At their regular Monday, March 8, meeting, the Wahkon City Council took time to discuss the logistics of holding their usual summer celebrations, many of which had been postponed last year due to COVID. Extended conversation was had on finding a new organization to back Wahkon Days after issues were raised on funding it through the City in Wahkon’s 2019 audit. The council also received an in-person report from Mille Lacs County Sheriff Don Lorge.
VETERANS PARK AND JULY 4
Councilor Tony Button first spoke on the Wahkon Veterans Park Anniversary celebration, one of the postponed events. Button indicated that he’d had phone conversations with the members’ local honor guard and heard some pushback. “They’re still a little leary, due to their age and the virus. You know, who knows how immune everybody’s going to be?” Button questioned. Button said there were still others he had to contact yet, including the local boy scouts. Button added he was still for holding the event if enough people were willing to participate. Though he also suggested 2022 would be an option if that wasn’t the case.
“I think you should do it,” Wahkon Mayor Ronda Bjornson said. “I think it’s time. It’s an outdoor event with plenty of room for social distancing. I think you’d be surprised how many people would turn out.”
The Council similarly favored holding a Fourth of July celebration. City clerk Karrie Roeschlien stated that the pyrotechnics company the City had previously gone through would be able to provide a fireworks display on Sunday, July 4. As the federal holiday would be the following Monday, she asked if the Council would want to reschedule it. Bjornson, along with several council members, preferred holding the event on July 4. A total of $5,000 would be put towards the display.
FUNDING WAHKON DAYS
While the Council also spoke in support of having Wahkon Days, an additional conversation was had about whether the City needed to find a new financial institution to back the event. The concern traced back to the 2019 audit, where the City using its own funds to run the event was noted as a significant deficiency.
A letter from Kyle Hartnett, with Kennedy & Graven, Chartered, further delved into the question of in what capacity the City of Wahkon was able to provide funds for Wahkon Days. As the City is able to accept donations by resolution, Hartnett’s letter indicates it’s within the City’s authority to request donations via letter. However, the State Auditor’s office holds that Minnesota cities do not have the express authority in Minnesota statute to engage in fundraising activities. As such, the City of Wahkon, and its Wahkon Area Vision Effusion committee, should not be selling raffle buttons to fund their event. Another non-profit could run such a raffle and donate the proceeds to the City.
City clerk Karrie Roeschlien, in conversation with the Messenger after the meeting, indicated that the City had made a one-time donation for a band to perform eight years ago. Since then, all funds to hold the event have been generated by Wahkon Days. At the meeting, Roeschlien expressed frustration on the added work of organizing the event on the City’s end, and Bjornson added, “I’ve felt this for a number of years, that it’s not our city clerk’s job to oversee our city event.”
Local business Tom Remer, in attendance that night, expressed frustration that the City had previously let the civic association, with its non-profit status, disband. Bjornson agreed, stating, “Wouldn’t be wonderful if a group of citizens would step up and create that civic again? What would that entail? I wouldn’t know.”
Roeschlein stated that she’s reached out to both the Isle Lions and members of the Izatys community as possible supporters, though the Izatys community members had since indicated they would not be able to provide support at this time. The Council resolved to continue to look for another group within the community to step into the role and would continue the conversation at future meetings.
Mille Lacs County Sheriff Don Lorge was in attendance at the Monday night meeting where he spoke before the Council to give a general update. Three issues Lorge highlighted in particular were gun rights, tribal issues and COVID mandates. He spoke out against what he described as fearmongering and rhetoric that were stirring anti-police sentiment and causing problems.
Part of that fearmongering, Lorge said, was concern over guns rights. He referenced Mille Lacs County’s efforts to become a Second Amendment Sanctuary County and the resolution they had recently passed in support of all constitutional amendments. “I can really only speak for Mille Lacs County,” he said, “but under my tenure, gun restrictions won’t happen. I’m very pro-gun, and I don’t see us going down that road.”
Because of his involvement in ongoing lawsuits, Lorge said there was not much he was able to share regarding the situation with the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. Touching on what he could say, Lorge said, “What we are trying to do is get some support back from the State. We feel like we are being shorted. And nobody’s listening to us.” He stated that taxpayers of Mille Lacs County should have the support of their government. Lorge encouraged locals to attend the virtual town hall meeting with Keith Ellison on Thursday, March 11.
“I don’t want people to panic,” Lorge said, “but I want people to pay attention.”
Mille Lacs County Chief Deputy Kyle Burton, also in attendance, provided stats for the Wahkon area. Between October 2020 and February 2021, the City of Wahkon had 56 total calls to the sheriff’s office, including officer-generated reports like traffic stops. The biggest category of calls were alarms, which Burton noted were usually unfounded, and the second biggest category was medical calls. The list also included one domestic assault, a few parking complaints and some suspicious activity. “Nothing out of the ordinary, as far as types of calls go,” Burton said.
Expanding the area to include South Harbor Township for that time period, Burton said there were around 300 total calls. These stats included 25 accidents, 22 medical calls, 18 alarms, 16 animal complaints, and a few thefts and burglaries. He reiterated, “Nothing super out of the ordinary. It’s a normal call volume for us. Like the sheriff said earlier, work hasn’t slowed down for us at all.”