County Commissioner defends himself against accusations, appears before Greenwood Town Board

TUESDAY, AUGUST 8, 2017 — Sixth District St. Louis County Commissioner Keith Nelson appeared before the Greenwood Township Board of Supervisors hoping to set the record straight following a recent attack article published in the Timberjay critical in Nelson’s role on a recent County Planning Commission decision. For years, since the late 1970s, Greenwood Township elected to handle its own Planning and Zoning activities and in September of last year, with strong advocacy from Dr. John Bassing, the township relinquished its planning and zoning activities and turned them over to St. Louis County.  Now Bassing and a few others in the township are upset with a recent decision of the St. Louis County Planning Commission and have turned to the pages of the Timberjay, (Greenwood’s “Official Newspaper”), to give voice to their complaints. On July 20, Marshall Helmberger wrote a story critical of Commissioner Nelson and Sunny Pineo who voted in favor of an after-the-fact land use decision on Lake Vermilion claiming that it violates the county’s bluff ordinance and their vote was inappropriate or unethical. In the Timberjay article Bassing suggests that a lack of ethics now pervades the county planning commission just as it pervaded Greenwood Township, when it handled its own planning and zoning.

Commissioner Nelson has taken umbrage with Chairman Bassing’s statements and the Timberjay article. Some ten days prior to this meeting, Nelson asked to be on the agenda but his request was denied and he instead spoke under the “Public Comment” agenda line item at the Tuesday, August 8 township meeting. He provided the town board with copies of the minutes and recorded tapes of the County Planning Commission meeting in question and encouraged the board of supervisors to review this material. “I think it’s important for the Greenwood Board to understand that I will never conduct business in a newspaper,” Nelson said. The reports in newspapers are often sensationalized to sell papers according to Nelson. He explained that the County Planning Commission was comprised of citizens and he represents the St. Louis County Board of Commissioners on the planning commission. “This citizens board is a very, very professional and dedicated board. Your comments are intended to impugn that board and I become concerned when I hear elected officials make those kind of statements,” Nelson said.

Nelson explained the process the planning commission undertakes to make it’s decisions, and asserted that there was nothing inappropriate with the actions of the planning commission in this instance. He acknowledged that one of the county attorneys was reviewing the tapes of the meeting and that these tapes are regularly reviewed by a county attorney. He again encouraged Greenwood officials to also review the tapes for themselves. Once the land owner provided the planning commission with an engineered design, addressing water run-off and showing that Lake Vermilion and the neighbors would not be affected, the commission voted four to one in favor of issuing the after-the-fact permit, according to Nelson. “It still would have passed, two to one, if we recused ourselves,” Nelson said. In a post meeting interview Nelson informed The News, that the commission could not legally make its decisions by considering the situation where the application was an after-the-fact application. The commission needs to consider the project on its merits, not on the fact the landowner neglected to follow proper procedures.

It’s important that Greenwood and the planning commission share mutual confidence in there roles in serving constituents, Nelson emphasized. “I’m sure that tomorrow we will see my picture in the paper talking about how all this is illegal because that is what the Enquirer does,” Nelson said. “I have complete respect for this government body and hope that Greenwood and the planning commission can maintain a good working relationship.

Commissioner Nelson represents the 6th district of the county board, a district located south of Greenwood Township. The township is represented by the 4th District Commissioner Tom Rukavina.

Following Nelson’s comments, Marcy Moe spoke about the importance of maintaining water quality on Lake Vermilion and said that it was important to protect the first 1,000 feet away from the lake. Lee Peterson also spoke against the planning commission’s recent decision and said that he did not appreciate the threats against the township and its newspaper presented by Nelson. “A lot of what Mr. Nelson said is a fairy tale,” Peterson said.

Dr. JoAnn Bassing said that her husband, Greenwood Chairman John Bassing, did not speak for the entire town board. Greenwood Town Clerk Sue Drobac added that the Greenwood Town Board decided, at a meeting earlier this year, to refrain from expressing any opinions on any St. Louis County planning matters. Greenwood Supervisor Mike Ralston also stated that Chairman Bassing was not speaking on behalf of the town board. Bassing, however, was identified as the town board chairman in the Timberjay article in question and because Bassing has made headlines in other local and regional newspapers over his tenure on the Greenwood Towns Board it seems reasonable to equate his comments in newspapers on political matters with his elected position.

The Greenwood Board of Supervisors turned its attention to fire department Paid on Call, Standard Operations Guidelines and job descriptions for firefighters and emergency medical responders. Chairman Bassing presented several typographical errors seeking their correction. The board of supervisors also discussed other changes it wanted to implement and fine-tuned the language in the new guidelines. The board gave its unanimous approval to the recommended changes. It is expected that the new guidelines will be typed up into cohesive documents and replace the previous guidelines and the township can now file the many draft revisions proposed in recent months.

The board of supervisors also lamented that the fire department was not providing equipment log books to the town clerk as requested and emphasized that these log books were imperative to the operation of the department and that the township was hoping to rely on the log books to perform maintenance. “Maybe we should have the fire department hire a maintenance person to keep equipment in order. Everyone always relied on Pat and we no longer have Pat,” Supervisor Ralston said.

The board of supervisors also discussed safety roll-out gear and determined that a former firefighter, who now only serves the township as an emergency medical responder, would be permitted to retain and utilize the gear issued to her as a firefighter.

The board of supervisors decided that it would not conduct a 40th anniversary celebration for the township. It sited a lack of potential volunteers necessary to accomplish the celebration and instead will wait until it is time for the township’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Chairman Bassing apprized the town board on the ongoing plans for the Lake Vermilion Trail. According to Bassing, the trail committee has identified three highly desired sections to complete early in the trail’s development and Greenwood Township encompasses one of these sections. The trail committee continues to work on fundraising and route development and it is expected that the final language of the joint powers trail agreement will be ready to be considered by the Greenwood Town Board in September, Bassing said.

The township clerk and township treasurer are elected officials whose duties and responsibilities are codified in state law. They are not governed by the town board, Chairman Bassing told the board of supervisors. The town board can not set hours for the clerk or treasurer, Bassing reported. He explained that the issue had come up last year, under the leadership of the town board at that time, and he had asked Mike Couri, the township’s attorney, for clarification recently. State statute does not contain any language pertaining to the duties and responsibilities of township supervisors, Bassing reported.

In other action, the town board of supervisors:

• Authorized the replacement of basketball hoop and replacement of the missing horseshoes at a cost not to exceed $125.00

• Authorized the replacement of the “baby changing station” located in the town hall women’s bathroom

• Approved the installation of a stainless steel back-splash to protect the town hall from further water damage at the location of the public water spigot

• Discussed additional signage at the recycle canister site in the town hall parking lot

• Invited State Representative Rod Ecklund to meet with the town board to discuss the township’s concerns about the Cook Hospital District

• Approved having Eric Heitala, a local aircraft mechanic, work on township fire department’s airboat and to make any recommendations, which he thinks are necessary, to keep the airboat operational

• Authorized town board representatives to attend a district township association meeting.