County board meets in Deer River: kids not drinking, dispatch goes digital, local to head Human Services

The Itasca County Board met in Deer River City Hall on Oct. 22. Left to right, Assistant County Attorney Mary Evenhouse; Commissioners Leo Trunt, Terry Snyder, Mark Mandich and Davin Tinquist; County Administrator Trish Klein; Deputy Clerk Amanda Schultz; and DRHS Movement Coordinator Heather Schjenken. (Rusty Eichorn occupied the empty chair.)
The Itasca County Board met in Deer River City Hall on Oct. 22. Left to right, Assistant County Attorney Mary Evenhouse; Commissioners Leo Trunt, Terry Snyder, Mark Mandich and Davin Tinquist; County Administrator Trish Klein; Deputy Clerk Amanda Schultz; and DRHS Movement Coordinator Heather Schjenken. (Rusty Eichorn occupied the empty chair.)

by Barbara Cameron
Several Deer River residents made presentations to the county board last week. It could have been billed as “Deer River Day” on Oct. 22 when the five Itasca County commissioners held their regular meeting in the city hall council chambers. Unfortunately, there had been no notice given at their last meeting that Deer River would be the next venue; indeed, the printed calendar in the board’s packet that day indicated it would be the Courthouse boardroom. Most of the people filling the audience seating were the usual retinue of county staff, rather than ordinary Deer River citizens.

Chair Mark Mandich (Dist. 5) called the crowded room to order with his request to rise for the flag pledge. Minutes approval from the Oct. 8 meeting followed, then changes to the consent agenda. The item concerning approval of an application to repurchase a tax-forfeited parcel was pulled from consent, leaving 19 items to be passed in one motion.

Noteworthy among the consent items was the appointment of Deer River native Eric Villeneuve, pending his background check, to become the new head of Health and Human Services upon Lester Kachinske’s retirement in January. Villeneuve will have a six-month probationary period in the job starting Nov. 1. He has been employed with the county since 2002.

The regular agenda was approved, and Mandich noted the name of Melinda Sorenson-Helle, the county employee hired as an Assessor/Appraiser I due to a voluntary demotion in that department.

Itasca County Sheriff Vic Williams seemed happy to be back on his own turf, addressing the board about the new dispatch console purchase. This was a formal request for authorization to buy an updated digital dispatch system before the end of life on their current analog system is reached in 2014.

This matter has been widely reported during the various ‘Coffees’ with county board and staff members held throughout the commissioner districts this year.

The proposal is to buy four consoles and get the fifth one free. The four would go into the new dispatch center at the airport, and the fifth into the Courthouse as emergency back-up. These consoles were not a surprise to the board; they had already been included in the dispatch project estimate.

Williams explained that purchase now would give the six months’ advance notice that Motorola requires for installation and testing of the equipment, and a purchase agreement signed by Oct. 22 would also get them a $10,000 signing bonus. The total cost would thus come to $347,010.

Williams noted that this price reflects an additional savings of more than $50,000 because the Management Information Systems Department was just given approval to hire a new technician.

The sheriff recommended using money from the E911 account to make the purchase. These are not, directly, taxpayer dollars, but fees based on phone and cell phone usage and used to advance equipment in the 911 center, he explained.

Leo Trunt (Dist. 3) asked about the timeline at the airport dispatch center. Deputy Mark Lallak answered the question. Mechanical design should be completed by Dec. 1, the center finished by early March, and then June or July for the next generation 911 system.

Williams added that Attorney Jack Muhar is working on an addendum to their existing joint powers agreement with the City of Grand Rapids so that even though the county will have sole use of the airport facility, both entities will share capital responsibility for the physical integrity of the building (such major things as the roof, etc.).

Trunt wanted to know what happens to the old consoles. Lallak said they will be shipped to a warehouse, perhaps to go overseas – but not to be used here, because they cannot be serviced any longer. The sheriff said the transition from analog to digital in everything to do with communications was exactly why they were doing this.

There were no other questions, so Terry Snyder (Dist. 2) made the motion to transfer the required amount from the E911 account to make the purchase. The motion was seconded, and the board members unanimously approved.

The main presentation this afternoon was about The Movement, given by Deer River resident Heather Schjenken. Her update on this community drug and alcohol prevention program at the Deer River High School included some still images, so she seated herself at the end of the board table to be able to operate the digital equipment.

Schjenken is the coordinator of this five-year, federally funded million-dollar planning and implementation grant through the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (MN DHS-ADAD). This is the third year of the grant, and The Movement (its local campaign name) is housed right in the high school. Ross Resources partners with the high school on this grant.

