Mar. 11—WILLMAR — In an era of hyper-partisan government at nearly all levels, the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners has approved a resolution reasserting its goal to remain nonpartisan.
Resolution 2021-15, approved unanimously March 2, provides guidelines on what kind of resolutions should be added to the County Board agenda. The goal is to avoid putting the board in a position of acting on issues over which county government has no jurisdiction, such as immigration or gun laws.
"It is guidelines for me, as county administrator, of what kind of things we should be putting on the board agenda," said County Administrator Larry Kleindl. "It gives you, the commissioners, some guidelines for when people ask you to put something on the agenda."
The county has found itself in the midst of political controversy before, such as in December 2019 when it voted to continue allowing refugees to resettle in the county. The vote was due to former President Donald Trump's Executive Order 13888, which required all states and counties to notify the U.S. State Department, in writing, that it will consent to receive refugees from the department's Reception and Placement Program into its jurisdictions.
Commissioner Roger Imdieke said that was an issue the board never should have acted on. He has been frustrated by legislators wanting the County Board to take stands on issues over which it has no power, such as school curriculum and state election certification.
"That is not our place," Imdieke said.
The guidelines say county proclamations or resolutions should not be used to express an opinion on matters of political or ideological controversy or issues generally identified and known as supported or opposed by a specific political party. They also should not express an opinion or position, or support events or organizations, on topics that have no direct, unambiguous and explicit relationships to the county's programs, services, policies or budget.
"Sometimes there is pressure on the counties to be more partisan," said Commissioner Corky Berg.
The resolution treats everyone equally, as it recommends avoiding all partisan issues.
"It doesn't matter what side you are on. This goes both ways. It sets up a nonpartisan group," Kleindl said.
Berg said he believes county government has a special place in the political makeup of the country as it acts on different things than the state or federal level. He said these new guidelines will help the county staff and the board stay focused on providing oversight and policy for the county, as well as educate the public a bit on what the county does and does not cover.
"We don't vote on the same things here. We have a unique level of government," Berg said.
Any resolution or proclamation request will be processed by the county administrator, with input from the board chair and vice chair, and the resolution guidelines will be applied on each request. The process does not stop anyone from meeting with the administrator or a commissioner about their concerns.
The newly approved guidelines also do not impact what a commissioner can do or say as an individual.
"As citizens we have a right to weigh in on these issues as individuals," Imdieke said. "I have weighed in on those things."
Kleindl said the guidelines have been in the works since January and the Association of Minnesota Counties has also been discussing it.
"It seems like a good process," Kleindl said. "I think this is a good plan for Kandiyohi County."