Wright County Commissioners learn about checks issued to weed inspector after his death

There are times when the unexpected happens at meetings of the Wright County Board of Commissioners, but the July 23 meeting included an item that nobody saw coming – and hadn’t for some time.
With the board already one commissioner short – Commissioner Christine Husom was in St. Paul attending a nuclear exercise – and Board Chair Pat Sawatzke set to leave the meeting 20 minutes into the agenda for the same nuclear exercise at the local level, Sawatzke asked that an item for consideration be pushed ahead before he had to leave.
The item concerned the county agricultural inspector. Assistant County Attorney Brian Asleson gave the details of the issue the county was facing.
“We received a complaint from Cokato Township about a weed issue,” Asleson said. “There is a field that has a significant growth of Canadian thistles, so we attempted to forward the complaint to our ag inspector.
When we attempted to contact Ken Johnson to report the issue, we learned that he had died two months ago.”
Johnson had served as the Wright County weed inspector for the last seven years, working part-time for both Wright and Sherburne counties.
The county hadn’t been informed of his death in May and continued to send him monthly checks of $1,075 without knowing that he had passed away. When he attempted to contact Johnson with the complaint, Asleson said it was clear something was wrong.
“I called four different numbers for Ken that I had in my file,” Asleson said. “All of them said that the number was either disconnected or out of service. The only number where there was an answer, it was someone who didn’t know who Ken Johnson was.”
While the county prepares to discuss the weed inspector position and its future, Asleson reminded the board that, in the short-term, under state statute, all township officers are also local weed inspectors.
The board referred the discussion of the ag inspector position as well as questions surrounding the checks that have been cashed since Johnson’s death to a ways and means committee scheduled for Wednesday, July 31.

Freelancer John Holler covers government and the Wright County Board of Commissioners.