertens might need to do the same, explaining the purpose and duties of a board member versus the purpose and duties of an administrator. He used his experience from the school board as an example and implied that board members should not overstep their purview.  “If it comes down to whether the administrators can do their jobs or not, then decisions need to be made,” he explained.

Olson was convinced that time had already come, Mertens disagreed placing the blame for present problems in the facility squarely on the shoulders of the previous administrator, Dick Johnson.
He asked the commission how much money they were willing to contribute to the LEC.

The response was that the commission could only levy 10 mills for the LEC - that it was dictated by law.

“We have the responsibility to provide service to everyone in Ramsey County in a financially responsible way.”

Then the discussion turned to the fiscal problems of the facility and they were off once again.

This time, instead of accusations flying back and forth, it was numbers.

The commission was told that it would cost $648 a day to reopen and maintain the juvenile detention center, “whether there were 16, eight or one juvenile detained, the amount’s the same.”

The issue of overtime was also again the topic of discussion. “If the LEC has 17 employees and those 17 employees are covering shifts 24/7, isn’t there some way to minimize the amount of overtime that’s paid?” one commissioner asked.

“Gravy [overtime] is nice, but a steady diet of it will kill you,” Heisler said, explaining she knew what it was like to work in a 24/7 facility.
But this isn’t sound business practice, Brown said. “It’s a poor way to do business,” Commissioner Scott Diseth chimed in.  

Brown suggested, “Have the administrators put together a plan for how they are going to deal with all of this and have them present it to the commission just like all the other departments do at budget time.”

Auditor Elizabeth Fischer explained that the LEC bill was based on incarcerations.

Everybody’s contribution to the LEC needs to be looked at, those contracts from the facility’s beginnings are obsolete, one commissioner stated.
Ramsey County bears the lions share of the funding for the facility although the LEC serves a total of five counties. Another more fair funding formula needs to be developed.

The issues won’t just go away, Olson said. “They can’t just get swept under the rug, either.”

When confronted with the 40 percent turnover the LEC has seen in the past few months, employees walking out, getting fired, 20 employees have left for various reasons - the facility employs approximately 40 to 50 individuals - Mertens said the administrators want to deal with these problems but they don’t have time because of all the stress they’re under defending their actions all the time and members of their own board calling for their termination. “We’re working on it.”

It is a high stress place to work, probably the most stressful in town, Mertens pointed out.

Twice during the latter part of the conversation Mertens summed it up, “We’ve hitched our wagon to these horses and we’ve got to go forward,” referring to those who are presently acting as administrators for the LEC.