RED WING — The tribal council of the Prairie Island Indian Community came to the Goodhue County Board meeting on Tuesday looking for answers.
"We're here today to make sure our voice is represented in Goodhue County," said Tribal Council President Shelley Buck.
In a letter dated June 26, the tribal council expressed its concern to the county board that the vacant District 1 seat had not been filled with an interim commissioner.
"(We) ask that you provide us with the justification for refusing to fill the open position," the letter stated.
However, during its Aug. 8 meeting, the county board declined to send a reply to the tribal council, voting 2-2 on whether to respond or not.
"What angers me probably more is as a sovereign nation, you refused to respond to our letter," Buck asked the county board Tuesday. "Why you didn’t respond to our letter and why are you not filling our spot in District 1."
Commissioner Barney Nesseth, who voted against sending a reply to the letter during the Aug. 8 meeting, said he had initially offered to work with County Administrator Scott Arneson on a reply.
However, Arneson said that with two commissioners voting in favor of appointing Scott Safe as the interim commissioner for District 1 and two voting against the appointment, drafting a letter would be impossible without board guidance.
"I don’t know how you want me to say that," Arneson said.
Both Nesseth and Commissioner Jason Majerus said their no votes concerning Safe were tied to upcoming votes on issues such as the county's closed landfill deal, the solid waste hauling ordinance, and the budget and levy.
Nesseth said the solid waste hauling ordinance will cost his constituents an additional $7 million over 20 years than other constituents who live closer to the proposed landfill and waste-to-energy facility in Red Wing.
"That's too important a vote for an appointed official," Nesseth said.
Majerus said none of the four individuals who applied to serve as interim commissioner were acceptable to him.
"While you’re looking out for the residents of your district, the residents of District 1 might have votes that have come up with no representation," Buck said.
Commission Paul Drotos said that Nesseth's argument that his constituents might pay more in trash hauling fees rings hollow.
"Look at the county road system," Drotos said. "Most of the benefits end up outside my district (in Red Wing), and that’s a fact. If I were to look at this as just a benefit to my district, the roads in rural Goodhue County would be crumbling."
The District 1 seat has been empty since April when Commissioner Ron Allen died. Depending on how many people file for the special election, a new commissioner won't be picked by the voters until either November (if no primary is needed) or February, if three or more file.
Buck said that while no progress was made in getting representation for District 1, she was glad to get Nesseth and Majerus on the record for why they won't fill the seat. In the meantime, the tribal council will do what it can to keep the issue alive until a new commissioner represents them.
"I think it’s putting politics before the people," she said. "That’s what it’s all about."