Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Box Battle

Commissioner removes county records from County Attorney’s office, Rohde threatens court intervention
It utterly amazes me — the behavior that’s being displayed.” -Commissioner Mark Crago

Stillwater County Commissioner Maureen Davey removed 22 boxes of county claims connected to the old hospital from Stillwater County Attorney Nancy Rohde’s Office before 8 a.m. Monday — before Rohde had arrived for work.
Following a hostile meeting Monday and a letter from Rohde later that day in which she threatened court intervention if the boxes were not returned, a compromise was reached Tuesday.
But not before allegations of secrecy, conspiracy and inappropriate behavior were lobbed back and forth.

The 22 boxes contain every claim the county has paid since 2012 and were pulled from county storage when Bruce Fain, an attorney for Stillwater County resident Jim Movius, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on Aug. 30. The point of the request is to determine how much money the county has spent on anything related to the possible renovation of the old hospital for use as new county office buildings.
Last week, Rohde determined the most efficient and cost-effective way to accommodate Fain’s FOIA request would be to bring the boxes to her office to conduct a cooperative records examination with Fain. All three commissioners were gone last week at a conference, so Rohde consulted with County Finance Specialist Joe Morse on the matter.
Rohde had the boxes brought to her office, which is located near the Bearstone Café but is considered a county building.
Rohde said conducting the FOIA records examination with Fain at her office was the best way to make sure the county knew exactly what was being looked into. Also, because Rohde was reviewing and cataloging the records digitally, she would be able to help keep the cost down for the county by greatly reducing perhaps hundreds of photocopies that would otherwise need to be made.
Rohde, one staff member and Fain began the records review in her office late last week. When the commissioners returned on Thursday, Rohde said Commissioner Dennis Shupak called her to ask about the boxes. After explaining what and why she had taken the boxes, Shupak scheduled a meeting for this past Monday. The morning of the meeting, Rohde arrived at work to find the boxes missing.
The details of what had been done and why were laid out by both sides in that meeting, which was recorded. That information is as follows below. The meeting can also be listened to at the following (8:54 minutes into the recording) https://soundcloud.com/user-16005881/hr-finance-mtg

The Monday meeting was contentious from the start, with Davey saying she couldn’t remember exactly why Rohde had been called to it. That statement was met with a swift and strong response by Commissioner Mark Crago.
“I find that hard to believe. You guys called and wanted her to come over here because you wanted to know why the boxes went to her office,” said Crago.
“No, no that wasn’t it,” responded Davey.
“Oh hogwash. It is too. I find out this morning at 7:30, you and (Jerry Bokma) are sitting over there and take the boxes, bringing them back over here. You guys are out of control,” said Crago. “It utterly amazes me — the behavior that’s being displayed.”
Davey said she made the decision to bring the boxes back to the courthouse because the “documents should not have left the courthouse because they are courthouse documents,” she said.
Crago sharply rejected that explanation, pointing out that Davey had made that decision on her own and also that Rohde was clearly acting in the scope of her authority.
“They (the documents) were requested by an attorney to be reviewed and our attorney is doing her legal job, making sure that review is being conducted properly,” said Crago.
Davey said that Morse had already contacted the attorney to make arrangements, but Morse corrected her, saying he had only had the records pulled. Rohde explained her actions in depth, saying it was she who had contacted Fain and got the process started.
Rohde determined her office was best suited to physically conduct the review with Fain as it is located away from the courthouse and would not interfere with three offices that are adjacent to where Davey had suggested the review be conducted.
A cooperative records review also enables the county to know exactly what records are taken.

Deputy County Attorney Scott Pederson asked Davey point-blank why she objected to the records being kept at the county attorney’s (CA) office for this purpose.
“What’s the concern with this being out of our office?” asked Pederson, who then repeated the question when Davey did not answer. Davey eventually said her concern was that “any other public” couldn’t get copies of those records or see them.
“Has anyone made a request for any of those documents in the last two weeks? What’s the likelihood of that happening?” asked Pederson.
Davey then said the finance office had expressed concerns about the 2002 records and work that needed to be done on them.
“She needs to work on the already paid invoices that have been sitting in those boxes?” asked Pederson.
Davey said some of them, then added: “It seems like we leave to our commissioner conference and all these secretive things happen.”
“There wasn’t anything secretive about it,” said Rohde.
Crago took it a step farther, saying it was secretive to show up at Rohde’s office before 8 a.m.
Davey then said a conversation should have taken place before any action was taken on the records request from Fain, noting that request was made on Aug. 25. Rohde said she had provided Fain with everything that he had requested from her and that action must be taken quickly on FOIA requests because delays can lead to the county having to pay attorney fees for those who filed the FOIA.
At a Sept. 6 facilities meeting, Davey said “before we spend any of our time we need to understand what gets charged because they get charged for this. And part of this is our time,” according to the recording of that meeting.

Davey asked a question that sparked some tense back-and-forth.
“Why aren’t we talking better and working as a team together?” asked Davey.
Crago said he would like to know the answer to that himself, but turned it around.
“Why are you inhibiting her (Rohde) from doing her job? Let her do her job!” he said emphatically. “Why does she have to explain every facet of her job to you?”
Davey responded that they are all elected officials working for the county, which drew a strong response from Rohde.
“I’m not calling to say ‘Can I take the boxes?’,” said Rohde. “I’m an elected official as well. And I am the lawyer for this county.”
Davey then said she was “afraid to call” Rohde but when pressed for a reason, said it had to do with not getting responses from Rohde in the past.
Pederson brought the focus back to the boxes.
“Why in the world would you take those boxes out of our office this morning? What threat was there to the county by having those at our office?” asked Pederson.
“Because I guess I didn’t know what they were doing there,” said Davey.
Rohde countered that assertion, saying that Commissioner Shupak had called her the previous Thursday when he saw the boxes were no longer at the courthouse and questioned her. Rohde said she explained her reasons to him at that time.
Pederson again cut to the chase.
“Are you concerned there are some nefarious things going on?” Pederson asked.
“Sometimes I feel like there’s a conspiracy going on around here,” responded Davey.
“All that’s happening is an examination of records,” said Pederson.
“That’s all there is?” asked Davey.
“Yah,” responded Rohde.

According to Rohde, as she was drafting court documents Tuesday afternoon for the matter, Davey contacted her with a compromise that involves allowing one year of claims to be at the CA’s office. After consulting with Fain, Rohde said she accepted the compromise for the time being.

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