Commentary by Marvin PIRILA
On July 16, 2014, the Floodwood Forum made an information request from Dennis Genereau, Human Resources, of Carlton County. As of this date, no information of any kind has been provided.
Although this list contained items that would require more time, some were simple items to provide. The failure to respond in any measure is a violation of the Data Practices Act.
A data request by Terry Nemmers of Glenwood Minnesota, related to the drunken driving charges against Carlton County Thomas Pertler have gone unanswered since October 23, 2013. Mr. Nemmers followed up on November 13, 2013, and yet almost 12 months later, nothing.
It would appear that Carlton County is purposely withholding information in violation of Minnesota Statutes, section 13.09. More importantly, why are county officials failing to provide information related to the conduct of public officials, finances, and other public operations? Taxpayer monies are supposed to be spent in a transparent manner and subject to scrutiny. When information is withheld, particularly when intentional, there is neither and public awareness should be heightened. Public officials are bound to ethical responsibilities of responding to private citizen concerns. When citizens are ignored they are deprived of their constitutional right to be heard and rightfully represented.
Ultimately, there is no repercussion for their illegal withholding of information. Violating the Data Practices Act is a misdemeanor, but who is enforcing it? Carlton County Commissioners, Human Resources Head, and the County Attorney's Office cannot be counted on to hold their own accountable as history shows. This history includes:
-No action was taken against Thom Pertler for his drunken driving arrest. A letter dated November 12, 2012, by District 2 County Commissioner Marv Bodie included “It was made clear to the County Board that there is very little it can do to legally influence the actions of an elected local official.” However, Minneapolis attorney Scott T. Anderson of Ratwik, Roszak & Maloney, P.A., spelled out options of the board. Mr. Anderson said an attempt to have an elected employee removed from his or her position would require the county to prove malfeasance – willful, wrongful action in either the performance of that person’s duties or in his or her personal character. This incident followed another in which Mr. Pertler had to be driven home from the Fond du Lac Community College after showing up under the influence to teach class to prospective law enforcement students. Malfeasance certainly appeared to be a viable charge.
-Following a complaint, Carlton County took no action against the employees involved in taking county equipment home or going into work late. They punted the investigation to Itasca County, who according to Human Resources Manager Dennis Genereau, concluded no action could be taken because there was no guiding policy. Mr. Genereau had been informed of it a year before it was brought to the attention of the county commissioners and did nothing -- County Attorney Thom Pertler said both he and Sheriff Kelly Lake referred the allegations of employee theft to counterparts in other counties to investigate in order to avoid any perceived conflicts of interest. When presented with the opportunity to look into the finances of the Volunteer Services of Carlton County, the County Attorney’s Office shrugged it off – leaving it to the Attorney General’s Office
Consistent Missteps of the Carlton County Attorney's Office
The arguments of the Carlton County attorney’s office are greatly undermined by the prior actions of county attorney Thom Pertler. The failure of this office to properly safeguard taxpayer monies was shown by the failure of the county attorney to seek a search warrant in the landfill scandal. As the Duluth News Tribune reported on Monday, October 28, 2013, a warrant could have been sought as early as January 2011, to search landfill embezzler Joanne Wappes house. David Michael Smith, charged for burglarizing Ms. Wappes house, informed Judge Robert Macauley and County Attorney Thom Pertler, of “zippered bank bags marked ‘landfill’ on each of them, also containing receipts and cash,” and “bank statements showing in excess of $600,000.” The failure of the county to seek a search warrant likely resulted in the loss of several thousands of dollars over the ensuing 2 ½ years. Even though his office was made aware of the claims by Mr. Smith in January of 2011, attorney Thom Pertler told the Duluth News Tribune in October of 2013 he was not aware of any allegations made by Smith until just recently. Either Mr. Pertler and/or someone in the county attorney’s office dropped the ball – one that cost the taxpayers dearly.
Former Assistant Carlton County Attorney Nichole Carter is on record stating the information they received was obtained illegally, but that wasn’t the interpretation of experts. Considering the amount of money at stake, how does the Carlton County Attorney’s office get it wrong? They could easily have sought the opinion of an expert on the matter but chose not to.
Perhaps on the advice of the County Attorney’s Office, Sheriff Kelly Lake only investigated by reviewing the books at the landfill. If the evidence was in Ms. Wappes home, why wasn’t the investigation extended to include a search there?
The disturbing pattern of mishandled incidents in Carlton County begs for greater transparency and openness, not increased stonewalling.
With the Election next week, take Pertler at his own word and Write-In "Anybody" as a Protest Vote
Pertler's own words after the Fond du Lac incident on 2/27/12, "Anybody who says they don't make mistakes, they're just telling you a bunch of B.S. I think a person, in my opinion, is better off by owning up to your stuff. ... The thing I'd like to try to convey is that in both my professional and personal life, I try to do things right and the bottom line is that if something is up and you know that I'm the person at the helm I'm going to take responsibility, or take credit, if credit is due. I knew what I had to do."
When he was later arrested for a DUI on July 17, 2012, with a blood-alcohol level of 0.234, he received the standard charge and was quickly reinstated at work after a short stint in treatment.
Can we believe Mr. Pertler really believes in owning up to his responsibilities as County Attorney with his empty claims of the past? Carlton County has a problem with accountability and it sits squarely with the County Attorney's Office, Human Resources, and the county commissioners. Rather than deal directly with the hard issues, they squirm their way out by claiming "perceived conflicts of interest," "lack of policy,", and "lack of authority." What's lacking is the courage to responsibly deal with personnel issues and other problems.
With Mr. Pertler now running unopposed, Carlton County is subject to more of the same and the same is no good.