Wright County commissioner election battle takes a new twist

Wright County Board of Commissioner elections are still six weeks away, but it would appear as though sides are being chosen by the current sitting commissioners.
A week after the three outgoing commissioners – Dick Mattson, Jack Russek and Elmer Eichelberg – sent a joint letter to the editor to Wright County newspapers endorsing Commissioner Pat Sawatzke, one commissioner leveled an accusation against board chair Rose Thelen at the Sept. 18 meeting of the Wright County Board.
In what otherwise looked to be a relatively light board agenda – the last item on the agenda was scheduled just 15 minutes after the meeting began – Commissioner Mattson asked that an item for consideration be added. The request simply asked that “Comment” be added at the end of the items for consideration list.
It sounded innocuous enough, but would be a rather explosive charge aimed directly at Thelen, who is in a campaign for a commissioner seat against Sawatzke in November.
Mattson claimed that Thelen disparaged him at an event at a senior citizens housing facility and said, if needed, he could bring in someone to corroborate his claim.
“I was made aware of a speaking engagement where my name was used, (saying) the Mattson regime is over in Wright County,” Mattson said. “It came from one of your speaking engagements.”
Mattson offered to bring the accuser to the county boardroom if necessary, adding that he believed it to be a slur against him.
“I would think when people are out campaigning, they use a little diplomatic-type speaking, not running down their opponent or speaking of anyone else. I’ve never used anyone else’s name in vain,” he said.
Claiming that the remark was improper, Mattson said that he viewed it as a sign of the current political climate.
“That’s politics in the country, but, in Wright County, I think we should be able to handle ourselves with extreme courtesy to our opponents.”
Thelen strongly denied the accusation. At the board meeting, her only response was to say that she felt it was inappropriate to level such an accusation in a public forum. Following the meeting, she asked Mattson when the alleged statement was made and was told of the senior citizens event, which was before the August primary, when Mattson was still in the running for re-election.
“I’ve never thought of this time as being anything resembling a ‘Mattson regime’ and never would have said what he claimed I did,” Thelen said. “I wouldn’t make such a statement and was confused about what he was saying. I have a great deal of respect for Commissioner Mattson, but I felt if, had he been told I had made such a statement, he would have spoken to me privately about it – not at a board meeting. I’m not sure how this came about, but I never made that statement.”
It would appear that, as the television networks are unveiling their new season of shows, Wright County Board meetings might become “must-see TV” between now and the November elections.
In other items on the Sept. 18 agenda, the board:
* Authorized the county voting delegation to attend the Association of Minnesota Counties Annual Conference Dec. 2-4 in St. Paul. As a housekeeping measure, the board appointed Highway Engineer Virgil Hawkins as one of the county delegates, replacing retired Highway Engineer Wayne Fingalson.
* In a related matter, announced the cancellation of the Dec. 4 board meeting because the commissioners will be attending the AMC conference.
* Set a special board meeting for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 27 for the annual Truth In Location Taxation hearing for public comment on the county’s 2013 budget and levy.
* Was introduced to newly-appointed Wright County Judge Elizabeth Strand. Strand previously served as a city attorney for the cities of Buffalo and Annandale.
* Laid over bids for the county’s insurance carrier for life insurance and short-term/long-term disability coverage. The bids were made in bundles, meaning to accept the bid for short-term disability, the county must accept the bid for long-term disability. Staff requested more time to determine which bid would be more cost-effective to the county.
* Set a public hearing to discuss the county’s fees-for-service schedule for 9:30 a.m. at the Nov. 13 board meeting.
* Approved the appointment of Mary Ellen Wells to the Clearwater River Watershed Board of Directors.
* Approved amending the county’s bi-monthly Wednesday committee meeting days in November and December down to one due to the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Both months will have just one scheduled committee meeting day – Nov. 14 and Dec. 12.