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Becker County Court security to be upgraded

Jarred into action by the Dec. 15 courthouse shooting of two people in Grand Marais, the Becker County Board is going ahead with stalled plans to upgrade security at the Becker County Courthouse.

Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell, 45, and Grand Marais resident Gregory Thompson, 53, were both shot by a man who later died in custody. Both men have recovered from their wounds.

The defendant had just been found guilty on several counts from a five-year-old criminal sexual conduct case when the shooting occurred.

He had been released on continued bail after the jury verdict was announced, because he was not expected to be sentenced to incarceration.

Last week, Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon spoke with county commissioners about plans to improve security for the courts portion of the courthouse.

"What occurred in Cook County we're starting to see more of throughout the state," Gordon said.

The courts addition to the courthouse was designed with a "chokepoint" to allow for enhanced security, and that plan will now be implemented, Gordon said.

Those who have court business will first have to go through a metal detector and face one-on-one screening by a bailiff.

The new security measures only apply to the courts side of the courthouse. It will continue to be business as usual on the non-courts side of the courthouse.

The sheriff's department will pay for the enhanced security by not replacing the vacant lead bailiff position, and instead hiring two part-time bailiffs at a total savings of $28,000 to $32,000 a year, Gordon said.

Becker County Attorney Mike Fritz spoke in favor of the new security measures.

"It was in the original (courthouse remodeling) plans to have security," he noted. "I'd like to see it move forward. It's needed and necessary."

Commissioner Barry Nelson agreed. "The Cook County incident just made us aware of the violent climate over there (in the courts) at times."

The beefed up security plan at the courthouse is a compromise between the courtroom security now provided by bailiffs and the full-courthouse security at places like Clay County, where everyone who enters the courthouse goes through a metal detector staffed by security officers, Nelson said.

"They are more secure, but it's much more expensive," he said, and some people visiting the courthouse on non-courts business can find it intrusive.

"I think it's a good compromise," Gordon said. "We're not infringing on people walking in (to do things like vote absentee, pay their taxes, or get a birth certificate) yet we're providing security for the courts."

Knutson is new chairman

Commissioner Larry Knutson of Toad Lake Township has been elected chairman of the Becker County Board for 2012.

The vice chairman is Commissioner Gerry Schram of Erie Township.

The five-member County Board elected the two to the leadership positions at its annual reorganizational meeting Tuesday morning. Committee assignments were also discussed.

At a recent meeting, outgoing 2011 board chairman Barry Nelson was honored for his service.

Bids for official newspaper were also reviewed Tuesday. Detroit Lakes Newspapers was named the county's official newspaper, in which official proceedings will be published, and the Frazee Forum will print the second publication of the county's financial statement.

The Frazee newspaper offered lower rates for legal notices, while DL Newspapers offered lower rates for the second printing of the financial statement and the delinquent tax list.

The board opted for the Detroit Lakes Sunday newspaper because the Frazee newspaper has less than half the circulation and isn't circulated in the Lake Park-Audubon or Callaway-Ogema-Waubun areas.

Sharing public health with other counties?

After the 2000 census, Becker County's population reached the magic number of 30,000 people -- enough to meet state guidelines for running a solo county nursing service.

The county opted to do so, pulling out of the Multi-County Nursing Service and setting up the Becker County Community Health Department.

The move was controversial and caused some anger in neighboring counties, and locally among supporters of the Multi-County Nursing Service.

Now the pendulum may be swinging back the other way.

Becker County has been asked to join the counties of Clay, Otter Tail and Wilkin in a public health consortium, and to embrace a plan that includes three phases over several years -- increasing cooperation and collaboration until it ends in a merger into a single public health department in 2016.

The other three counties already approved the plan unanimously, but Becker County -- once burned, twice shy -- wants to make sure that's a road it wants to travel before taking the first step.

The board listened to a report last week from an exploratory committee made up of representatives from the other counties and from Becker County -- including Community Health Director Ronda Stock and former Human Services Director Matt Casey.

The Becker County Board balked at a resolution of support for the four-county public health regionalization plan, and opted instead to send the idea through the county committee process to make sure it is thoroughly vetted before coming back for county board consideration in a few weeks.