After tweaking some language, the Becker County Board on Tuesday, June 2, reversed course and unanimously approved a resolution making Becker County into a “Constitutional and Business Friendly Community.”
The vote came after a legislative update by Republican state Rep. Steve Green, who was at the meeting and urged commissioners to support the resolution. It would be a first step toward creating a block of counties in northwestern Minnesota opposed to DFL Gov. Tim Walz’s COVID-19-prevention orders, he said.
“I’m not here to push an agenda on you, but I want counties to work together,” Green said.
“This would be a perfect time to go to the state and say (these regulations are) what is hindering us right now,” Green said. “If you go together with other counties and cities, I think it could be a big deal.”
Commissioner Barry Nelson, noting that his family members own the Cormorant Pub, said he understands the frustration of business owners suffering under the COVID-19 restrictions.
But the county does not have the authority to override the governor’s emergency order, and the county can’t stop the state from going after defiant business owners who open against the governor’s order, Nelson said. Those business owners could lose their liquor licenses and permits and could face civil penalties.
“It would be very hard to put a cease and desist order on every business in northwest Minnesota,” Green said, adding that he believes there is safety in numbers. “The liquor license or permit isn’t going to do you any good if you’re broke.”
“I agree the whole thing has gone on way too long,” said Commissioner Don Skarie. “The whole idea was to slow down (the coronavirus) so hospitals didn’t get overwhelmed ... But I can’t in good conscience tell a business to open up, then the state comes in and shuts it down -- they come back to me and say ‘why did you say it was OK?’ I just can’t go along with that.”
Board Chairman Ben Grimsley said that “I’d feel a lot more relaxed carrying on with business as usual after the county passes this resolution.”
Commissioner John Okeson said he would like to give business owners some support. “If I’m not comfortable going to an establishment because of COVID, I don’t have to go,” he said.
Several people in the crowd spoke in favor of the resolution, including Christian Fellowship Church pastor Tim Rice.
“Rep. Green has given us the idea of how we can join forces and force the hand of the governor,” Rice said. “As a pastor, these last two-and-a-half or three months have not been a time to put your feet up and take it easy. We have taken away people’s ability to work, yet liquor stores remain open. The stresses it puts on the community are substantial,” he said.
Last month, Becker County Attorney Brian McDonald warned commissioners that county taxpayers could face serious liability issues if the board approved the original version of the resolution.
But on Tuesday, McDonald said he had no similar qualms about the revised resolution. “I do support the language and ordinance as defined here this morning,” he said. “I think adding 'at your own risk,' is important. It lets them (business owners) know the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office can still come in.”
With the county attorney no longer opposing the resolution, commissioners unanimously approved the resolution.
Becker County Sheriff Todd Glander also said at the end of the meeting that he supports the resolution, and always has. He said the Tribune misinterpreted his statement at the last county board meeting.
“At the end of the meeting I spoke several weeks ago, that I was sworn to uphold the Constitution when I put this badge on,” he said. “We have businesses that are struggling -- we need this to stop.”