Schjenken praised the 42 community members of the S.T.E.P. Coalition (Standing Together Embracing Prevention), including District 1 Commissioner Davin Tinquist, who has been involved since the beginning. Several other county employees, including deputies, are active. Four or five people from Leech Lake are also involved.

Some other key stakeholders are the more than 90 students in the youth group who are directly involved in meetings, trainings and Movement activities. “It shows that our community was really ready to deal with underage drinking,” she said. “Also, the Deer River High School staff is so on board with this.”

Schjenken showed slides of some of the programs that are part of The Movement, and these demonstrated a high degree of commitment on the parts of local citizens who are looking out for their youth.

Marilyn Bowstring, of Ball Club, runs a program for girls called Daughters of Tradition. Its aim is to encourage girls in self-respect through teaching of their traditions. Schjenken pointed out that this is all about sustainability, because this teaching will be on-going, with or without the grant.

The Project Northland curriculum out of Hazelton is for 6th through 9th graders in their physical education and health classes. They target prevention and teach young people that they have a say.

The Movement is a part of many activities. Last year’s junior high dance was a partnership with FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America) with a theme of “I choose . . .” and “We would rather . . .” The T-shirts from this effort can be seen on YouTube in the prevention video the students made. They have also made radio ads and are currently working on a movie theater ad.

They do a lot of surveys to see if the program to delay and reduce drinking is working. The gap between the perception of alcohol use and the reality of its use among kids has turned out to be very telling. Last year, the perception was 80 percent are drinking, but 73 percent of kids said they were not. This year, that was nearly reversed: the perception that kids are drinking was at 61 percent, but 82 percent said they don’t. So the perceived use gap is closing.

Why are perceptions important? “A kid is five times less likely to drink if they perceive that most kids are not,” she said.

The Movement message is printed everywhere (posters, T-shirts, backpacks, cups, balls, etc.) so kids of all ages will come to see that not drinking is their norm. During the Wild Rice Parade this summer, they ran out of the 500 bags they had had printed when they were only a third of the way down the parade route.

This third year of the grant is the parent engagement piece, and this begins with the “Conversation Café” in Deer River, followed by Ball Club next month and other communities in the district after that. Think of them as being like support groups where people learn strategies and techniques from one another.

They have deliberately not called this a “parents” café because in so many families it is grandparents and other relatives who are taking on that responsibility. It also allows other people who are interested in kids to participate.

Schjenken showed several slides from the Gallery of Hope and Concern. These are photos taken and captioned by the students, and they represent factors in Deer River that lead to intervention and factors that lead to increased alcohol use. These images will be transferred onto huge painted canvases so they can be displayed in any number of public settings.

A few examples from the Gallery: a father and son in full pow wow regalia, with caption by Gozy White: “My traditions say no to alcohol, and so will I”; a picture of a beer cooler, with caption by Vanessa Truelove: “Close the lid – we have better things to do”; money crossing the counter to pay for alcohol, with caption: “We wish adults could see the harm it causes when they buy alcohol for underage kids”; Deer River Warriors sports symbols, with caption by Cody Shevich and Parry Foster: “It’s who we are.”

Chair Mandich asked Schjenken if this could go to other school districts in the county. She replied that this is their hope. A similar program had met with success in seven districts five years ago, so they know it can work.

The chair thanked her for an excellent presentation.

Returning to the more mundane board business, Auditor/Treasurer Jeff Walker brought the commissioner warrants of $2,001,957.02, with about $1.2 million being in highway construction, a $40,000 project at Bass Lake and an environmental trust fund project at the Fairgrounds for $185,000.

Rusty Eichorn (Dist. 4) moved the warrants, less the one for his store ($128.24). The motion was seconded and passed unanimously on the roll call vote. A second motion was made by Tinquist, supported by Trunt, for the omitted amount. Four commissioners on that roll call voted yes; Eichorn abstained.

Mandich called the new Health and Human Services director up to say a few words. Eric Villeneuve said he’d been going to lots of meetings lately with Lester [Kachinske] trying to learn as much as he could. He acknowledged the support of his department, and especially the board and the county administrator. “The support to our county comes from the top down,” he said. He promised to do his best and returned to his seat followed by applause.

The chair then asked if there were any commissioner comments, and he held up his pink wrist band marking breast cancer awareness month. There were no other comments, so he adjourned the meeting at 3:42 p.m.

The next meeting of the county board will be at 3 p.m. on Nov. 12 in their regular boardroom.