Commissioners’ tempers flare over county road improvement project

What transpired at the May 15 Chisago County Board of Commissioners meeting can’t exactly be described as road rage. There weren’t two angry people in a shouting match after one driver cut off the other along a roadway, but there were two perturbed commissioners whose tempers flared because of a postponed road improvement project.

County Engineer Joe Triplett presented the board with a list of road improvement projects his department is planning to complete over the next couple of years as part of a transportation improvement plan, one of those being a reconditioning of County Road 8 between County Highway 7 and County Road 10 in District 5.

That road is in the wheelhouse of Commissioner Mike Robinson’s district.

Commissioner Rick Greene suggested another road — County Road 16 in District 2 between Highway 95 and County Road 71 — should take precedence over County Road 8 this year because it was “blowing up” due to detour traffic.

County Road 16 had been slated for a bituminous overlay this year as a short-term fix before it could be incorporated into the five-year transportation plan.

Greene made his suggestion into a motion, and the board approved it on a 3-2 vote.

He and commissioners Ben Montzka and George McMahon voted in approval while Robinson and Commissioner Lora Walker cast dissenting votes.

Reached by phone after the meeting, Triplett said the board could address the County Highway 8 project again at its June 9 meeting. At that meeting, the board could determine if the project should be put on the 2014 transportation improvement plan.


Heated exchange 

Prior to the vote, the suggestion by Greene to postpone the County Road 8 project in favor of the County Road 16 project sparked a heated exchange between Montzka and Robinson.

“What I’ve been hearing for the last couple if years is that it’s your goal to make sure there wouldn’t be one road done up in my district,” Robinson said to his colleagues. “Some of the people in the township got calls saying that if they ran against me, the commissioners would make sure that they got roads done to help them out. That’s the kind of stuff that has been going on.”

Robinson then prompted the board to approve the road improvement plan Triplett suggested.

“He comes with a plan, and you people know more than our highway engineer does?” Robinson asked. “If we’re not going to take his recommendations, we could hire some guy off the street or whoever to be a puppet. Joe knows this road is in bad shape, and that’s why it’s on there.”

Montzka took exception to Robinson’s comments, gaveling him several times and repeatedly telling him he was “out of order.” He then summoned Chisago County Sheriff Rick Duncan, who was waiting in the hallway to give a presentation after Triplett finished talking about the transportation improvement plan.

“Under the rules, if necessary, you can be removed from the meeting,” Montzka said to Robinson. “That means we’re going to remove whoever doesn’t stop when (they’re) gaveled. This is a business meeting; we’re not going to talk about personal threats.”

Robinson then tried to talk again, and Montzka repeatedly struck his gavel on the commission dais.

“You’re not recognized,” Motzka said.  “You’re talking, and I’m going to throw you out of the meeting.”

The sheriff did not escort Robinson out of the meeting. However, Montzka did order a 3-minute recess after the exchange between he and Robinson.

When the board reorganized after the brief break, Robinson again voiced his displeasure with the road improvement project being delayed.

“By voting this way, you’re doing an injustice to the people of this county,” he said.

Robinson’s frustration carried over to the end of the meeting.

“I was disappointed with the way the meeting was run,” he said after giving his committee report. “It looked like the decision was cut and dried weeks ago, and it looked crooked to me. That’s the way it looked.”

Robinson then sat out in the audience while the other commissioners gave their committee reports before the meeting adjourned.

“I want the minutes to reflect that Commissioner Robinson sat out in the audience (during committee reports),” Montzka said.

  • Ken

    Although I have not always agreed with everything Commissioner Robinson believes in or speaks about, I think he brings a valid concern to the table. As a resident in Commissioner Robinson’s district, I can see first hand and have experienced the short comings of support of the county board for north end road projects or public safety affairs. The road conditions are bad here too, not just in the Southern end of the county. Public Safety is also a top priority in the North End just as it is in the South end. The opposition from the South end commissioners put up to get a radio tower or tower for paging or weather warning sirens in Nessel Twsp did not come easy and without opposition from at least one of the Southern Commissioners. What makes your life so different or important than the lives of those of us that still live in Chisago County but on the North end. You should travel here some day, we have paved roads, street lights, Sheriff squad cars that patrol our area that still read Chisago County, not North End or South End Chisago County. You should not only be interested in the ideals of the residents you serve but the county as a whole. If it’s a personal issue you have with Commissioner Robinson, don’t hold that against the rest of us residents that still live and work and play here. It disgusts me to read this article as it presents the mindset of the Commissioners that represent the Southern half of the county just feel their half is more important than the Northern half. You guys look and sound like a bunch of kids on a playground that can’t get a long or work together. You were elected to represent the public and not for your own personal gain, maybe you should re-evaluate why you are in office.

  • Bonnie

    Ken has a very valid point. These people are supposed to be professionals who represent the people. This is no place for personal agendas, power plays, or manipulating the system. Grow up.