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 Highway 8 between County Highway 7 and County Road 30 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.

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