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Answer Man: No change in mission at REM house

Dear Answer Man, is it true that Rochester is expecting some new neighbors at the old REM home in the 2200 block of 11th Avenue Southeast? They have recently been sprucing the place up a bit. A new parking and driveway surface was built this past season, and the roof was reshingled within the past few weeks. It's our understanding that the facility will be changing its mission and become a halfway house for individuals of various backgrounds. Rumor has it that as many as 11 Level 3 sex offenders will be moving in at the end of the month.

This property is within very close proximity to an elementary school as well as a middle school. Have the local PTAs or local neighbors been informed by any state, county or city officials so as to adequately follow the spirit of state law?

Tell us, Oh Wise One, what you discover. -- Nosy Neighbor

I've discovered this is just about entirely false.

First, what's REM ? REM Minnesota is based in Edina, has been around since 1967 and provides services for people with disabilities. The regional unit for this area, REM River Bluffs Inc., operates homes and coordinates services for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities, brain injuries and mental health issues in Olmsted, Winona and Wabasha counties. They've worked with the counties for 34 years.


Karina Schmitz, REM River Bluff's regional director, says the organization's Willow Creek property on 11th Avenue Southeast will NOT become a halfway house and NOT be housing Level 3 sex offenders. The property is certified as an intermediate care residence for people with developmental disabilities and it serves up to 12 people who are supported by staff on premises. The improvements to the home are just that, not a change in scale or mission.

A county official also confirmed for me, no change in mission for that facility.

Why sheriffs are elected

A reader took the bait from my admittedly provocative but irresistible item a few days ago on why in the world we still elect county sheriffs in Minnesota. As I reported, most states still do it this way, but that doesn't mean it's the best way to do it.

Again, I understand why sheriffs were elected in the 1860s. It just seems unnecessary, 150 years later.

That drew this response from a reader identified as R.J. Fryer:

"To the Answer Man: You questioned why the county sheriff is elected.

"The Minnesota State Constitution designates the county sheriff as the supreme law enforcement officer in the county. All other peace officers are under his jurisdiction, city police, state highway patrol, state crime bureau etc.


"The reason being is our state constitutional check and balance system to prevent a police state by keeping law enforcement under the control of the public through an elected official, namely the county sheriff."

Well, R.J., I've read and re-read the Minnesota Constitution and the word "sheriff" is nowhere to be found. Also, city cops and the State Patrol would find it surprising that they report to the sheriff. It's not true that all law enforcement officers are under the sheriff's thumb.

I'll add a link to the Minnesota Constitution online, and also to the statute that describes the duties of the county sheriff. Those duties include "charge and custody" of the county jail, which does give him or her a little extra cachet, but again, the sheriff is not the commander-in-chief of law enforcement in Minnesota counties.

The notion that law enforcement is kept in check by having the sheriff elected is obviously the key one. Some people would say that having a group of elected officials -- the county board -- appoint the sheriff accomplishes the same thing and avoids other problems, such as civil wars within a sheriff's office at election time.

Others would say that having the county board in charge opens the door to hiring and firing based on political or personal whims. Maybe so -- you can judge whether that happens in many cities you're aware of.

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