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County, sheriff at odds

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County, sheriff at odds
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON -- Nobles County commissioners on Tuesday authorized Sheriff Kent Wilkening to replace a night sergeant position vacated more than a month ago by a retirement, but the move didn't come without considerable discussion and a few attempted political maneuvers by the sheriff.

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In a follow-up to a request tabled at the last board meeting, Wilkening asked Tuesday to stay at the staffing level commissioners approved for this budget year. He also asked to advertise for the position both inside and outside his department.

To emphasize the need for the sergeant, Wilkening handed out copies of Saturday's Daily Globe, in which the top news story was about a bank robbery in Rushmore.

"I ended up calling in three staff -- two from my night shift," he told commissioners. "This is just an example of what it's going to cost in overtime. If you don't allow me to replace this sergeant position ... our overtime is going to go back up -- there's just no two ways about this."

Wilkening then told commissioners if they didn't allow him to replace the position, he would have no choice but to nullify all of the contracts with communities now patrolled by the sheriff's department. Those contracts bring in an additional $43,600 in revenue, he said.

"I can't provide them the service that they deserve and are asking for if I'm one person short," Wilkening said. "The sheriff's office brings in $200,000 to $300,000 in revenue every year.

"The other thing, if you cut this position, I'm going to be asking that you ask every other department head in the county, right now, to bring you the name of somebody that they're going to lay off," he added.

Wilkening also handed out copies of a new business card -- complete with the names, home phone and cell phone numbers, where available, of each of the county commissioners. That way, he said, if someone complains about the lack of law enforcement service, they would know who to call.

Commissioner Diane Thier, upon seeing the card, said, "I don't appreciate this threat like you're making. We already get calls at home all the time. I've had calls on you -- a lot of them in the last few weeks."

Commissioner Gene Foth, who also took offense to Wilkening's plans, said the sheriff should be looking for more ways to increase revenue in the department, rather than say he's going to cancel a contract with small towns for law enforcement services.

In an attempt to set aside personality conflicts and move discussion forward, Commissioner David Benson said the county faces a difficult financial climate.

"I've never seen times like this before, in terms of what this county faces," Benson said. "There is a significant budget shortfall coming up that is going to be very difficult."

Benson said other departments have already felt the ramifications, from three or four lost positions in the public works department, to the loss of a director and a move to a shared position with Pipestone County in human services. He also spoke of cuts to public health.

"There's no way to raise the levy to replace what we're losing," he said. "It's a difficult thing, but we may have to do more with less."

Wilkening said the sheriff's department cannot be compared to other departments because the workload fluctuates with crime.

"County highway is a lot different than public safety," he said. "They don't get more roads to plow each year. Our more keeps getting to be more. We don't maintain the same client base every year -- it just keeps getting bigger and bigger."

Ultimately, commissioners voted to allow Wilkening to post the night sergeant position internally. If a qualified applicant is hired to fill the position, the sheriff's office would be left with one deputy short of its usual 12-deputy department.

"The complication of this is that Kent is going to cancel these contracts with the other towns," Foth said.

"I would hope that we don't make precipitous moves in any department," added Benson.

WORTHINGTON -- Nobles County commissioners on Tuesday authorized Sheriff Kent Wilkening to replace a night sergeant position vacated more than a month ago by a retirement, but the move didn't come without considerable discussion and a few attempted political maneuvers by the sheriff.

In a follow-up to a request tabled at the last board meeting, Wilkening asked Tuesday to stay at the staffing level commissioners approved for this budget year. He also asked to advertise for the position both inside and outside his department.

To emphasize the need for the sergeant, Wilkening handed out copies of Saturday's Daily Globe, in which the top news story was about a bank robbery in Rushmore.

"I ended up calling in three staff -- two from my night shift," he told commissioners. "This is just an example of what it's going to cost in overtime. If you don't allow me to replace this sergeant position ... our overtime is going to go back up -- there's just no two ways about this."

Wilkening then told commissioners if they didn't allow him to replace the position, he would have no choice but to nullify all of the contracts with communities now patrolled by the sheriff's department. Those contracts bring in an additional $43,600 in revenue, he said.

For more on this story, see tomorrow's edition of the Daily Globe or online at www.dglobe.com

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Julie Buntjer
Julie Buntjer joined the Daily Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington and graduate of Worthington High School, then-Worthington Community College and South Dakota State University, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. At the Daily Globe, Julie covers the agricultural beat, as well as Nobles County government, watersheds, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework (cross-stitch and hardanger embroidery), reading, travel, fishing and spending time with family. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at www.farmbleat.areavoices.com.
(507) 376-7330
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