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  • Last modified 154 days ago (Jan. 17, 2019)

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County meeting starts with drama

Staff writer

Monday’s county commission meeting started and ended with drama.

Before the gavel was struck to begin the meeting, someone —apparently by accident — triggered a panic button in the courthouse security system. In response, sheriff Rob Craft and deputy James Philpott scurried to the commission room to check out what was going on and ensure everything was OK.

Assured all was well, the pair stayed for coffee and refreshments and saw commissioner Kent Becker appointed chairman and Randy Dallke appointed vice-chairman.

The drama that ended the meeting arose from a denied cereal malt beverage license renewal, and the criminal background check that led to the denial. The applicant came to confront county commissioners and was the last speaker on the agenda.

Janice Davis and her husband, Gary, have owned Last Chance Bait Shop and RV Storage, 2193 Pawnee Rd., since April 2017. She minced no words from the start.

“First I want to know who ran a background check on Gary,” she asked angrily.

County clerk Tina Spencer said a background check is part of obtaining a cereal malt beverage license.

Davis countered that state law doesn’t require a criminal background check on the spouse of the business operator for a renewal application, and she’d obtained a license in her own name last year.

“If a renewal application is filed, the applicant is not required to meet the criminal history of no background,” Davis said.

She added that “whatever Gary does or did, does not pertain to me or my liquor license.”

County counsel Brad Jantz said he’d spoken with the Davises’ lawyer. Gary Davis entered a plea on an out-of-county criminal charge in April 2017, and the liquor license should not have been issued in the first place, Jantz said.

Davis argued with Jantz, who told her, “Ma’am, I’m not going to argue with you. I’m here to discuss the legal issues.”

“And you’re not doing a good job of that,” Davis countered.

Becker tried to end the discussion.

“I think acting on our legal counsel’s advice, it’s time to move on,” Becker said.

“It took me a long time to go through this,” Jantz said.

“If you don’t let me have one today, I’m going to have my son come in and get one,” Davis said.

Davis wasn’t happy with Spencer, either. “Tina, I don’t know what you have over this county, but …” she started before being interrupted again by Becker with “We’re done. We’re going to move on.”

County fire chiefs also brought complaints about radios, but that discussion remained calm.

Lincolnville fire chief Les Kaiser said the mobile radios used by firefighters work well, but their portable radios are a different story.

Hillsboro fire chief Ben Steketee said one of his men had trouble with his radio in his residence.

Radio communication in the northeast portion of the county has been an issue since the county switched to an 800MH radio system.

“Right now we’re right on the cusp of having good coverage,” Steketee said.

Kaiser said Florence, Lincolnville, and Lost Springs still have problems.

“In my house alone, there are only two places where I can receive a signal,” Kaiser said. “They’re working for some, but not everybody.”

Steketee said some fire departments use a mobile repeater that goes with them.

“The price per unit is right around $5,000,” he said. “The problem is, they only work on one channel.”

He asked if the chiefs could pursue more information on the portable repeaters.

As the chiefs spoke, someone’s pager began a low, steady beeping.

“That’s our life,” Kaiser said.

Kaiser said when a radio starts beeping at 3 a.m. and the firefighter has to get up at 5 a.m. to go to work, he is going to shut it off.

“With this happening and the possibility of others not receiving pages due to building signal strength, this is cutting the number of responders who get the page and are able to respond,” he said. “This is a safety issue.”

Goessel fire chief Matt Voth brought up cost of radio equipment.

“Much of what is not reimbursed by the fire departments is done at the partial personal cost of the individual firefighter,” Voth said. “Some of us have the qualifications to be hired as full-time firefighters if we wanted to.”

Voth said the shoestring department budgets mean fundraisers are required to pay for equipment.

“There are also some businesses in the county that really pitch in to help the fire service,” Voth said. “All these efforts are to help defray the unreasonable cost of firefighting equipment.”

Voth asked commissioners to consider paying part or all of the remaining $128,000 firefighter radio payments due.

“As some possible budget changes come into play this upcoming year for the county, such as the return of economic development funds and the available funding for a county administrator, the county chiefs association asks that the commissioners consider some funding for this last radio payment due,” Voth said.

Commissioners were divided in their ideas. Dallke said fire departments were told five years ago or longer to start saving money for radios, but commissioner Dianne Novak said firefighters are basically volunteers. Becker told the fire chiefs to bring back more information about repeaters for follow-up discussion.

Last modified Jan. 17, 2019

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